Welcome to the first week notes from the OpenCommunity team. Week notes are a short weekly round up of what we’ve been learning and where we are going next.

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There are emerging standards out there already for community services, but with mixed levels of adoption. Defining a common data standard may only address part of the problem. Designing trust around the data standard seems to be where the real challenge lives.
* Too long; Didn’t Read – a short summary for busy people.


Thanks to all the of the project partners for responding so quickly to a speedy start. Special thanks to Rhian Francis from Adur & Worthing Councils and Ben Unsworth from Buckinghamshire County Council for connecting us with your team on less than a week’s notice. We’re really excited to have got things kicked off and we’re looking forward to the next few months together.

About the project

OpenCommunity is on a mission to discover the need for a community-services data standard. What might become possible if all community directories in the UK were designed in a way that allowed them to talk to each other?

Read the original proposal from the OpenCommunity team.

Question of the week

What is a community service anyway and who are they for?

What we’ve done


Last week we brought together all the project partners for a speedy kickoff, where we explored the story of why. Why are we doing this? Why now? It was important for us to understand the context for community services, the vision for the future and what role a data standard might play.

Prototypes as research tools

A data standard is fundamentally an abstract idea. For non-technical stakeholders it can be difficult to grasp and explore its value. Throw into the mix the complexity of defining community-services and we may be left with a lot of puzzled faces. In the project, we therefore want to take a prototype-driven approach to our research. We use prototypes as discovery tools to help people test and contest the design of a standard and the opportunities it enables. We used sketching in our kickoff to explore the vision:

“What becomes possible if a community-services data standard exists and is adopted?”

Importantly, the prototypes we make should only demonstrate concepts and cases that become possible because a shared data standard exists. Whilst we already have lots of hypotheses to improve service directories, we are going to park these in the “interesting but explore later” pile.

Start from what we know

There are already data standards and some consensus on how to define community services. The most prominent of which include: OpenReferral, the Locally Delivered Services Standard and Open Eligibility. Service directories have had a similarly extensive innovation, for example: ALISS that both Snook and UrbanTide helped to research and develop. Given there are already workable standards in development, why is it they are not more widely adopted?

Defining a way to evaluate standards for community-services

We’re really excited to be partnering with UrbanTide on this discovery project. Rory, one of UrbanTide’s data leads was involved in building ALISS and knows the challenges of this space well. We want take a robust approach to improvements on existing standards, based on user research to identify where needs are not being met. This week, Rory has been working on a framework to evaluate existing standards. We found a few good resources to help. The Open Standards Guides from ODI have a wealth of resources on implementing open data standards. Equally Rory’s, own Engagement Checklist built from experience is a good starting point.

Research programme

Liv shared this great talk from Will Myddleton about why you should prioritise your research around your riskiest assumptions and hypotheses. At Snook, much like science experiments, we use hypotheses to drive our design work. They allow us to be explicit about our design decisions and use research to validate or invalidate them. Currently we have identified 10 hypotheses that are implicitly part of the vision for this project. You can read and comment on our working hypotheses in our draft research framework.

From four to nine user groups

When we kicked off the project, we at first identified four core types of users. By the end of the week this had grown to nine. Describing the different user types begins to give some shape to just how complex the community-services system is. That list so far is:

  • Service users – access community services. Can have a diverse range of needs.
  • Referrers – help service users discover and access community services.
  • Data managers / custodians – maintain information systems to support service users and referrers find, access and refer services.
  • Community service providers – provide a range of services to support people across all stages of life.
  • Commissioners – make decisions on which community services are created and/or receive investment.
  • Procurement teams – are involved in paying for service directory products.
  • Service directory providers – provide information systems to support discovery of services by service users and referrers.
  • Standards providers – provide an open, standardised and agreed way of recording data.
  • Integrators – need to integrate data from service providers into their own systems, e.g. to build their own referral system.

We’ve been working on a draft research framework to be clear about who we want to engage and how. Our intention is to engage with people from across all of the user groups identified above.

Where we’re going next

Next week we start user research. We’ll be spending two days with Adur & Worthing Councils. We’ll be speaking with the Wellbeing hub team, before spending time with community service providers in Worthing such as homelessness charity Turning Tides.

In Buckinghamshire, we’re out talking to the Family Information Service, the Community Assets Map team and the Buckinghamshire Care Advice Service. We’ll be shadowing, interviewing and running workshops with front-line staff.

Next week we also run our first show & tell, sharing back initial insights from user research and learnings so far.


Managing information overload

Starting at a pace has involved lots of document and link sharing. Without good information management in place links can quickly get lost and important insights missed. To help us have a central place for sharing links, we’ve set up a shared folder with Raindrop.io. See some of the links we’ve shared.

Signing off

It’s been a busy week. We’ve already made significant headway into our research and deepening our understanding of the community-services space and the challenges faced. We have still have a lot more to discover and we’re look forward to the next few months.

Published by Mathew Trivett

Senior researcher and strategist at Snook.

2 replies on “Week notes #1”

  1. Did the question of the week get answered? Interested to know how you’ve defined what a community service is for this project.

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