Open Referral (Beta) – formerly Open Community


  1. Project outputs
  2. Timeline

Each council manages their own directory of community services, which is used to signpost residents to the organisations and public agencies that provide the local support they are looking for.

But different organisations hold and share their information in different ways. This means that directories can lack consistency and become laborious to maintain. When not effectively maintained, residents find it difficult to access the right information about the services available to them.

Four councils have been working together to define the Open Referral UK data standard. Organising community service data in a common way makes it easier to build directories, design new features, aggregate key data and ultimately to reduce duplication.

The standard was endorsed by the UK Government Data Standards Authority in March 2022, and is now on its way towards adoption by councils throughout the UK. It is already being used in Buckinghamshire Family Information Service, and a series of loneliness pilot projects led by the LGA, for example.

The purpose of the beta phase is:

  • To grow the community of users of the standard and to provide them with practical support for its adoption.
  • To deliver three demonstrator projects that will support the evidence-base underpinning the standard and informing its continued development.
  • To identify and work with potential major consumers of community services data, such as the NHS and DWP, and to support uptake of the standard in service directory products offered by the private sector.

Watch a recording of the Open Referral UK beta launch event at Digital Leaders Week 2021:

Project outputs

The project has delivered three main digital products and strategic guidance for the standard going forwards. These are:

  • a new website for Open Referral UK, focusing on explaining the data standard, its benefits, and guidance on how to adopt it
  • a developer-facing website for Open Referral UK to support software developers in their work to implement the standard. The bulk of the work on this website was done during the alpha project. For the beta we added the new Open Referral UK visual identity and some UX improvements to the software tools
  • an online community forum to facilitate discussion and answer questions about the data standard
  • a video for Open Referral UK to explain what the data standard is and what problem it solves

Project Timeline

March 2020

The project receives £250,000 of funding through the Local Digital Fund to start their beta phase of work.

February 2021

The project receives £100,000 of follow-on funding from the Local Digital Fund to continue their work. This next phase of work will see three exemplar ‘pilot’ projects use the standard in order to develop the evidence-base and test it in practice.

Another key strand of work will be on developing the community of practice and establishing a governance model for the standard going forwards. This will include strategic engagement with key organisations in the public, private and third sector.

The project kicked off its beta phase.

Snook, the project delivery partner, ran a prioritisation session and ideation workshop to refine the goals of this phase of work.

The team outlined the core needs and structure for a ‘Digital MVP’ — a website and supporting tools and documentation for users of the data standard.

The team also created a monitoring and evaluation plan that outlines the key outcomes and benefits they’re hoping to measure.

March 2021

The Open Community project was announced as the winner of the iStandUK award at the iNetwork Innovation Awards 2021.

The team worked on website wireframes, decided which CMS to use, drafted a roadmap for long-term governance and sustainability, and more.

They also held their first show and tell on 18 March.

The team published a blog post about their beta project kick off and ran a series of Show and Tells, available to watch on YouTube.

A crucial step for the standard going forward is formal endorsement via the Data Standards Authority. You can now read, review and feedback on the data standard challenge.

June 2021

The Open Referral UK website launched on Monday 14 June with the team hosting an event to kick off our Digital Leaders Week activities.

The Open Referral UK standard is in the final stages of the Data Standards Authority challenge.

The LDCU funded phase of the project ended.

July 2021

The Open Referral UK data standard team, in collaboration with colleagues working on the LocalGov Drupal team, launched a directories module that is fully compliant with the standard.

September 2021

The ORUK team presented their work at DataConnect21, a conference organised by the Data Standards Authority and the Government Data Quality Hub.

March 2022

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council is awarded £50,000 in follow-on funding through the Continuous Funding Model.

The project will use the funding to explore how data that is held by community, voluntary and faith-based groups within the borough can be consolidated into a single ORUK compliant dataset for use by the council’s Service Finder tool.

The project proposes to create a single dataset using an automated process that will massage data into the ORUK standard and de-duplicate entries.

The investigation will seek to:

  • provide a breakdown of different data input types held by community, voluntary and faith based groups in the borough
  • establish what differences exist between the different datasets and how difficult it will be to make these compliant with the ORUK standard

The Open Referral UK (ORUK) standard is officially endorsed by the Government Open Standards Board. This means the Board recognises the value of applying the standard across the public sector and you can expect to receive services data from government organisations in the ORUK format in future. 

You can read more about the endorsement on the project’s GOV.UK profile

April 2022

The ODI is committing to hosting a data institution for the Open Referral UK data standard. This, the first data institution hosted by the ODI, is intended to free up and clarify information across organisations, meaning that the public may ultimately receive better and more efficient services. Learn more.

August 2022

The Open Referral project team have been finalising their plan for their research to better understand how local voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations collect and store information about their services. The team will refine these questions following a pilot interview with one of their local partners, and are planning more sessions with local VCS organisations over the coming weeks.