Introducing Benetech Service Net

This post originally appeared on the Benetech blog and is reposted with permission.

As inequality deepens in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area – in Benetech’s backyard – the crises facing our neighbors in need continue to mount. This is happening despite the efforts of governments, philanthropies, nonprofits, and social good work by technology companies in the region. Hundreds of organizations provide thousands of health, human, and social services across the Bay Area, yet we commonly hear that people in need still find it hard to know where to get help.

In the past year, Benetech has been exploring this challenge — learning about the complexities of these service sectors, identifying opportunities to apply our experience developing software for social good, and enabling ecosystems to achieve greater impact through data collaboration. Through this process we’ve initiated Benetech Service Net, an open standards, data collaboration and exchange platform for securely and efficiently sharing data that community-based organizations use to connect people in need of human services. The goal of Benetech Service Net is to provide a software infrastructure so people can better access the services they need to live and prosper. It will enable data collaboration among referral providers, service providers, government agencies, and other safety net stakeholders so that siloed information about services can be shared among the many organizations that are working to help people navigate the safety net.

To understand where we are going from here, let’s recap how we came to this point. Continue reading

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NYC government publishing open data for municipally-contracted service providers

This post comes to us from Oonagh Jordan, a VISTA Fellow with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Opportunity. Oonagh is leading the project management of this initiative.

In New York City, community-based organizations that deliver programming at neighborhood sites play a crucial role in administering City-funded programs and services. There is, however, currently no central listing of all of the city-funded service site locations across the five boroughs where this critical work occurs. If there were a list of this kind, agencies, policymakers, and advocates could better understand how resources are distributed throughout the City and address any gaps in service.

The Social Service Site Location Data project aims to support efficient interagency coordination, collaboration, and decision-making by making this information accessible. …

After some research, NYC Opportunity decided to use the Human Services Data Specification, with some modifications, to organize the data. An advantage of using this existing open-source model is that it is already well-documented and easily ingestible by other applications or systems. Continue reading

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Building Both Technology and Community to Address Homelessness in San Francisco

ShelterTech is currently a 50 member strong all-volunteer non-profit, bringing free wifi and other digital tools to the homeless community of San Francisco.

In November 2017, we won a grant from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to collaborate with the SF Bar Association’s Homeless Advocacy Project to digitize their bi-annual print-only resource guide consisting of hundreds of pages on housing, healthcare, job training, education, and other social services. AskDarcel.org, the new online resource guide, now has a database of over 700 organizations and 1100 services available to those in need in SF.

Our goal is to help solve some of the biggest technology challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness, including providing information to help individuals cope with homelessness and get on a path to housing.

To achieve this goal, ShelterTech has adopted the Open Referral format — to both facilitate AskDarcel’s internal resource directory information management and to enable their application to integrate with the broader ecosystem of health, human, and social services activities in the Bay Area including 2-1-1, government agency databases, and a new human services data sharing initiative being developed by Benetech. Our adoption of Open Referral, along with our commitment to open sourcing their projects, played an important role in their grant application with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. Continue reading

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Maryland Open211: Learning a New Language

There is a great scene in the 1984 version of Footloose where the high school “punk” Wren (played by Kevin Bacon) seeks permission from the town council to hold a dance. The local Pastor (played by John Lithgow) reminds Wren, the local citizens, and the town council that a dance is fraught with evil and should not be allowed. The tone of the once divisive meeting changed when Wren begins to quote biblical passages about the religious benefits of dancing: people began to listen and a dialogue was opened between the students and the faith/city leaders. Wren learned the unique “language” of the town council and in the end actually gets permission to take the Pastor’s daughter to the dance.

2-1-1 Maryland’s evolution to Open Referral has been similar to that 1984 film. We are learning the new ‘language’ of API’s, while also learning to communicate with new nontraditional partners.

2-1-1 Maryland’s mission is to ensure all residents of our state have access to community resources that can help them meet their needs. That’s why we’re excited to announce the Maryland Open211 project. Maryland Open211 will test and scale innovative means of sharing 2-1-1’s invaluable resource data as an open, interoperable resource available to all. Continue reading

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Hacking on Link With Optimizely And Benetech

Open Referral went to San Francisco on Wednesday August 9th to participate in a social good hack-day at Optimizely. In collaboration with our partner Benetech, Open Referral set up as one of the social good projects that 20+ employees worked on for the day.

 

Overall, our team was strong in front-end web and mobile developers, so we decided to “forward engineer” Zendesk’s Link-SF application so that it can be deployed on any Open Referral-compatible API. […]

You can find the updated Link source code in our Github repository. If you want to run this app locally, you can save a file as `config.js`and follow the instructions on the setup page. Continue reading

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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 (digitalimpact.io) 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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The Florida Legal Resource Directory Project

Legal problems: sometimes you don’t even know you have one until it’s too late.

When it comes to people with low incomes, legal problems of various kinds — issues with landlords, family disputes, rejected benefits, etc — can be outright debilitating. Yet while there are many legal resources available to people in need, these kinds of services tend to be some of the hardest for people to find and access.

That’s why we’re excited to be starting an Open Referral pilot project with legal service providers across the state of Florida.

With support from the Florida Bar Foundation, the Legal Services Corporation, and LegalServer — and in coordination with multiple other implementations of the Open Referral format in legal aid networks across the country — Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida will pilot a new, replicable approach to publishing directory information about legal services as standardized, machine-readable data that will be freely accessible to an ecosystem of tools and services that help people find help.

NB: we are soliciting proposals for technical leadership on this project. See this RFP.

To learn more, read this post from Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida’s Executive Director, Kimberly Sanchez, below — and you can also reach out to info@openreferral.org to inquire about starting a similar pilot projects in your community. Continue reading

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Open Referral in Oklahoma!

This is a guest post from Aaron Bean of Asemio. Welcome, Aaron!

We’re pleased to introduce the first iteration of the Oklahoma Open 2-1-1 project, which is leveraging the Ohana platform and the Open Referral format to make it easier for Oklahoma residents to find and share information about community resources that can help improve their lives.

This is just an initial demonstration of a major initiative that dates back several years. A wide range of stakeholders across many sectors in Tulsa and our surrounding region have been developing a shared assessment of the complex nature of our social problems, and we have recently coalesced around a common goal: to understand and reduce disparities in health outcomes by race, class, and gender through a holistic view of the various community systems that serve individuals and families. (See our whitepaper PDF here.)

Toward this goal, we seek to answer the question of how we can better align and integrate the various resources in our community that might help solve complex social problems. Continue reading

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