Hi folks -

I want to share this post from Open Referral's blog, which summarizes a batch of recent reports that describe the value of interoperability (and the challenges caused by a lack thereof), especially in the field of health, human, and social service information:


The good news is that, through the Open Referral Initiative, we are solving the interoperability problem for resource directory information: our data exchange protocols have been endorsed as industry standards by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems, so one can expect that any vendor in the field should offer a default, standardized method of publishing and consuming resource directory data. 

I'm planning to do a followup post that digs deeper into some of the finer points – such as the differences between syntactic and semantic interoperability, and the tensions between strategies for centralization and distribution. 

I'd welcome your questions or suggestions as we continue these conversations!



Leading up the Open Referral Initiative.
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  • A quick update on this subject: We just shared some great examples of resource directory interoperability in action!

    First, Link2Feed is software for food banks and pantries, increasingly used throughout North America – and it's now able to receive resource directory data from partners such as 2-1-1, to provide pantry staff for more effective referrals. Check out their story here.

    Second, we're now seeing a range of government agencies that are publishing information about the health, human, and social services that they contract – as standardized open data. This can make it easier for referral providers to maintain accurate information, and potentially creates new opportunity for program evaluation and data-driven advocacy regarding public investment in service provision. Check out the Sunlight Foundation's reporting on this here.

    I'd be glad to discuss further, if anyone here is interested in exploring opportunities to develop resource data exchange partnerships in your community :)



    Link2Feed leveraging Open Referral to provide resource directory information to food pantries
  • By the way, we had a great little interoperability success story come just this week: 2-1-1s sharing their resource directory data in real-time with food pantries, through integration of open data infrastructure with need-specific software. Check this story about Link2Feed's integration with 2-1-1 here: https://openreferral.org/link2feed-leveraging-open-referral-to-prov...

    Link2Feed leveraging Open Referral to provide resource directory information to food pantries
  • Greg!! So great to find you on the NIC Hub. I hope all is well and how exciting to hear that your standards work has been recognized by AIRS. The blog entry is thought provoking.  What do you think is the reason for the 9 different solutions on the market today? Do you think that the field will be narrowed, or will it continue to expand if common standards are used across platforms? 

    • Hi Ivy! Great to reconnect here! (By the way, I'd really like to talk with you about eligibility criteria! I will follow up offthread.)

      First of all, I don't think of these products as solutions; they're tools, they can be used improperly, they can cause damage, etc. They should only be considered to be technical components of a broader solution, and when it comes to complex social problems, we should assume that truly effective solutions will be social and political. Anyone expecting to plug one of these on and suddenly solve the problem of care coordination to address the social determinants of health, well they're likely to just make the problem worse. 

      That said, I think this distinction isn't well-understood; there's a lot of cultural confusion today about this nuanced relationship between technology and problems. People want to believe that there are simple solutions, so there are all these incentives to build a new tool, start up a new company, tell the world about your magic, etc. This is especially true right now in this particular field, where you have a lot of funders and healthcare institutions and savvy entrepreneurs who would really love to find a quick easy path to success.

      I think a healthy market would be one in which there are common agreements and practices that ensure that different tools can complement each other, so people are free to use, adapt, combine, or discard their tools however they see fit. Many tools that interoperate would be vastly preferable to one or two tools that people have no choice but to use, and have no agency over.

  • Hi Greg - glad to see your progress.  I'm hoping that HHS can arrive at more interoperability so that more and better communications between social, health and human services data becomes more readility available.  I'll eagerly await you next posts. 

    Daniel Stein 

  • Thank you Greg for your contribution. Looking forward to the followup post.

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