When it comes to making decisions for the Initiative as a whole, simple rule of thumb is rough consensus and running code. We do things that 1) demonstrably work, and which 2) none of our community members find to be outright objectionable.
That said, because this is a complex problem (involving private and public sectors; spanning local, state, and federal boundaries, with many layers of technology that are rapidly changing) our approach to discovering solutions should also be complex. So the Open Referral Initiative entails various levels at which different kinds of decisions are being made by different kinds of participants. (One way to describe this is ‘polycentricity’ — read more about what we mean by that here.) We approach this challenge in an agile way. Rather than try to figure everything out up front, we instead work with stakeholders to identify specific steps that are worth taking in and of themselves, and which incrementally move us in the direction we want to go. We do some things, learn from them, and do more things.
This is driven by a kind of network-oriented ‘advice process’: before we do things, we ask those who will be impacted by a given decision, and those who are experts on the relevant subject, for advice. We synthesize their input and coordinate participation from a wide variety of participants, giving prerogative to our primary stakeholders (i.e. help seekers, service providers, researchers, and database administrators). These processes happen both at the ‘global’ level of Open Referral overall, and at the local level of pilot projects that implement these data exchange protocols — with local decisions being made autonomously by local stakeholders.
At the ‘global’ level, this process entails three activities: 1) a semi-regular Assembly video call, open to all participants [see an archive of these videos here], 2) convenings of diverse stakeholders in Open Referral workshops [read the reportback here], and 3) ad hoc ‘workgroups’ consisting of leaders with a varied set of perspectives and experiences [see the workgroup archive here]. Of all the feedback received from many different contributors, we assign priority to the perspectives of the lead stakeholders of our pilot projects. This feedback is submitted to Open Referral’s deputized technical leads, who ultimately make decisions with documentation and established methods for future review.
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