Open Referral in Action: the Purple Binder Platform

This is a guest post from Joseph Flesh, the co-founder of Purple Binder.

We’re proud to announce one of the first instances of open, standardized community resource data in action. Purple Binder and mRelief — another emerging civic technology startup based in Chicago — are using the Open Referral standard to integrate their applications.

Purple Binder matches people with the services they need to stay healthy. Our primary product helps healthcare systems and local governments connect people with community services. We’ve also incorporated the Ohana Web Search application into our platform to create publicly-accessible resource directories.

mRelief has similar goals of connecting people with resources that can help them meet their needs — but their product takes a very different approach. mRelief’s app provides users with simple forms and text messages that help them determine their eligibility for public assistance programs. The mRelief app asks a series of questions, including income and household size, and then determines a family’s eligibility for social services. If users qualify, they are directed to their next step in the application process. In this way, mRelief saves time and money for both vulnerable people and the government.

However, if users do not qualify for benefits, mRelief doesn’t want that to be the end of the line. That’s where Purple Binder’s Application Programming Interface comes in. Based on information submitted by users through its benefits screening process, mRelief can automatically query Purple Binder’s database for local social services that can help.

For instance, if a family isn’t eligible for medical insurance, mRelief uses Purple Binder to refer them to a free health clinic in their community.

mRelief's application will screen users for benefits eligibility and also show them relevant results from Purple Binder's resource database.

mRelief’s application will screen users for benefits eligibility and also show them relevant results from Purple Binder’s resource database.

“Our partnership with Purple Binder ensures that Chicagoans in need will never be left standing empty-handed when they are ineligible for government assistance,” said Rose Afriyie, mRelief Project Manager. “Instead, we can help them tap into the nearest community resource.”

And for people outside of Chicago, use of the Open Referral standard will enable mRelief to redeploy their technology in any community where an information-and-referral provider is opening their data in this format.

Purple Binder’s API is the first to use the Open Referral standard to transmit social services data between two applications. Through Open Referral, organizations like Purple Binder, Code for America, and information-and-referral providers across the country are working together to demonstrate that social service directory information can and should be made available through open platforms. This is our first glimpse of what that can look like.

At Purple Binder, we support open data standards so that people can work together to solve tough problems. Open standards enable innovators to be focused on developing the best possible products without creating a fragmented landscape of siloed technologies. It’s our hope that through standards like Open Referral, innovations will converge towards an open ecosystem of tools and services that all work well for people.

Joseph Flesh is the founder of Purple Binder, a community health startup that both consumes and produces open data. After winning first prize in the 2013 Social New Venture Challenge at the Booth School of Business, he led Purple Binder to profitability and is defining a new market for community health software. Purple Binder has built solutions for partners including the City of Chicago, University of Illinois Health System, and the Desert Healthcare District.

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