Release Announcement: Benetech Service Net upgrade

[Welcome back to the blog, Benetech! This post is from KP Naidu, VP of Benetech Labs, with an update on their Service Net.]

 

Here in Benetech’s home of the San Francisco Bay Area, our communities are facing compounding crises: the pandemic, economic crisis, and most recently out of control wildfires forcing thousands of evacuations and causing a new airborne health crisis. This chaos has not only created a more pressing need than ever for human services that can help people stay healthy and secure, but it has also caused major turmoil among service providers.

The result has been an intensification of challenges that were already hard enough – such as just keeping track of what services are available, and when. This information is now changing even more rapidly given the challenges of providing services while social distancing – and given constrictions in funding of various kinds. Community resource referral providers report that their legacy systems aren’t able to keep up with these rapid changes – and many resorted to using Google Docs to keep track of information about services.

These challenges make collaboration more important than ever. That’s why I’m excited to announce the next iteration of Benetech Service Net. 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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Presenting ORServices 3.0: a Complete Laravel-based Open Referral Directory Solution

I’m happy to announce that Sarapis is releasing a Laravel-based Open Referral Directory Solution (ORServices) as open source code!

This software enables anyone to create their own community resource directory information system — with a level of design and functionality that is comparable to proprietary resource directory software systems that are available on the market.

ORServices offers a mobile-friendly, geo-aware directory software with search and granular filters built with Open Referral’s Human Service Data Standard (HSDS) compliant data model. By leveraging HSDS, this system can also establish interoperability with other standardized systems, so that resource directory data can be shared among them.

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Delivering Open Referral Solutions with Airtable

In 2018, with a small grant provided by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems to the Sahana Software Foundation, Sarapis developed an Airtable template of a community resource database using Open Referral’s Human Services Data Specification (HSDS). This project responded to a need articulated by many in our community for a lightweight, easy-to-use resource database for the management of complex service directory data.

With the functionality of a basic database, and the user interface of a common spreadsheet, we hypothesized that an Airtable template could provide a workable solution for organizations and projects with very limited funding.

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Providing Access to Legal Assistance through Instant Attorney

[Welcome to Everett Pompeii of Clerical.AI! We are excited to feature this as our most recent highlighted project from the field of legal services.]

Where should you refer someone for legal help?

The answer given is usually one of two extremes: free legal aid or the local bar association.

There are other options out there, from do-it-yourself apps like Legalzoom to flat rate and limited scope attorneys. However, in the vast ocean of the internet, these resources can be difficult if not impossible to find, and even if you do find them it can be difficult to compare prices. A newly launched platform, Instant Attorney, is aiming to make the problem of finding affordable legal services a whole lot easier. Instant Attorney, which went into open beta last month, is a collaborative legal resource knowledge base built on the Human Services Data Specification (HSDS). 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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Introducing Open Referral’s data transformation toolkit

We’re excited to introduce a set of tools that make it easier to standardize resource data.

Community resource directory data (i.e., information about health, human, and social services available to people in need) is deceptively complex. In order to accurately represent the relationships between organizations, the services they provide, and the locations they are offered, Open Referral’s Human Service Data Specification (HSDS) calls for multiple tables, linked together — which can be challenging to work with. HSDS addressed this challenge by calling for a set of CSV files to be bundled together by a ‘datapackage’ which would specify the tables’ contents and relationships in a single machine-readable file.

Few of the members of our community, however, were familiar with datapackages and how to create them. So we’ve now made it easier to facilitate this complex approach to resource data sharing!

Thanks to the Open Knowledge Foundation, which developed the standard format for JSON datapackages, we’ve now upgraded our specification and associated tools to make it easier to produce, share, and read standardized resource data in the HSDS format, datapackage and all. Continue reading

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The DC Community Resource Information Exchange: Phase One Report

The District of Columbia’s community of health, human, and social service providers are struggling with a familiar challenge: they want to be able to more effectively coordinate care among their patients and clients, yet their systems can’t currently ‘talk’ to each other.

In response to this issue, DC’s Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF) initiated the DC Community Resource Information Exchange (DC CoRIE) to develop data infrastructure that supports coordinated screening, referral and tracking across a range of health, human, and social services in DC. DHCF selected the DC Primary Care Association (DCPCA) and Open Referral to lead an initial planning phase to help understand how to build infrastructure that would facilitate these functions. As part of this planning phase, we were tasked with the development of a Community Resource Inventory that can sustainably aggregate up-to-date information about the health, human, and social services available to DC residents. Continue reading

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Not another directory of services! Adopting Open Referral in the UK

Today we welcome to the blog Mike Thacker of Porism Limited. Porism is a technical partner of the Local Government Association (LGA), a membership organisation of English local authorities, which owns the Improvement and Development Agency for local government (IDeA). Porism works with iStandUK, a local government standards body that promotes efficiency, transformation, and transparency of local public services in the UK. 

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has commissioned discovery work on standards for local community-based services, which recommended alignment with Open Referral’s resource data exchange standards. Now, Porism is working with LGA and iStandUK to test and support extensions to Open Referral. This work includes commissioning an open-source “service finder” application – for which Porism is currently soliciting proposals.

This post is adapted from the original on Medium. 

Most of us who’ve worked in or with the public and voluntary sectors will have come across a plethora of directories of services from registers of specialists kept by a department to more general lists of family services, sporting activities and advisers. The prevalence of such directories of overlapping content and variable quality is a testament to how far away we are from achieving an efficient means of getting accurate information. Now the Local Government Association (LGA) is piloting an approach to bring us closer to that goal. Here I summarise the approach being taken and provide some links for open data people who want to get more involved.

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