Upgrading the Human Service Data Specifications: 2022 development cycle underway

As Open Referral’s network grows – involving more stakeholders in the development of interoperable resource directory information supply chains – our tools and practices must evolve in kind to support more complex needs.

So we are excited to share that Open Referral has initiated a new development cycle to upgrade the Human Service Data Specifications. This cycle has kicked off with a specific objective to address a significant issue: our specifications need to be adapted across diverse contexts, to support different conventions in different places, while preserving a core of interoperability across our ecosystem.

To support this workgroup’s efforts, we are seeking feedback from a broad array of stakeholders across our network. For instance, this Friday (July 22nd) from 11a-1p, we will host an open “fishbowl” discussion in which workgroup members will review proposals line-by-line, at which any members of our community are welcome to observe and discuss by chat – invitations available by request. We encourage interested parties to comment on the documents above, or discuss in our issues queue on Github, or reach out directly via [email protected]
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Progress Report 2021-22: Highlights from our Network

I’m excited to share Open Referral’s Progress Report for 2021-2022. You can download the report as a PDF here, and view the document online here. (All of our reports are accessible here.)

Unlike our usual Year in Review, this report really describes activity across a period of 18 months overall. This is 6 months later than planned, as the time I’d set aside to do our Year in Review for 2021 was interrupted by a Covid-19 infection. I’m fine (the delay of this report seems to have been the worst outcome of the experience for me) and I’m very grateful, not only for my own health but also for the network of people in our community who have helped make the past couple of years some of our most productive and exciting yet. Continue reading

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Tackling Data Dilemmas in Social Care Coordination: A Whitepaper on Community Information Exchange

Last year – with sponsorship from Robert Wood Johnson Foundations’ DASH program, and in partnership with the Regional Data Alliance at University of Missouri St Louis – I co-authored a whitepaper that aggregated research and recommendations from across the emerging field of “social care coordination.”

This paper provides a strategic framework in which to understand Open Referral’s work in the context of human service directory data infrastructure and governance, and it also offers a broader view of the related but very different challenges of sharing information about people through coordination among service providers.

The whitepaper is available in PDF here – as well as in this ‘live’ version upon which we invite readers to share feedback. Having received significant positive feedback from experts in the field of healthcare informatics, I’m excited to share it here with the Open Referral community.
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Improving access to legal aid by improving search results with schema.org

Despite the vast amounts of information on the Web, finding reliable information about legal services through internet searches is harder than many expect. Basic searches — for needs like assistance with evictions, help with public benefits, or protection from domestic violence — often turn bewildering as results on Google, among other search engines, typically seem unhelpful and untrustworthy.

Every U.S. state has legal aid organizations to help people who can’t afford private law firms. But these organizations rarely have the capacity to specialize in Search Engine Optimization that can compete with private firms and even scammy operations that tend to dominate search results.

Search results don’t have to be as hit-or-miss as they are today. One promising method of improving search results is by adding specialized tags – i.e. “web markup” – to legal aid websites that help web engines better identify and index their information.

Schema.org – which represents a coalition of the major web platforms – produces such web markup for smarter search results. With schema.org’s standardized vocabulary, websites can ‘mark up’ otherwise unstructured text into structured data that can be semantically ‘understood’ by search engines.

When Open Referral first began, we worked in collaboration with the team that developed the first version of the ‘Civic Services schema’ at schema.org. We were particularly motivated by their vision of a future in which anyone could use colloquial language in their searches and easily get reliable, richly detailed results. Finally, through partnership with legal aid providers in Florida and around the country, we now have our first glimpse of that future. Continue reading

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Supporting the Gravity Project to expand interoperability among health, human, and social services

Often people ask how we enable care providers to actually refer their clients to another service. The answer is, well, Open Referral doesn’t actually deal with the process of “making a referral” at all!

We’re working to ensure that there’s open access to information about the services to which someone might be referred. 

But the challenges related to actually sending a person’s information from one provider’s system to another? That’s a whole other tangle of knots. I’ve long hoped that someone somewhere would work on those problems, while believing it should remain outside Open Referral’s scope.

So I’m excited to see that this work is now under way.

The Gravity Project is like kin to the Open Referral Initiative: Gravity is a community of practice that is developing and testing consensus-based open standards to facilitate capture and exchange of data pertaining to people and their social circumstances across a variety of healthcare and social service systems.
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Open Referral’s 2020 Year in Review

Amid the disruptions and crises of 2020, the Open Referral Initiative rallied to meet increasing and rapidly changing needs for improved flow of information about community resources.

As our new year starts to take shape – with collective needs for collaboration still rising unabated – we’ve taken some time to reflect on our progress and accomplishments.

Check out our 2020 Year in Review, embedded below – or viewable and downloadable directly from this link. Continue reading

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HHS Technology Challenge calls for interoperability solutions using HSDS

The U.S. Administration for Community Living provides funding and support to networks of community-based organizations who serve elders and people with disabilities. ACL’s grantees include a vast array of services that help people cope with food insecurity and transportation issues, manage chronic disease, support employment and economic independence, reduce social isolation, and address other factors outside of the medical clinic that impact people’s health. 

ACL recognizes that this work is fundamentally collaborative. Vulnerable people require holistic support, which typically involves coordination among institutions; however, such institutions often struggle to work together, in part because their technologies can’t ‘speak’ to each other.

To address this need for interoperability among health, human, and social service providers, ACL has announced the Social Care Referrals Challenge: an opportunity to identify, test, and promote new methods for sharing data in the coordination of care across organizations and technologies, such as sharing information about resources and/or enabling ‘warm referrals’ across systems. The ACL invites participation in this challenge from state and community leaders in the aging and disability network, as well as health care systems, health plans, and health IT vendors.

Last week, ACL updated the Challenge specifications with a range of new details – including a criteria that any proposals involving resource directory data should use Open Referral’s resource data exchange standards (the Human Service Data Specification and API protocols).

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Upgrading our specifications: A proposal for HSDS 2.0

We’re excited to share a proposed upgrade to the Human Services Data Specification, authored by our technical partners, the Open Data Services Cooperative.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll field feedback on these proposed changes. Take a look at the proposal in our Github repository – you can leave comments in the Issues queue – or on our documentation site, where you can also comment by first creating an account on hypothes.is (a website annotation service) and then sharing your feedback directly on the web pages.

Before the end of this month, we’ll conduct a video conference to review key points and discuss any outstanding issues (indicate your interest and availability here). Assuming we reach rough consensus, our target is to approve version 2.0 in the beginning October.

Below, we provide more context on the primary changes under consideration. Continue reading

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Collaboration in crisis: responses to the pandemic across our network

Map of resources in Toronto

With the world in crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health, human, and social service providers face a harrowing dilemma: need is skyrocketing, even as providers’ ability to actually help is severely compromised. Many institutions have struggled to respond or even closed down entirely – while many new efforts to meet communities’ needs have emerged with astonishing speed.

We’ve seen a wave of new efforts to connect people with information about resources — and, in many cases, these new projects quickly ran into some of the same challenges that the information-and-referral sector has been grappling with for years. Information about the availability of community resources is often harder to find – and harder to trust – than one might expect.

Some of the best instances of rapid action have emerged in places where different kinds of organizations can work together to respond in new ways. This is where Open Referral comes in handy. By facilitating cooperation among organizations that maintain and use information about the resources available to people in need, we make it easier for community leaders to respond to rapidly changing circumstances in ways that make the most out of limited time and resources.

Below, we’ve collected a range of examples of new initiatives from across our network. The breadth of experiences is impressive: in some cases, new initiatives are presenting simplified versions of complex resource data to present for a specific context. In other cases, simplified sets of resource data are being shared with more complex systems, which augment them with local knowledge from end users. And in all cases, we can see a balance between the need to respond to this particular extraordinary moment, with a long-term vision of transformed systems. Continue reading

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Our 2019 Year in Review

As January 2020 comes to a close, I’m pleased to share our Year in Review report for Open Referral’s 2019.

The report is available to download here. You can also read it embedded in this blog post below.

This year, our report features voices of stakeholders across our network — including social workers and legal aid providers, Chief Information Officers managing legacy systems and young innovators breaking ground with new projects. These stories convey the wide range of ways in which Open Referral is making it easier for communities to share information about the resources available for their residents in need.

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