Governing the Resource Directory Data Commons: A Vision and A Call to Action

Open Referral’s mission is to establish resource directory data as a public good – reliably and sustainably made freely available to all. Toward this end, we developed the Human Service Data Specifications – but we also know that solving this problem requires more than just technical interoperability among resource directory information systems. Indeed, success entails a transformation of the business models through which resource directory information is produced.

That’s why we’ve partnered with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University to learn from the wealth of knowledge about institutional design and resource management that has been gathered there in the “Bloomington School”—through which Elinor Ostrom produced her seminal work, Governing the Commons. Continue reading

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Report: building community-based service signposting infrastructure in the UK

NPC (New Philanthropy Capital) is a UK-based nonprofit whose mission is to help nonprofits and those that fund them to maximise their impact for the people they exist to serve. We work with individual nonprofits and funders to help them develop their strategies, learn and improve as individual organisations, and over our 20 year history we’ve worked with hundreds of organisations. But the impact we can have by working on the infrastructure that supports (or should support!) all nonprofits is greater still than that we have by working with organisations one-to-one.

One of the most ubiquitous challenges we’ve found throughout NPC’s history is signposting and referrals. In all our work to highlight effective nonprofits, we’ve found that a lack of infrastructure and standards around referrals mean that organisations can’t maximise their impact. Great nonprofits don’t necessarily get the referrals they should. People who want and need support don’t necessarily find the organisations and programmes that would work for them. In a sector that has very scarce resources, failing to crack the referrals challenge leaves huge potential on the table.

So NPC has been excited to work on the challenge of signposting and referrals over the last 7 years. First, we worked collaboratively with a group of youth nonprofits to develop a service directory prototype platform for young people called My Best Life. We built the service from the ground up – populating the directory with service data manually and laboriously, as there simply weren’t feeds available of information about local services in the area of London we focused on in the prototype. And because we wanted to work towards a standardised infrastructure for the future, we provided an Open Referral compliant feed of our data.

Today, NPC’s work has moved on from prototyping a product (now being taken to market by tech for good company Mind Of My Own) to exploring the infrastructure needed to support directories like My Best Life, and youth nonprofits as a whole. Working with the public benefit programme of UK domain name registrar Nominet – an organisation that knows the importance of digital infrastructure – NPC has led a collaborative programme of work called Signpost+. The first phase of the programme focused on research and discovery – identifying organisations who were contributing to the (fledgling) signposting and referrals infrastructure for young people, and working with them to envisage the future infrastructure of the youth sector.

This work culminated in the publication of a report called How might we improve signposting for young people? which set out our recommendations for the future. Continue reading

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Tackling Data Dilemmas in Social Care Coordination: A Whitepaper on Community Information Exchange

Last year – with sponsorship from Robert Wood Johnson Foundations’ DASH program, and in partnership with the Regional Data Alliance at University of Missouri St Louis – I co-authored a whitepaper that aggregated research and recommendations from across the emerging field of “social care coordination.”

This paper provides a strategic framework in which to understand Open Referral’s work in the context of human service directory data infrastructure and governance, and it also offers a broader view of the related but very different challenges of sharing information about people through coordination among service providers.

The whitepaper is available in PDF here – as well as in this ‘live’ version upon which we invite readers to share feedback. Having received significant positive feedback from experts in the field of healthcare informatics, I’m excited to share it here with the Open Referral community.
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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

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New research finds urgent needs for interoperability across health, human, and social service sectors

It often doesn’t matter how clever or well-designed a new technology is – if it can’t easily work with other technologies (and other organizations and people) then it may not accomplish much good at all.

In the last month, three significant reports have underscored this reality – one each from the US (produced by the Social Interventions Research & Evaluation Network), Canada (produced by MaRS Discovery District), and the UK (produced by Snook).

These reports compile a considerable amount of research from across the field of public informatics in general, and community resource information and referral systems in particular. Each assesses a broad swath of organizations and technologies that are trying to innovate in ways that help people in need – yet often struggling to realize their intended potential.

Taken together, this set of research and analysis makes an urgent case that governments, philanthropies, and civil society organizations should prioritize interoperability as a core value of their investment strategies, through promotion of open data standards in general – and Open Referral in particular.

Let’s take a look!

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Open Referral in Ontario: A Big Step Forward

[This guest post is from Karen Milligan, the new executive director of Ontario 211. Welcome, Karen!]

Excerpt: In partnership with iCarol, and leveraging the Human Services Data Specification, we are now developing a new web platform with new search capabilities to provide accurate and timely information to the public. Behind the scenes of this platform, data from numerous local databases from across the province is aggregated to create a high quality data store of community, social service and health resources. This data store is a significant step towards Ontario’s goal of implementing an ‘open data’ repository, the foundation of our 211 technology platform. Continue reading

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Data-driven justice in D.C.

Access to clear, reliable, re-usable community resource directory data is not just important for people who are seeking services that meet their immediate needs — it’s also crucial for people who are seeking to understand the workings of the human service system as a whole, as they seek ways improve health and wellness for entire communities.

Bread for the City — the primary community anchor institutions for the DC Open211 project — is already demonstrating the potential for resource data to spark systemic changes that tangibly improve the lives of their clients and the health of their community.

I’ve just reported on this story over at the Huffington Post. Here’s the gist: Continue reading

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