For more than thirty years, Switchboard of Miami has helped residents of Miami-Dade County find information about health and human services whenever someone has picked up the phone and dialed 2-1-1. This makes Switchboard one of the longest-serving referral providers in the field. We’re proud to announce that Code for Miami is now working with the Open Referral Initiative on the Miami Open211 Project, which will transform Switchboard of Miami into an open platform — one of the first of its kind.
Over the past decade, Switchboard’s services have grown far beyond a friendly voice on the other side of telephone; they now operate Seniors Never Alone which provides regular over-the-phone engagement for a large population of otherwise-isolated South Florida seniors, a renowned suicide prevention hotline, the Help Me Grow program for childhood development services, and even face-to-face case management.
Now, Switchboard is exploring yet another new chapter in its long history: open data.
Switchboard puts a lot of time and energy into maintaining up-to-date information about the health, human, and social services available across South Florida. Yet even beyond Switchboard’s many in-house programs using this information for specialized purposes, there are additional ways this data can be used by people and organizations across Miami-Dade County. As a result, Switchboard has been experimenting with making its data available for third parties, via an open API.
In 2015, Switchboard partnered with Code for Miami across a series of civic technology events, in which the local Brigade of civic hackers demonstrated the concept of this open API by loading a sample set of Switchboard’s data into a fork of the Ohana API platform, an open-source tool for publishing directory data about social services. Code for Miami deployed a basic web site, and initiated additional projects such as a tool for researchers showing different types of services within a given radius of given points of interest. During the 2015 CodeAcross event, Miami Open211 was voted ‘Awesomest Project.’
This got noticed by The Children’s Trust, a prominent funder of health and human services in Miami-Dade county, including Switchboard of Miami. In February of this year, Switchboard received a grant from the Children’s Trust Innovation Fund to conduct a year-long “laboratory.” Through this experimental Open211 project, the brigade hopes to test various uses of the Ohana API while exploring various business models that could sustain the publication of this open data.
The Open Referral Initiative is now working to develop this laboratory in partnership with Switchboard, The Children’s Trust, and Code for Miami.
Code for Miami meets every Monday evening, and new volunteers are always welcome. We’re excited to see this new Open Referral pilot project finally lifting off!
(NB: Code for Miami plans to use the Open 211 API to produce open source prototypes demonstrating the potential to connect residents with human service directory data in innovative new ways. Ernie Hsiung, one of two co-captains, is also working as a private contractor on a paid project specific to Switchboard’s operations. Any technical deliverables from these projects will be separate from any open source Code for Miami projects. To get involved, join us at Code for Miami’s Open211 project page, and request an invite to our Slack Team!)