Improving access to legal aid by improving search results with schema.org

Despite the vast amounts of information on the Web, finding reliable information about legal services through internet searches is harder than many expect. Basic searches — for needs like assistance with evictions, help with public benefits, or protection from domestic violence — often turn bewildering as results on Google, among other search engines, typically seem unhelpful and untrustworthy.

Every U.S. state has legal aid organizations to help people who can’t afford private law firms. But these organizations rarely have the capacity to specialize in Search Engine Optimization that can compete with private firms and even scammy operations that tend to dominate search results.

Search results don’t have to be as hit-or-miss as they are today. One promising method of improving search results is by adding specialized tags – i.e. “web markup” – to legal aid websites that help web engines better identify and index their information.

Schema.org – which represents a coalition of the major web platforms – produces such web markup for smarter search results. With schema.org’s standardized vocabulary, websites can ‘mark up’ otherwise unstructured text into structured data that can be semantically ‘understood’ by search engines.

When Open Referral first began, we worked in collaboration with the team that developed the first version of the ‘Civic Services schema’ at schema.org. We were particularly motivated by their vision of a future in which anyone could use colloquial language in their searches and easily get reliable, richly detailed results. Finally, through partnership with legal aid providers in Florida and around the country, we now have our first glimpse of that future. Continue reading

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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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LOOP: Resource Data Collaboration, Live at Leeds

Leeds, a city in the North of England, has developed an open-source API-based service directory data infrastructure. LOOP (Leeds Open Online Platform) provides a way for the city’s local authority, voluntary sector and private partners to collaborate on a shared information repository.

The City Digital Partnerships Team is currently leading the project. We are hosted by Leeds City Council (the local authority of the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England), but our focus is to work together across all of the organisations that deliver health and social care to the people in the city.

LOOP re-uses elements from a project in Kingston-upon-Thames in London, in which a local authority used the Open Referral data model to build a MySQL database with APIs and an admin interface. Through LOOP, third parties can build their own websites and systems that connect to our API. We’re also developing a cross-platform widget that can render content on other websites.

 

Initially this project didn’t have any specific interoperability or integration requirements – but we quickly recognised there are benefits of being a part of a broader community of practice, and the potential to exchange interoperable technology in the future. We also knew that, in order to bring together many partners, it was vital to have a data standard to which all could agree. That’s why we enthusiastically decided to use the Open Referral data model.

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Release Announcement: Benetech Service Net upgrade

[Welcome back to the blog, Benetech! This post is from KP Naidu, VP of Benetech Labs, with an update on their Service Net.]

 

Here in Benetech’s home of the San Francisco Bay Area, our communities are facing compounding crises: the pandemic, economic crisis, and most recently out of control wildfires forcing thousands of evacuations and causing a new airborne health crisis. This chaos has not only created a more pressing need than ever for human services that can help people stay healthy and secure, but it has also caused major turmoil among service providers.

The result has been an intensification of challenges that were already hard enough – such as just keeping track of what services are available, and when. This information is now changing even more rapidly given the challenges of providing services while social distancing – and given constrictions in funding of various kinds. Community resource referral providers report that their legacy systems aren’t able to keep up with these rapid changes – and many resorted to using Google Docs to keep track of information about services.

These challenges make collaboration more important than ever. That’s why I’m excited to announce the next iteration of Benetech Service Net. Continue reading

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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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Not another directory of services! Adopting Open Referral in the UK

Today we welcome to the 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 works with iStandUK, a local government standards body that promotes efficiency, transformation, and transparency of local public services in the UK. 

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has commissioned discovery work on standards for local community-based services, which recommended alignment with Open Referral’s resource data exchange standards. Now, Porism is working with LGA and iStandUK to test and support extensions to Open Referral. This work includes commissioning an open-source “service finder” application – for which Porism is currently soliciting proposals.

This post is adapted from the original on Medium. 

Most of us who’ve worked in or with the public and voluntary sectors will have come across a plethora of directories of services from registers of specialists kept by a department to more general lists of family services, sporting activities and advisers. The prevalence of such directories of overlapping content and variable quality is a testament to how far away we are from achieving an efficient means of getting accurate information. Now the Local Government Association (LGA) is piloting an approach to bring us closer to that goal. Here I summarise the approach being taken and provide some links for open data people who want to get more involved.

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Link2Feed leveraging Open Referral to provide resource directory information to food pantries

This post is by Emily Branton, President of Link2Feed. Welcome, Emily!

 

Link2Feed believes that food pantries don’t just play a key role in mitigating hunger – they also a catalyst for change for broader poverty issues.

Our client-intake software and reporting tool is used by food banks and other non-profits across North America to enable them to gather data that can drive organizational strategy and increase the impact of their services.

 

The Need for Change: Connecting Food Support With Additional Services

At Link2Feed, we have heard consistently how challenging it was to find and facilitate referrals to pantry clients.

One of our partners, Feed Ontario (formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks), saw an opportunity to expand the reach and impact of their 1,200 member food banks and hunger-relief organizations, by making resource directory data directly available within the Link2Feed system, so that food bank staff and volunteers can more effectively refer clients to other services.

This summer, Link2Feed and Feed Ontario are piloting a new referral method that uses the Open Referral standard to receive resource data from Ontario 211. Continue reading

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WellSky strengthens human service sector interoperability by supporting Open Referral

[Gabe Cate is VP of Business Development at WellSky. This is reposted from WellSky’s blog. Welcome, Gabe!]

At WellSky, we envision a future of truly interoperable health and community care. We envision a future where care providers can seamlessly ensure safer, more efficient care transitions for people across care settings — no matter when, where, and how they need care. That means empowering whole-person care that addresses each person’s unique health and socioeconomic circumstances. To achieve this future, we first need interconnected, intelligent technology, and WellSky is leading this movement.

We’re excited to announce that WellSky is furthering interoperability by supporting the emerging Human Service Data Specification (HSDS) for Information and Referral (I&R) providers — including 2-1-1s, Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), crisis lines, and more. Continue reading

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Introducing Arrival Advisor, from PeaceGeeks

[This post is from Grady Mitchell for PeaceGeeks. Welcome, Grady!]

PeaceGeeks logoPeaceGeeks is a nonprofit organization based in Vancouver that builds digital tools to empower communities in the pursuit of peace.

Our newest project, Arrival Advisor, is dedicated to making it easier for newcomers to Canada to find and access the services they need to build a new life here in British Columbia.

Arrival Advisor was funded by the Google.org Impact Challenge Canada program. This project was developed in partnership with Metro Vancouver Local Immigration Partnerships, along with British Columbia’s 2-1-1 program. Affinity Bridge supported our technical development.

And Open Referral played a key role in Arrival Advisor’s design and implementation.

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