Working together at the Open Referral Workshop

The community resource directory data problem is complex. It involves a diversity of actors (governments, funders, non-profits, technology vendors, researchers, and regular people) whose interests are sometimes in tension with each other.

Sorting through the many questions that emerged through the workshop
Sorting through the many questions that emerged through the workshop

If we were to design a solution by simply focusing on the perspective of just one particular stakeholder, we would almost certainly miss important aspects of the problem that are primarily seen or experienced by other stakeholders. This is why — when it comes to envisioning a world in which information about services is readily accessible and reliable to all — we should begin by gathering these different perspectives together. And then, we should listen.

Getting to know each other
Getting to know each other

At the Open Referral workshop — which was sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation, hosted at the California Endowment, and co-facilitated by the Stewards of Change and Practicing Freedom — we assembled a group of representatives of the many different kinds of stakeholders involved in this issue. Our group included local government leaders, entrepreneurial vendors, 2-1-1 system administrators and other ‘information and referral’ experts, data system interoperability specialists, and most importantly, help seekers and front-line service providers who have extensive personal experience with the struggle to find clear, trustworthy information about where to get help.

Discussing the 'persona' of a service provider.
Discussing the ‘persona’ of a service provider.

It wasn’t your typical meeting. In a room filled with veterans, we began with the basics. We told stories; we played games. By listening carefully to each other, participants came to ‘see’ familiar issues from entirely new perspectives. Indeed, we dedicated the first day of the workshop almost entirely to learning about the various types of use of community resource directory data. We heard stories from help seekers, service providers, researchers, and database administrators. We analyzed those stories’ similarities, and formulated statements about the change that these people might want to see in their world.

Sonali Joshi, CIO at United Way of the Bay Area, describes a collage of the interactions in a hospital’s ‘community navigation desk.’ 

Along the way, we developed a shared vocabulary, empathy for others’ perspectives, and a sense of our shared interests. We didn’t walk away with all the answers. But we did have a clear vision for where we want to go, and roles to play moving forward, with relationships that will sustain us on the path.

A sketch of a system for receiving, validating and circulating updates across a distributed network

You can read a summary of this workshop here:

Reporting Back from the Inaugural Open Referral Workshop

Thanks again to everyone who participated and supported the event. We’ll announce plans for our next workshop soon!


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