Michigan 211’s new resource data infrastructure: providing social service information as a service

Since the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, Michigan 211 has received an increasing number of requests for real-time access to our social service directory database from partners and collaborators across the state. We actively maintain over 40,000 service records offered throughout Michigan, verifying its accuracy on an ongoing basis – and carefully curating this information to connect community members to local services. When initiatives like one of Michigan’s new behavioral health services wanted to leverage our information to improve their ability to meet the needs of their callers, we wanted to ensure that this critical information can be available where and when they need it.

To address this emergent need, 211 made the strategic decision to develop a cloud-based service that securely provides direct access to our resource database for third-party partners – our “social service directory data service.” Toward this end, we partnered with Brightstreet Group as our technology consultants, and adopted Open Referral’s Human Service Data Specification as the technical blueprint for resource data service. 

By building this service on the foundation laid by Open Referral – from data exchange standards to an array of tools and strategic insights for new forms of resource data partnerships – we were able to focus our resources on meeting the unique needs of our partners and community at large. 

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Upgrading the Human Service Data Specifications: 2022 development cycle underway

As Open Referral’s network grows – involving more stakeholders in the development of interoperable resource directory information supply chains – our tools and practices must evolve in kind to support more complex needs.

So we are excited to share that Open Referral has initiated a new development cycle to upgrade the Human Service Data Specifications. This cycle has kicked off with a specific objective to address a significant issue: our specifications need to be adapted across diverse contexts, to support different conventions in different places, while preserving a core of interoperability across our ecosystem.

To support this workgroup’s efforts, we are seeking feedback from a broad array of stakeholders across our network. For instance, this Friday (July 22nd) from 11a-1p, we will host an open “fishbowl” discussion in which workgroup members will review proposals line-by-line, at which any members of our community are welcome to observe and discuss by chat – invitations available by request. We encourage interested parties to comment on the documents above, or discuss in our issues queue on Github, or reach out directly via [email protected]
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Evolving the DC Community Resource Information Exchange’s Inventory Capabilities

In the District of Columbia, we’re developing a new approach to the very old problem of resource directory information management. Years ago we shared the story of the first phase of our work here on this blog, and we’re now excited to share results from our second phase. 

The DC Community Resource Information Exchange initiative (DC CoRIE) is an initiative to develop infrastructure and capacities to support coordination of care across health and social service sectors in the District of Columbia. Led through partnership among government agencies, community organizations, and technology providers – including the DC Department of Health Care Finance, the DC Primary Care Association and its DC-PACT coalition, and CRISP DC – DC CoRIE seeks to enable exchange of information about resources, and about people, across diverse organizational contexts and technology systems, in promotion of equitable health outcomes. 

One of DC CoRIE’s primary goals is to establish a sustainable supply of comprehensive, reliable information about the resources available to people in need. In 2019, we discussed this goal with a group of people who already maintain resource directories, and named the central challenge of this problem: resource directory information requires significant effort to reliably maintain, and at the same time, people want to use it not just in one “centralized” system but across an ecosystem of distributed contexts and technologies. In order to pursue this vision of a healthy information ecosystem, we resolved that our work should leverage the assets that are already in our community. (See the report from our participatory deliberation process here). Together, we identified three objectives for this phase: 

  1. Prototype resource directory information system that is designed for interoperability – such that the contents of the CRI could be accessed by any third party system.
  2. Develop a collaborative network of data stewards who will support this system by sharing data management responsibilities.
  3. Demonstrate the potential for this system to serve as a canonical source of open data about local human services.

In 2021, we accomplished each of these objectives – and we are now initiating our next phase, through which we will formalize this framework. Check out our final report for this phase here.

Below, we’ll provide more context for our project’s objectives and the path ahead.

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UK Government endorses Open Referral UK

Welcome back to our 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 also works with iStandUK, a local government standards body that promotes efficiency, transformation, and transparency of local public services in the UK. 

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On March 16th 2022 the UK Government Data Standards Authority Steering Board formally endorsed Open Referral UK (ORUK).

Endorsement means that UK central government departments should apply the standard in future for interchanging open data describing services. Though this does not amount to a mandate for use of the standard by local governments and “arms-length bodies” such as the National Health Service (NHS), it does build upon the Local Government Association’s early adoption as reported here in 2019 – and the NHS has already established requirements in its Health Systems Support Framework that Social Prescribing systems must (after a grace period allowed for adoption) be able to read from Open Referral UK compliant data feeds. These developments build upon a significant uptake of adoption in our sector among initiatives like LOOP, and encourage further alignment among related institutions.

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Upgrading the Human Service Data API protocols to 2.0

[Ed: This post is from Kin Lane, author of initial Human Service Data API protocols, and now Chief Evangelist at Postman, an API development platform. Welcome back, Kin!]

Now that the Open Referral Initiative has upgraded to version 2 of the Human Service Data Specification (HSDS), we’re commencing a subsequent upgrade to version 2 of our Human Service Data API protocols (HSDA).

We now invite members of the Open Referral community to contribute feedback – especially use cases, specific feature requests, and example OpenAPI definitions – that can shape the iteration of these API protocols and, in turn, facilitate the emergence of interoperable, reliable resource directory information infrastructure. Continue reading

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Introducing NCCARE360: a coordinated statewide resource referral platform

NCCARE360

[This post is from Laura Marx, President and CEO of United Way of North Carolina. Welcome, Laura!] 

In 2019, the first statewide health and human service care coordination platform launched in North Carolina: NCCARE360.

Part of a broader healthy opportunities network envisioned by the state Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) — NCCARE360 provided our state an opportunity to build a collaborative model of care coordination between health care providers and community based organizations (CBOs) focused on ensuring patients connect with services addressing social determinants of health (SDoH).

NCCARE360 is supported by the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation in partnership with NC DHHS. The United Way of North Carolina/NC211 is building this care coordination infrastructure in partnership with Expound Decision Systems and UniteUs.

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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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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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AIRS Recommends Open Referral’s HSDS for Resource Database Interoperability

On behalf of the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), I am pleased to announce that the AIRS Board has moved to promote the adoption Open Referral’s Human Service Data Specification and API protocols as methods of establishing interoperability among resource databases and associated technologies.

Our aim is to create secure, controlled and affordable processes with which Information and Referral (I&R) organizations can securely share resource database records from their own software system with other systems — and Open Referral has demonstrated considerable success in helping this field move toward that goal.

AIRS is an international association of I&R service providers. Continue reading

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