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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New research finds urgent needs for interoperability across health, human, and social service sectors

It often doesn’t matter how clever or well-designed a new technology is – if it can’t easily work with other technologies (and other organizations and people) then it may not accomplish much good at all.

In the last month, three significant reports have underscored this reality – one each from the US (produced by the Social Interventions Research & Evaluation Network), Canada (produced by MaRS Discovery District), and the UK (produced by Snook).

These reports compile a considerable amount of research from across the field of public informatics in general, and community resource information and referral systems in particular. Each assesses a broad swath of organizations and technologies that are trying to innovate in ways that help people in need – yet often struggling to realize their intended potential.

Taken together, this set of research and analysis makes an urgent case that governments, philanthropies, and civil society organizations should prioritize interoperability as a core value of their investment strategies, through promotion of open data standards in general – and Open Referral in particular.

Let’s take a look!

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The Florida Legal Aid Resource Federation: Pilot Report

After two years of development, we’re pleased to share details of our successful Florida Legal Aid Resource Federation pilot!

Initiated in 2016 (see our original post here) and completed in 2018, with support from the Legal Services Corporation and the Florida Bar Foundation, the Florida Legal Aid Resource Federation (FLARF) was a complex project with a simple goal:

We aimed to ensure that accurate information about Florida’s legal aid providers can be reliably updated by those providers in one place – one official record! – and subsequently shared as standardized, canonical open data. (This pilot goal was directly in the service of our ultimate goal: to ensure that this information can be found and used in any given channel through which someone might look for it.)

The pilot phase of this project has concluded successfully! 

The FLARF pilot yielded a functioning ‘beta’ system through which resource data can be shared among every organization that receives grants from the project’s primary funders. (This includes about 90% of the legal aid resources in the state!) This information is now accessible to each legal aid provider in Florida within their own case management system – improving their ability to refer clients from one legal aid provider to another.

We’re now beginning work on additional implementations that will make this data accessible through more and more channels (such as through integration with resource referral call centers, medical-legal partnership programs, even just better search results in Google, etc).

Read our complete final report on this project here. Continue reading

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