Miami Open211 Phase One: Our Report

Last year, the Miami Open211 project set out to demonstrate that an information-and-referral helpline operator can evolve into an open platform — providing machine-readable data as a service to its community — in ways that are both technically efficient and institutionally sustainable.

This project, which began in partnership with Switchboard of Miami, was Open Referral’s first formal pilot with a 2-1-1 provider.

Last week, we submitted the final report for this first phase of innovation. Many thanks to the Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County, which funded our experiment, and Jewish Community Services of South Florida, the new steward of Miami-Dade’s 2-1-1 service. With their blessing, we are excited to share our findings with the Open Referral community.

See the Final Report document here.

And check out a summary of our key accomplishments below. Continue reading

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Talking Open Referral at Stanford’s Data on Purpose

Last month I visited Stanford to speak at the 2017 Data on Purpose conference, sponsored by Stanford’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Stanford Social Innovation Review and Digital Impact (née Markets for Good).

From Possibilities To Responsibilities: Unlocking Data and Unleashing Its Potential (Jake Porway et al) from Stanford PACS.

Much of the story I told will be familiar to folks who are already familiar with Open Referral but this may be the first time I’ve managed to give a proper tour through the wickedness of this problem, and the principles that guide our search for solutions, all in just about twelve minutes. So give it a watch! (My talk starts at 14m40s.)

The Open Referral API project

The Open Referral Initiative’s next chapter starts now!

Open Referral has helped over a dozen community organizations find new ways to share resource directory information about the health, human, and social services available to people in need. Our Human Services Data Specification provides a common ‘machine language’ that any technology can be programmed to understand. This work has spurred a proliferation of ‘Application Programming Interfaces’ (APIs) — which publish machine-readable resource data for third-parties to query in real-time, so they can repurpose it in new ways.

So our newest mission is to establish interoperability across this new wave of resource directory APIs, so that machine-readable data about human services can be easily accessed and shared with a common protocol — regardless of technology, jurisdiction, organizational status, etc.

Thanks to Markets for Good for this opportunity!Toward this end, we’ve received funding from the Markets for Good program — which is now a part of the new Digital Impact initiative ( hosted by the Digital Society Lab at Stanford’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society!

Read Markets for Good’s announcement here. Continue reading

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Welcoming Benetech to Open Referral!

We’re pleased to announce a new strategic partnership with Benetech, one of the world’s leading non-profit software development organizations.

Benetech was formed in 1989 and in the time since has developed a series of products that have improved lives and transformed industries around the world — starting with Bookshare (the world’s largest online library of accessible ebooks for people with blindness or dyslexia) and most recently featuring projects like Martus (for secure mobile document sharing among human rights organizations and activists).

Benetech focuses on doing “the right stuff right” — in other words, they choose work that can make a difference in people’s lives, and they build state-of-the-art technology that can scale. Open source development and social good are at the core of their principles.

That aligns directly with our work in Open Referral. Continue reading

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Leveling up: documentation improvements and spec upgrade

Last year, Open Referral introduced Version 1.0 of the Human Services Data Specification — an open data exchange format designed to make it easier for different organizations to share standardized information about the health, human, and social services available to people in need. Since then, a broad range of organizations have used the HSDS to make resource directory data easier to find and use in new ways in their communities.

We’ve received a lot of great feedback along the way, and we’re now ready to put this learning into action — by improving the HSDS itself, and making it easier for people and organizations to use.

This upgrade cycle has already begun: the Open Data Services Cooperative (read their introduction here) has already taken a series of steps to make it easier to understand, comment upon, and work with the HSDS.

Introducing our new documentation

First of all, Open Referral now has our very own Github organization, which hosts our data specification and associated materials. You can check us out here. Continue reading

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Joining Up Data Standards: the U.S. Data Federation and beyond

We’re pleased to announce that Open Referral is one of the first seven initiatives to be featured by the U.S. Data Federation, a new initiative from the federal General Services Administration, in association with Data.Gov, to promote the effective use of civic data through interoperability.

As the GSA explains in its introduction of the new project: “The U.S. Data Federation will support government-wide standardization and data federation initiatives across both Federal agencies and local governments.”

In its initial form, the U.S. Data Federation is simply highlighting a set of data standardization initiatives — such as the Voting Information Project, Open311, and the Building and Land Development Specification (BLDS), alongside Open Referral. These initiatives are diverse, yet they share common goals: to improve the accessibility and deliverability of critical public information (in these instances: data about elections, municipal operations, and permitting data, respectively) across jurisdictions and technically varying environments. Continue reading

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The Civic Imagination Fellowship with Civic Hall Labs [UPDATED with video]

I’m excited to share that I’ve been invited to join Civic Hall Labs as part of their inaugural cohort of Civic Imagination Fellows.

Civic Hall is a community center civic innovators located in the Flatiron District of New York City. It was started by the proprietors of the Personal Democracy Forum, which is a conference and a publication and community in which I’ve participated for more than a decade. …

Here is video of my talk from the Personal Democracy Forum 2016 mainstage. Some of it will be familiar to Open Referral participants, but there’s new stuff too 🙂

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The 2016 AIRS style guide: newly open sourced!

The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems ( is the trade association for ‘information and referral’ providers across North America — such as 2-1-1s, Area Agencies on Aging, and other organizations that help people connect to services that can meet their needs.

The AIRS Style Guide puts forth a formal set of recommended practices for collecting, structuring, and sharing resource directory information. The Style Guide’s objectives are to enhance the capacity for resource database administrators to produce concise, consistent, accurate directory information about the health, human, and social services available to people in need. It’s used by individuals who are curating comprehensive and/or specialized resource databases at local, state and national levels.

The Style Guide is reviewed and updated every few years, to keep up with evolving conventions.

Previous versions of the Style Guide have included a copyright disclaimer that encouraged “AIRS members and related friends” to freely repurpose the content for their own uses. I’ve met many such “friends of AIRS” — and they are indeed a pretty friendly group! Ultimately, however, the AIRS mission is to help as many people as possible to manage this information as effectively as possible; in other words, AIRS wants this content to be easy for anyone to use, even folks with whom they are not yet technically “friends.”

Towards that end, in consultation with members the Open Referral initiative, AIRS has recently decided to adopt a new license for the 2016 edition of the style guide: Creative Commons 4.0 By-Attribution. Continue reading

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New Philanthropy Capital: Joining the Dots

Last October, I had the opportunity to visit London and spend some time learning about the UK social sector, at events such as the excellent NPC Ignites conference. On this trip, I was impressed by people’s sense of pride in the country’s long history of public service provision. But I also heard clear notes of anxiety about the present and future of the sector, given converging trends such as budget cuts and privatisation. Continue reading

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