Washington Communities for Children: developing the resource directory information supply chain

Washington Communities for Children (WCFC) is a network of early childhood coalitions – groups of local parents, child care providers, non-profits, public agencies, school districts, etc. – dedicated to improving the wellbeing of children, families, and communities acrossWashington state.

In 2022, the Washington State Department of Health enlisted WCFC in its Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) programto develop strategies to identify local and culturally appropriate services and update resource and referral directories.

WCFC partnered with Open Referral’s leadership to design and facilitate their strategy – and we are excited to share the report from the second phase of our work. (Download the report as a PDF here https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c43b3ae50a54f5dfe95fdba/t/650c74c81db5c572a581599f/1695315146967/ECCS+Program+Phase+2+Summary+Report+%281%29.pdf) Continue reading

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Our 2023 Year in Review

Open Referral is turning 10 years old!

Along the way, we’ve already achieved the first part of our mission: establishing industry standards for resource directory data exchange, to ensure that it’s possible to share, find, and use information about the health, human, and social services available to people in need – regardless of what technology someone happens to use.

Our mission won’t be fully accomplished, however, until this critical public information is reliable and easy to access wherever people happen to look for it. Toward that end, we need to change culture – and imagine new institutional models to sustain this challenging work. We’re making great progress on these fronts, but it’s a long journey and we have a long ways yet to go.

So I’m excited to share our newest Year In Review report here, where we take stock of the progress made in 2023.

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Teaming up with Inform USA: an announcement from Open Referral leadership

I’m excited to share the news that, as of January 1st, I’ve stepped into the role of Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships for Inform USA

Inform USA is the industry association representing information-and-referral providers across government and nonprofit human service sectors. Formerly known as AIRS (the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems), Inform USA sets standards, builds capacity, and provides training, practitioner certification, and program accreditation for resource referral services. Continue reading

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Governing the Resource Directory Data Commons: A Vision and A Call to Action

Open Referral’s mission is to establish resource directory data as a public good – reliably and sustainably made freely available to all. Toward this end, we developed the Human Service Data Specifications – but we also know that solving this problem requires more than just technical interoperability among resource directory information systems. Indeed, success entails a transformation of the business models through which resource directory information is produced.

That’s why we’ve partnered with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University to learn from the wealth of knowledge about institutional design and resource management that has been gathered there in the “Bloomington School”—through which Elinor Ostrom produced her seminal work, Governing the Commons. Continue reading

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The Community Information Exchange Task Force Report from Michigan’s Dept of Health and Human Services

I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with the Michigan Community Information Exchange Task Force over the past year. I encourage you to read the report, which is published here. You can also watch this webinar summarizing the report with commentary from a range of task force members.

In my (admittedly biased) opinion, this is the most thorough articulation I’ve yet seen a statewide implementation strategy with public and private sector leaders from across health and human service domain – one that reflects and elaborates upon the guidance put forth inthe social care information exchange “toolkit” published earlier this year by the HHS office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology.

It’s a long video and an even longer document, so I’d like to provide my own personal summary here. (A couple of pointers for reading the document: the key conclusions are summarized on page 8, and the analysis that informed each of those conclusions begins on page 40.)

In this post, I will introduce the Task Force and summarize its initial findings. In a following post, I will summarize its final recommendations. Let’s dig in! Continue reading

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HSDS is now interoperable with FHIR®

HL7 FHIR logo: Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources

As integration of healthcare and social care sectors becomes an ever-hotter topic, we’re excited to announce that we’ve taken a small but significant step forward: the Human Service Data Specifications are now aligned with the protocols for healthcare provider directory information specified by the Health Level Seven (HL7®) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®).

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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

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Report: building community-based service signposting infrastructure in the UK

NPC (New Philanthropy Capital) is a UK-based nonprofit whose mission is to help nonprofits and those that fund them to maximise their impact for the people they exist to serve. We work with individual nonprofits and funders to help them develop their strategies, learn and improve as individual organisations, and over our 20 year history we’ve worked with hundreds of organisations. But the impact we can have by working on the infrastructure that supports (or should support!) all nonprofits is greater still than that we have by working with organisations one-to-one.

One of the most ubiquitous challenges we’ve found throughout NPC’s history is signposting and referrals. In all our work to highlight effective nonprofits, we’ve found that a lack of infrastructure and standards around referrals mean that organisations can’t maximise their impact. Great nonprofits don’t necessarily get the referrals they should. People who want and need support don’t necessarily find the organisations and programmes that would work for them. In a sector that has very scarce resources, failing to crack the referrals challenge leaves huge potential on the table.

So NPC has been excited to work on the challenge of signposting and referrals over the last 7 years. First, we worked collaboratively with a group of youth nonprofits to develop a service directory prototype platform for young people called My Best Life. We built the service from the ground up – populating the directory with service data manually and laboriously, as there simply weren’t feeds available of information about local services in the area of London we focused on in the prototype. And because we wanted to work towards a standardised infrastructure for the future, we provided an Open Referral compliant feed of our data.

Today, NPC’s work has moved on from prototyping a product (now being taken to market by tech for good company Mind Of My Own) to exploring the infrastructure needed to support directories like My Best Life, and youth nonprofits as a whole. Working with the public benefit programme of UK domain name registrar Nominet – an organisation that knows the importance of digital infrastructure – NPC has led a collaborative programme of work called Signpost+. The first phase of the programme focused on research and discovery – identifying organisations who were contributing to the (fledgling) signposting and referrals infrastructure for young people, and working with them to envisage the future infrastructure of the youth sector.

This work culminated in the publication of a report called How might we improve signposting for young people? which set out our recommendations for the future. Continue reading

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Laying the foundation for a community information exchange in Utah

In 2021, Utah’s incoming governor Spencer Cox outlined a plan – the One Utah Roadmap – to address key priorities for the state in his first 500 days, ranging from coordinated COVID response to addressing the social determinants of health. In support of these priorities, the Governor’s office formed a working group focused on the prospect of “improving social determinants of health (SDOH) service delivery.” United Way of Salt Lake was invited to co-chair this committee in collaboration with Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services. In this blog post, I will share a summary of our experience and consider the path ahead. 

The One Utah Roadmap’s SDOH working group was comprised of subject matter experts, public health officials, community-based organizations, and client advocates interested in more effectively coordinating care, sharing information, and meeting people’s needs. 

We invited Greg Bloom, on behalf of Open Referral, to address the committee during our initial meeting. During that first conversation, we observed that there are a variety of efforts to facilitate the sharing of information already underway in our communities. Continue reading

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