How does One Degree compare to Open Referral?

What is One Degree?

One Degree is a nonprofit technology-driven organization that helps low-income and at-risk individuals find, access, manage, and share nonprofit and government services. Thousands of people in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County rely on One Degree’s core platform ( www.1degree.org) to access health care, food banks, employment services, and much more. 

As part of our work, we publish resource information (on social services and housing), which has a data specification and format that we developed and have used since 2014. We adjust this specification over time with changes and input from the community. To learn more about our specific data format and how to implement it, visit SocialServiceData.org

What is Open Referral?

Open Referral “develops data standards and open source tools that make it easier to share, find and use information about health, human, and social services.”" ( From their website.

How do the One Degree and Open Referral data specifications compare? 

The differences between the Open Referral and One Degree data specifications are mainly around audience and level of specificity. 

The Open Referral specification appears to serve a professional audience first (which might want to understand how an organization's programs fit together), versus One Degree's specification, which serves a help-seeker audience first (which likely wants to understand what it can do or get at an organization, regardless of the name or structure of an organization or service). For instance, the Open Referral specification includes details about an organization that are not relevant to help-seekers, such as its funding sources and the year it was incorporated.

On a fundamental level, Open Referral and One Degree have similar "organization" concepts that house basic information about nonprofit or government agencies. Open Referral then has a concept underneath the organization called "service." One Degree has a similar concept underneath an organization called an "opportunity," but we provide more granular detail, making all the resources available through a service searchable, rather than just the name of the service itself. For example: An after school program is not just searchable as an “after school program” if it also offers “tutoring” and a “sports league.” Rather, both of these constituent programs will have separate opportunity records that are searchable on their own instead of being lumped into just an after school program.

Both specifications define how to store location, hours, schedule, contact information (phone, email), and other information about when and where resources are offered. One Degree also has a specification to represent how to take action to access a resource. As of January 2020, Open Referral does not have a similar concept. This difference speaks to One Degree’s focus on empowering community members themselves to access resources versus relying on professionals.

One Degree additionally has a taxonomy, which categorizes resources, and dozens of properties (characteristics about a resource) that can be applied to resources that allow for filtering search results. Learn more about our taxonomy and properties.

As of January 2020, Open Referral does not  specify a taxonomy or detailed filtering information, which means that those who adopt Open Referral may implement a taxonomy filled with jargon, unsuitable for the average community member, rather than a human-centered one, such as that of One Degree. 

Does One Degree use Open Referral's data specification? 

No, although there are similarities in our specifications. One Degree has developed its own standards and API because the Open Referral initiative has not been directly applicable to our work. We find our specification works for us given the level of user-centered detail and actionable information we want to provide.

This is not meant to suggest we believe we have all the answers to the very complex problem of sharing resource information between agencies. Indeed, for the most part, sharing information across resource databases is not the problem we focus on as an organization. Rather, our mission is to empower people to create a path out of poverty for themselves and for their communities, and we do this through a single platform, so they only have to visit one place to find the best and most useful information to them. We do not want other databases with duplicative or overlapping information or effort to proliferate, which is inherently the result of a project like Open Referral. 

Why don't you adopt Open Referral as your data specification? 

We are open to doing that if there is a compelling reason to, and if Open Referral's specification were to become more aligned with our needs. At the moment, we do not think adoption would provide a higher quality of service to the families using One Degree every day. Learn more about our impact and why trying to get organizations to adopt our data specification is not our focus.

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