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. We currently operate two major products: One Degree and One Home. Thousands of people in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County rely on One Degreeā€™s core platform ( to access health care, food banks, employment services, and much more. We also operate, which helps families find and apply for affordable housing.

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

What is Open Referral?

Open Referral is a "community of practice," and has produced the Human Services Data Specification, which is "an exchange format for publishing machine readable data about health, human, and social services, their locations, and the organizations that provide them." (Quoted from their website. Learn more about the initiative and their specification here.)

In other words, Open Referral is a specific way to share and store information about resources between agencies that collect this information. There are some "local pilot projects" that implement the Open Referral way of storing this information.

How do the One Degree and Open Referral specifications compare?

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

The Open Referral specification supports "the minimum amount of data needed to implement a service for search and discovery of human services provided by organizations." By contrast, One Degree specification goes much further, providing action-oriented details to explain exactly what steps an average person would need to take to access a resource. We also further define the literacy level, language, tone, and, in some cases, wording of resource information.

Open Referral's specification appears to be oriented toward describing the structure of an organization, whereas One Degree's specification is oriented toward describing how to access an organization's resources. In terms of audience, 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. Open Referral also does not have a specification for storing actionable information on how a person can apply for, enroll in, or acquire a resource.

On a fundamental level, Open Referral and One Degree share an "organization" concept that houses 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," which describes resources offered at a specific organization.

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 has specific structures and fields for each of these concepts, as well as a structure to represent how to take action to access a resource. Open Referral does not have similar definition.

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. Those can be found here. As of Spring 2017, Open Referral does not appear to provide a taxonomy or specifics around detailed property information.

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 it's 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 have to go only one place to find the best and most useful information to them.

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.

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