Year in Review: a lot to shout-out about

Shout-outs!  (Image credit: Megaphone by Juan Pablo Bravo at the Noun Project)

Shout-outs!

[UPDATE: Read our End of Year Report here.]

As the year winds to a close, I want to take a moment to give thanks to some of the people who have made the Open Referral Initiative possible so far.

My first thanks should go to Bread for the City in D.C., where this whole initiative began. BFC is a rare and inspiring kind of organization, a true laboratory for innovation. Special thanks to Stacey Johnson, the mother of the database, and George Jones, Bread’s executive director, for their humble, practical leadership. Also thanks to Kathleen Stephan for sharing her on-the-ground experience, and Andrew Lomax for driving technology development.

The lion’s share of the credit for Open Referral’s launch and rapid progress goes to Code for America, whose ambitious vision in and of itself creates a new world of possibilities, and whose vast network of brigades and believers is unparalleled. CfA not only co-sponsored my work on this initiative; they have helped us learn how to effectively move from problem diagnosis to problem solving. Special thanks to Jack Madans, Rebecca Coelius, Mike Migurski, and Jen Pahlka for listening carefully through a flood of information and advising thoughtfully on the best paths forward.

This first leg of our journey has received support from a broad range of philanthropists. The Knight Foundation’s Health Data Challenge grant funded the Ohana team’s work in 2014, and ignited this entire initiative. The National Conference on Citizenship’s Civic Data Challenge gave the DC Resource Platform an early and critical nudge of support. The California HealthCare Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and Serving California collaborated to make possible the launch of our San Francisco pilot, as well as our first proper workshop.

Speaking of San Francisco: thanks to Jay Nath, SF’s Chief Innovation Officer, for being one of the first to recognize this as an urgent and actionable issue — and for his ongoing leadership, along with Jason Lally, in the search for new kinds of solutions. Likewise, thanks to Sonali Joshi, Chief Innovation Officer of the United Way of the Bay Area, for her vision and enthusiasm.

I also want to thank the two instigators of our pilot projects — Susie Cambria in the District of Columbia and Edwin Chan at the San Mateo County Human Services Agency were both first movers who have helped create space in their communities from which new ideas can emerge.

Thanks to the Stewards of Change, especially Shell Culp, for their help in designing and facilitating our major workshop. Also thanks to Levana Saxon and Practicing Freedom for their excellent work in designing and facilitating various processes of participatory research, theater, and analysis.

Thanks to the team at Google.org who produced the civic services schema, especially Scott Schwaitzberg who advised our effort in its very first stages and helped a lot of us connect the dots.

On a personal note, thanks to Kevin Hauswirth of Purple Strategies, Eugene Kim of Groupaya, Christine Prefontaine at Facilitating Change, and especially Allen Gunn at Aspiration Tech, for advising me in this new and challenging role.

I’ve also received a great amount of insight and feedback from Sophie Raseman of the Smart Disclosure program at the U.S. Department of Treasury, and Phil Ashlock from Data.Gov as well as the Open311 initiative.

As our data specification approaches its first official ‘beta’ release, we should thank the first Open Referral Workgroup — consisting of Derek Coursen, Eric Jahn, Hailey Pate, and Neil McKechnie — for hundreds of comments and hours of analysis while sifting through a much broader flow of input from our network and beyond.

This wouldn’t have been possible without a network of experts and practitioners from the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems who have brought field-won wisdom to our table. Likewise, a number of entrepreneurs — including the leadership of iCarol, Purple Binder, and Healthify, among others — have given us our best sense yet of what’s possible and what’s feasible in this field.

Finally, I want to thank the team we assembled this year to design, build, and communicate about these new solutions.

Through the work of the Ohana Team — Anselm Bradford on the front-end, Moncef Belyamani on the back-end, and Sophia Parafina as our data mage — we now have free software that can turn almost any resource database into an open data platform.

Sameer Siruguri of Digital Strategies has led the conversation among stakeholders across San Francisco Bay, and he’ll be working with Steve Spiker of Urban Strategies Council and Open Oakland as they take the lead in Alameda County early in 2015.

Last but not at all least, Jenn Stowe was one of our most valuable players this past year. Jenn came to this work from Bread for the City, where — like I did, five years ago — she found herself witness to a systemic problem which demanded coordinated action. During our workshop, Jenn played dual roles of key end-user representative and facilitator; she also developed the visual iconography that we are using today; and finally, Jenn recruited a broad new set of stakeholders to the DC pilot project, including the DC Public Library System, who now have a new initiative of their own that they’ll be announcing soon enough. I’m proud of Jenn for stepping up into an exciting new job (with actual benefits and everything); she’ll be missed.Cheers!

That’s all for now — although it’s surely not everyone. This task would be hard to conduct exhaustively; hundreds of people have advised and volunteered on some part of this project at some point or another. I am grateful for all of this and excited for all that’s to come.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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