Technology Overview

The Open Referral Initiative is developing an ecosystem of free, open source tools that help communities produce, share and use community resource directory data.

Resource Data Standards


The Human Service Data Specification (HSDS): AKA ‘the Open Referral format,’ HSDS enables resource directory data to be published in bulk for use by many systems. As a data interchange format, HSDS provides a common, machine-readable vocabulary for information about services, the organizations that provide them, and locations where they can be accessed. HSDS is currently at v3.0; the new version has merged with the (now-deprecated) Human Service Data API protocols to become an API-forward JSON-schema format. We welcome feedback to set our agenda for future HSDS upgrades. [Documentation site; Github repo; Frequently Asked Questions.]

Data Standardization Tools

HSDS Validator: the HSDS validator enables an administrator to check the validity of resource data in accordance with the Human Service Data Specification. Use the validator to ensure that your data is compliant! The data validator was first developed by volunteer Chris Spiliotopoulos (@spilio) and upgraded by Shelby Switzer (@switzersc). The validator will soon be updated to work with HSDS 3.0. [Github repo]

HSDS Transformer: developed by Shelby Switzer (@switzersc), the HSDS transformation tool helps restructure datasets with information about organizations, services, and locations into our standardized open data format. The transformer will soon be updated to work with HSDS 3.0. [Github repo]

Front-end Search Interfaces:


ORServices: Built by Sarapis, using the Laravel web development framework, ORServices is a free, open source, smartphone-friendly directory application for health, human and social services. It is designed to be easy to deploy, easy to adapt, and to easily display HSDS data. [demo; Github repo]

Connect211: Built by SiteSavvy, Connect211 is an open source resource directory search engine. [Website; Github repo]

Arrival Advisor: Built by PeaceGeeks, Arrival Advisor is an open source mobile application that receives data in HSDS Format. Arrival Advisor is designed specifically to curate resource data for immigrants and people resettling in new communities. [blog post; Github repo]

Ohana Web Search: As part of Code for America’s Ohana API package, Ohana Web Search was the first ‘reference implementation’ of Open Referral’s specifications. It is still in use in San Mateo County, CA. Ohana is a front-end interface that displays content via the Ohana API. The interface is purposefully simple (“I need…”), and the application is easy to deploy and free to use and modify. [See Github repo; live deployment in San Mateo County.]

HelpSteps: Built by the Boston Children’s Hospital, Helpsteps is an open source mobile app that works with the Open Referral format. [blog post; Github repo]

Data Management Tools:

Open Referral Airtable: developed by Sarapis, the Open Referral Airtable is a free, lightweight Resource Data Management System. Without writing any code or deploying any software, you can use this Airtable to build your own small-scale resource directory, and use the HSDA-compatible Airtable API to share data with other systems. [blog post; Airtable template]

Created by Alban Champliau at the Noun Project -

Service Net – Initially piloted by Benetech Labs in the San Francisco Bay Area, Service Net is a collaborative resource data management platform. Using Service Net, referral providers can cross-reference their resource directory records with other peer organizations’ directories; receive and validate user-submitted updates; resolve and sync conflicting records through a workflow process; track history and source of edits, and discuss the data verification process. Service Net has been transferred from Benetech to stewardship of Open Referral, and we are exploring opportunities to relaunch it in new pilot projects. [Github repository; blog post]

Join In!

Image credit: Icons from Robot by Simon Child; Wrench by P.J. Onori; Tools by Alban Champliau