Connecting communities with services

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Learn more about the Open Referral initiative

Website Essay Contact Greg: bloom [at] openreferral [dot] org

Human services? Why?

  • Sharing data in general. People collecting info from lots of different services and merging it together. Data sharing challenges.
  • Connecting disparate resources, standardizing that, validation on that. How do you make it available to everyone?
  • Working in community, referring people, working with networks of Survival News, been a funder.
  • Tech should be helping people, if we can't fix this wtf are we doing?
  • VOlunteer for 3 different Search and Rescue teams. One of them develops new software - mapping, dispatch & info management. We're all volunteers, technical.
  • Web Dev doing work in Oakland. Tech first, so now trying to dig in to help people.


First mile - how do you know where to search for help for other folk?

instagram tags in notifying nearby orgs about an action they can take. "Just in time response"

Women on Welfare had a distromechanism called Survival News - collect list of lawyers, food stamps, etc. The women who put it together were only joined through the creation of the resource. They talked to folk about reliable resources. Check against official lists.

Marrimack Vally Hub was a tech project to collect these things. How do we keep the data up to date? Lots of turnover. No one wanted to fund it.

People came to us for food pantry, medical care, but also because we knew where else to go. Hackathons to try to build things. but now civil servants had to update 2 databases. What about update emails? I was teh person getting those emails. We had X departments with Y programs, Z individuals all of which have their own hours etc. It would take an hour or two, and I'd get a few a month. You don't need to do it. Everyone knew no one else was updating, didn't matter so far as funding.

211 is social services. "Not an emergency but I need help where do I go?"

The way the social workers gain and use the information is different than how Survival News is going to use it, is different than how 211 is going to use it.

About the data standard

See our documentation: Human Service Data Specification

The data in this domain is not so very complex, but it is messy. Who provides teh service? Is it a program? Name of building? The service, the organization, and the facility may each have their own contact information etc. Representing this clearly and accurately is hard.

Problem of information, problem of referral. In libraries, this is a whole sector. Information architecture. Who will collect information and disseminate it? Now, theoretically, we can have some means by which the means is collected and many means by which it is distributed. But that means standards for data structured in predictable ways.

Schema was a way of forcing data standards on things like movies. It's not just text, it's structured information which means stuff. Google said it would be nice to have a standard for civic services. Maybe the dude at HHS have them mark up their pages so we could index them. It didn't work, but it got accepted by teh WC3. All those competing interests didn't want to be less findable in Google. There's already a standard for call centers. Then have a language that translates between those. Code for America built an API which could translate between them. Open Referral is the thing that facilitates local collaborations. Use the language to share between us.

The shared language means that we can now build what comes next. Collective, Social Labs.Going to get a bunch of maintainers, the people who use teh data.