Introducing Profiles: customize our standard for your domain!

We designed the Human Service Data Specifications (HSDS)to make it easy to share information about human services of any kind. But given the many nuanced differences across human service sectors – and states and countries and etc – it’s just not feasible to standardize every possible kind of information associated with any kind of service anywhere. So we didn’t try to do that!

Instead, HSDS standardizes the most common information elements that can be expected in virtually any service – which turns out to be a relatively small set of fields, especially when it comes to the core requirements. This ensures that HSDS is relatively practical to adopt; however, at the same time, we do want users to be able to share additional information that is important to their communities even if not specified in the core format. To strike this balance, we’ve encouraged adopters to develop extensions through which they could include information that HSDS does not specify.

Now, with the publication of the new and improved HSDS version 3.0, we’ve gone even farther in enabling users to customize the specification to meet their specific needs, while preserving interoperability across our diverse ecosystem.

HSDS 3.0 supports “Profiles” through which adopters can publish a formalized set of extensions, constraints, and enumerations that together amount to their own tailored version of the standard. Continue reading

Continue reading


Just Released: Toolkit for information exchange initiatives from the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT at HHS

Diagram of the SDOH Information Exchange Foundational Elements: Community Readiness and Stewardship, Mission and Purpose, Values and Principles are all the baseline foundation. Then Policy, Legal, Measurement and Evaluation and Financing is built on top. Finally, Implementation services, Technical Infrastructure, and User Support and Learning Network are key elements. All tied together by Governance.

I’m excited to share with you this toolkit for information exchange initiatives that aim to address the social determinants of health – shared by the Office of the National Coordination for Health Information Technology at the US Department of Health and Human Services (known as ONC). The toolkit (PDF downloadable here) synthesizes subject matter expertise from across the health, human, and social service sectors to offer guidance on the design and implementation of initiatives to enable information exchange among healthcare and social care providers.

This toolkit largely addresses issues beyond resource directory information, and yet it reflects many of the lessons learned and strategic objectives of the Open Referral initiative. It may be helpful for communities that are working to improve their supply chain for resource directory information – as well as communities for which resource directory information is just one piece of a more complex strategic goal. I’ll offer some background context below:  Continue reading

Continue reading


Our 2022 Year in Review

Our 2022 Year in Review report is now available to review!

This annual practice of review and reflection is an opportunity for us to step back and assess our progress across multiple objectives as we work towards our shared goal: a future in which it’s easy to share, find, and use information about the resources available to people in need.

This year is especially notable for the range of ways in which we’ve helped governments, nonprofits, and private sector actors take action to modernize their resource directory information supply chains – on a local, statewide, and even national level.

The report shares stories of pilot projects across the U.S. in which Open Referral’s standards, tools, and strategies are enabling cooperation among organizations that previously struggled to work together in pursuit of their common goals.
Continue reading

Continue reading


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]
Continue reading

Continue reading


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

Continue reading


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.
Continue reading

Continue reading


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

Continue reading


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.
Continue reading

Continue reading


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

Continue reading


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).

Continue reading

Continue reading