Introducing Open Referral: A Better Way to Manage Health, Human, and Social Services Data

September 7, 2017 9:40 am PST | Open Data
baton rouge map

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Greg Bloom, the Chief Organizing Officer for the Open Referral Initiative.

“Where do I go to get help with housing and food services? Which agencies provide what services? How can I access them?”

These are important questions a person might have for their government. And yet, good answers are surprisingly hard to find.

There are many “referral services” — such as call centers, resource directories, and web applications — that aggregate information in directories of health, human, and social services. They all collect the similar information yet work in isolation from each other.

In addition, government agencies and service providers are often resource-constrained and overwhelmed. It may not be a priority for them to make sure their information is listed and up-to-date in all of these different directories.

As a result of these problems:

  • People in need have difficulty discovering and accessing services that can help them live better lives
  • Service providers struggle to connect clients with other services that can help meet complex needs
  • Decision-makers are unable to gauge the effectiveness of programs at improving their community
  • Innovators are held back by the lack of access to data that could power valuable tools to address issues

 

A Standard Way to Share Services Data

The challenge of getting services to those who need them is an old one. But we now have the ability to find new solutions by cultivating healthy information ecosystems. In collaboration with Code for America, Google.org, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, and others, the Open Referral Initiative has created data standards that will allow better consolidation and maintenance of crucial government services data. The same reliable data can be made available through a wide array of tools and services that help people find resources that meet their needs.

 

With a standardized way of describing key details about health, human, and social services, the Open Referral Initiative and Socrata can help decrease the costs of managing this data, and accelerate the scaling of new efforts to connect people to information about these resources.

 

Socrata has adopted the Open Referral standards as a way of supporting this process. With a standardized way of describing key details about health, human, and social services, the Open Referral Initiative and Socrata can help decrease the costs of managing this data, and accelerate the scaling of new efforts to connect people to information about these resources.

 

How Socrata Works with Open Referral Standards

Socrata will work with customers to create and publish data compliant with the Open Referral format, and will make it possible to explore this data through its Citizen Connect tool. 

Open Referral’s Human Service Data Specification details the data standards. It enables resource directory records to be published once and accessed by call centers, web applications, search engines, and more. The Open Referral network is developing new kinds of technologies and business models that make it sustainable and effective to share human service directory information as interoperable open data.

Socrata’s Citizen Connect tool offers a responsive interface that can make data about services provided and funded by the government easy to find, understand, and re-use — alongside other kinds of popular datasets — all the way down to the neighborhood level. Citizen Connect also allows users to sign-up for alerts when something they care about changes.

 

open neighbor
Open Neighborhood BR provides a map-based view into crime, traffic, 311 requests for service, permits, and more in Baton Rouge.

 

Once a government publishes their health, human, and social data in the compliant format, that data can then be directly consumed by third party referral systems and tools like Citizen Connect. This data movement will be accomplished by aggregating a series of datasets stored on the portal and then collecting those files into a data package that complies with the format.

 

A Future with Better Access to Services

Socrata’s work to support the Open Data Referral Initiative’s Human Service Data Specification opens up opportunities for more collaboration between agencies, better access to accurate data, and new tools to help people access services they need. If you’re interested in learning more about the Open Referral Initiative, check out our website and blog.

For help getting your health, human, and social data loaded into the cloud in a standardized format and available via API, contact Socrata

 


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