This past week Civic Hall Labs was in attendance for the 2017 Personal Democracy Forum in NYC, and several of our team members were featured in the conference’s breakout sessions.
Our Director of Programs, Erin Simpson, was on the panel called “Making Government Automatic for the People”, which also included NYC Council Member Ben Kallos, Benefit Kitchen Founder Melanie Lavelle, and Civic Hall’s Head of Partnerships and Business Development, Peter Shanley. The panel dealt with the challenges and promising initiatives in modernizing how governments get people information about city benefits and services.
Erin was there to discuss a major issue facing struggling New Yorkers: the lack of accessibility around NYC’s health, human, and social services ( everything from legal aid, to veteran’s services, or even homeless shelters) and how we’re attempting to eliminate that problem with our Open Referral program.
Despite the unassuming name, New York City Open Referral is going to be among the nation’s largest tests of modernizing a city's health, human, and social services information. Currently, there is no “one-stop-shop” for these services in NYC. If you try to google them, all that will come back is a barren search page. Social service workers try to know the organizations by heart, but all the time spent on calling, emailing, and keeping in constant touch with these organizations takes away from the time they have to help people. With tens of thousands of services available to New Yorkers, no one person can keep track of them all.
We have to do this work together, and NYC Open Referral will build the infrastructure to enable that cooperation. It’s a big problem, so Open Referral made an explainer video to help folks realize how this directly affects them and their neighbors.
This issue was highlighted in a talk by Greg Bloom, the standard’s author and Open Referral's Chief Organizing Officer, last year. After his grandmother’s death, people in her neighborhood struggled to connect with people/services they needed because she was the “keeper of information” for their area. You can view that talk below.
This is obviously a huge problem, and it gets even worse the more you look at it. This level of poor information and fragmented services means that people aren’t getting the help they need, we can’t accurately analyze data to see what is working and what isn’t, and it’s next to impossible to innovate in the space because the data foundation simply isn’t there.
The NYC Open Referral project is designed to support the expert service providers and leading government agencies helping New Yorkers. Working together, we’re going to help folks standardize and share their data -- enabling automatic, trustworthy information sharing across a community of practitioners and more accessible information for folks in need. Whether you’re a struggling family who needs to find social services, or a caseworker who is trying to provide good information to the community, you’ll be able to find it.
We plan to speak more on this project in the coming months, and we were incredibly happy to have Erin talk about it in the context of this larger conference.
Lastly, we’re recruiting! Join this work by applying for our Product Manager or Program Associate positions, or reach out here if you are a NYC-based organization that provides health, human, and social service referrals.