Introducing the Whatcom County Resource Information Collaborative

This post is brought to us by Kristi Slette, Secretariat of the Whatcom Resource Information Collaborative in Washington state. Welcome, Kristi!

Washington state’s Whatcom County – the north western most county in continental U.S. – is a resourceful community with many collaborative community-based organizations that serve residents in need.

For many years, the leadership and staff from many of these organizations have voiced a desire to improve the accessibility and reliability of information about resources available in our community. In the past, this desire sparked several attempts to develop a centralized resource directory – but in each instance, our vision was hampered by the complexities of this challenge. We all shared the same goal, but different organizations had different needs and interests; when it came time to address all of them in one single website, we struggled to move forward together.

Learning from the past

In 2019, a series of community assessments and strategic planning sessions once again surfaced the need for a resource directory as a priority for Whatcom County, and a coalition of human and social service organizations convened to address this challenge with fresh eyes. This time, we sought to learn from previous efforts.

Through extensive dialogues with three different groups – social service providers who had been involved in the previous resource access initiatives, the conveners of those initiatives, and managers of current resource directories in our area – we perceived a set of key themes: the importance of leadership, human capacity, and buy-in from the community.

Through this reflection, we recognized that technology – which had previously been our primary focus – is actually only part of the solution. Rather than just designing a new tool, our new initiative would need to focus on building the capacities and relationships that will be needed to ensure that any such system is adaptive, sustainable, and trustworthy.

Building capacity for collaboration

In 2021, having made it a priority to improve access to resources for families with young children, the Whatcom County Health Department provided some seed funding to support our new initiative to establish a resource directory information system for the county. This time, we resolved to build a system that would be collectively “owned” by our community as a whole. Continue reading

Continue reading


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.

Continue reading

Continue reading


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

Continue reading


Sunlight Foundation on local governments and the opening of social service data

Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services has long been known as one of the most innovative government agencies of its kind: their data infrastructure famously enables sharing of client information across a complex array of programs and powers analytic capabilities. As Ian Mavero started his role as their Chief Technology Officer, he took on the department’s next strategic priority: further improving the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) flow of information about, well, human services.

“When it comes to information about residents — and activities of our programs — our data infrastructure is really impressive,” says Ian Mavero. “When it comes to information about our services, we have a single database that contains information about all of the providers with whom we contract and their associated facilities and services… But we commonly hear that our community partners and clients themselves, desire better access to information about these services. And we agree: community mental health specialists should have access to the same information about available services as our own agency’s case workers do.”

In order to share information about services more broadly and effectively, Mavero realized that Allegheny DHS’s IT would need to take another step forward — not with fancy new technology, just with more deliberate practices of structuring and sharing this existing data.

“We needed a standardized way to structure this directory information in a way that could enable it to be shared across all offices, with our contracted partners, and even with the public at large.” Continue reading

Continue reading


Deep Dive into version 1.0

Earlier this month, we published version 1.0 of the Human Service Data Specification (HSDS). Let’s take a deeper dive into it.

What is the Human Service Data Specification (HSDS)?

The HSDS is a format for data exchange, specifically designed to enable the publication of machine-readable data about health, human, and social services that are available to people in need.

HSDS is essentially an interlingua — in other words, it’s a common language that can be used by anyone to enable community resource directories to ’talk’ to each other.

 

Why did we develop the HSDS?

We believe that development of an open, standardized format is a necessary step in a process of reducing the costs of producing directory data, increasing the quality of such data, and promoting its re-use in valuable ways. Continue reading

Continue reading


Toward Seamless Information & Referral: A Polycentric Experiment

By Derek Coursen, Adjunct Faculty, NYU Wagner School of Public Service

Multiple levels of government and a myriad of nonprofit organizations offer an ever-changing array of specialized services to people who need them. But who directs traffic through all that complexity?

The work of connecting people to services is known as information and referral. It’s a basic part of what human service organizations do: help their clients find further resources elsewhere. But it’s also a professionalized function in its own right. Throughout the U.S. and Canada there are several thousand information and referral (I&R) providers at 211 and 311 call centers, United Ways, community organizations, libraries and hospitals. They maintain and serve up community resource directories: collections of records on which organizations offer which services. Their work is essential to making an extremely decentralized human service sector operate smoothly.

Unfortunately, information and referral is currently a landscape of silos. In most localities there are several I&R providers. But instead of sharing records, each one maintains its own separate collection. That makes it harder for clients to find the services they need. It also adds to cost, as all of the I&R providers have to create and update records about the same services. Continue reading

Continue reading