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Banking on Open Referral

"We’re pleased to share with you here that Ontario 211 will begin testing the publication of their resource database (which spans the entire province) in the Human Service Data Specification (aka the Open Referral format) over the course of the summer. This will pose a unique opportunity for public and civic initiatives — in the information-and-referral sector and beyond — to experiment with innovative new ways to share and deliver resource data for service delivery, research and analysis." It's been over 18 months since we've launched the PoweredbyData initiative. Many important things for the Canadian non-profit open data movement have happened over that time, including conferences like CKX and the International Open Data conference, government commitments like the federal government's second OGP action plan and the Ontario goverment's Open Data Directive, reports like Mowat's explaining the potential of open data for the sector, and the launch of our demonstration project, LANDSCAPE.

One thing that has been confirmed to us through our interactions with our peers in other countries is that Canada is a world leader in the amount and quality of data that we collect and make available about the nonprofit sector. We've also learned that one of the ways in which we lead is through our ‘information and referral’ sector, which is far ahead of the international curve, because of its comparatively very well-integrated calling center infrastructure -- including 2-1-1 systems and other local referral providers. That said, despite the great work of these organizations, there are still many challenges for Canadians to access directory information about human services:

  • Users / clients that search with Google and other search engines find information that is incomplete and confusing.
  • Service providers still have a hard time easily understanding which organizations provide services that can help their clients.
  • Researchers, policy-makers and funders still struggle to find data they need to inform their decisions.

That’s why we’re excited to announce our partnership with Open Referral - because we think that it’s the right solution for this problem. We've been aware of it since we launched, and the more we learn about it and the problems that it addresses, the more impressed we've become. We’re happy to more formally endorse this solution, as we endorse select other open standards developed specifically for the non-profit sector.

The Open Referral initiative addresses a complex, long-standing problem — but a solvable one. By publishing service directory data in an open, internationally recognized format, the sector can help people access services, improve interactions between non-profits, and create better, more accessible data for policy makers and other stakeholders in the sector. And given the strong sector leadership in Canada from groups like Ontario 211 and the strong legacy of service from local referral providers across the country, we see a tremendous opportunity to accomplish this and to serve as a demonstration worldwide.

Canada is ahead of the curve in the development of useful open data for the nonprofit sector. There is a unique opportunity here to develop a world-leading model of an open human service directory ecosystem.

Greg Bloom - Chief Organizer at Open Referral

Establishing health and human service directory data as an open resource, freely accessible for use in an ecosystem of tools and applications, is an important step forward for our sector. There are important issues to discuss regarding how we ensure that information referral organizations can do their work in sustainable manners, but these are the discussions that we need to have. We are looking forward to helping our Canadian partners take advantage of all the hard work and great thinking that Greg and his team have put into Open Referral.

UPDATE: We seem to be predicting the present, considering Greg's announcement on Open Referral. We knew that Ontario 211 was looking into this, but we're very happy to learn that they are going to start a trial this summer.

"We’re pleased to share with you here that Ontario 211 will begin testing the publication of their resource database (which spans the entire province) in the Human Service Data Specification (aka the Open Referral format) over the course of the summer. This will pose a unique opportunity for public and civic initiatives — in the information-and-referral sector and beyond — to experiment with innovative new ways to share and deliver resource data for service delivery, research and analysis."