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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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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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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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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Supporting the Gravity Project to expand interoperability among health, human, and social services

Often people ask how we enable care providers to actually refer their clients to another service. The answer is, well, Open Referral doesn’t actually deal with the process of “making a referral” at all!

We’re working to ensure that there’s open access to information about the services to which someone might be referred. 

But the challenges related to actually sending a person’s information from one provider’s system to another? That’s a whole other tangle of knots. I’ve long hoped that someone somewhere would work on those problems, while believing it should remain outside Open Referral’s scope.

So I’m excited to see that this work is now under way.

The Gravity Project is like kin to the Open Referral Initiative: Gravity is a community of practice that is developing and testing consensus-based open standards to facilitate capture and exchange of data pertaining to people and their social circumstances across a variety of healthcare and social service systems.
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