Case Study

Bristol City Council ORUK Directory of Services

Bristol Council Place-based Directory



Bristol Adult Social Services needed access to local service information that could be relied upon. Accurate data forms part of our prevention strategy with our information, advice and guidance project. Existing directories were just not kept up to date well enough.

Initially we paid a third sector organisation, The CareForum (website called WellAware), to carry out an exercise to collect all the data. We recognised, though, that the data would soon be out of date and this would therefore become a costly model because it was resource intensive.

A chance encounter with a member of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Locally Delivered Service Standard project in June 2017 provided us with an approach which seemed to be far more collaborative in spreading the costs and resources of maintaining local service information. It also promised a richer set of data to allow us to refer people to specific appropriate services rather than signposting people to organisations for a further discussion on which services might be appropriate.

The LGA had recently published a schema with iStandUK for collecting service information. Their proposition was that if Bristol could work across the “place” to persuade all organisations collecting  similar information to adopt the standard, then this would allow everyone  (AdultSocial Care, SEND, CCG, Housing, Police, Third sector) to aggregate the data together such that they can all access this richer and broader set of information.

It was noted that for agencies to trust the accuracy of the information, then there would need to be some form of assurance and accountability.

Another idea the LGA were working on was to move away from the traditional service directory where someone would search for what they wanted to find, to an approach where someone would present their needs and circumstances and appropriate services would be suggested to them through a data model.

The Place-based Directory of Services project in Bristol was born.


The LGA were keen for Bristol Council to implement their approach and learn lessons from it.

Digital Gaps were working with the LGA at that time on their standards project and so we procured them to help us think through how we were going to deliver this solution.

Placecube were a strategic software development partner and were happy to price up and develop the solution that was defined.

Wellaware (The Care Forum) were happy to provide input into the development and then use the solution to collect data and also to consume the data into their website ‘WellAware’ which was developed by Doc and Tee.

We ran a discovery project to develop user stories with some sketches to inform Placecube for their development. We involved frontline workers, service providers and others who collect data for their own directory.The project included thinking through the collection process, how assurance would be carried out, and how applications would consume the data. This would all be based on the LGA locally delivered services data schema with their defined APIs. This resulted in a document setting out the solution we were looking for.

Placecube assessed the stories and proposed an MVP and development started in January 2018. However, a major disruption occurred when the LGA decided that there was significant interest in Open Referral, which is an American local services data schema. Open Referral was more general and wouldn’t provide the personalisation that the LGA was looking for and so they developed a UK  application of OpenReferral. This was achieved through carrying out a detailed comparison of the two data standards to form the best of both worlds – ORUK was created.

Placecube then had to rewrite a lot of their work to incorporate all the changes from the LGA standard to the ORUK standard. The Placecube product is called ‘Open Place Directory’ and provided a means to collect the service data centrally or by service provider or through volunteers and frontline workers. It then allowed a team of assurers to check that the data was accurate before publishing to standard APIs that Docandtee could ‘get’ data for their website queries.


The key benefits sought from this project were:

  • Reduced costs by collecting, tagging and assuring data once by working as a team across the place
  • Improving data quality by focusing resources to provide more robust assurance
  • Reduced need for public sector to develop apps by making data available to the market to stimulate and enable innovation
  • Remove the issue of administrative and geographical boundaries by using standards to allow data aggregation
  • Improving productivity of frontline workers by making service data more readily accessible
  • Improving the ability to capture management information of supply, demand and what works through use of standards
  • Provide a cost-effective solution for all organisations to make use of across the place
  • Enable many frontline benefits by making reliable data, from large geographical areas, available to many applications:

            - Improve people’s lives by stimulating the market for digital sign-posting, targeted help &self-service through the availability of quality data

            - Helping to reduce the strain on statutory services by encouraging people to access support services earlier and preventing crisis.

            - Helping to reduce signposting and unnecessary contact with organisations/ less ‘pillar to post’


Lessons learned

It has been a long journey with many lessons learned. Moving to Open Referral and Covid issues have been telling. The following are lessons which we think might be useful to share:

  • People tend to assume that the project was just another service directory project. We found the need to persevere to explain the concept of collect once and use numerous times(COUNT).  
  • We worked with Digital Gaps and Placecube to develop a video which explained the whole system.  
  • People tend to focus on their own area/organisation/silo and are protective of what they have in place. It might have been better to work with an Integrated Care Partnership to provide governance, credibility and drive for place-based collaboration and focus on the impact for customers, rather than organisations
  • The project can become focused on just collecting data to the ORUK standard as opposed to it delivering accurate data to make a difference. We think you need to identify those that need the data and involve them in the project. They will be the driving force to collect and assure the data
  • One of the biggest challenges was migrating the data from the old directory to the new format. We developed a python programme to help us do that. Unfortunately this was at the time of Covid when all services either stopped or went online. In the end we have had to review all the data anyway and so migration wasn’t the issue. We would encourage people to think about whether migrating or simply starting again is the best way forward.
  • Service providers are absolutely key to success. If they will use the collection method and are happy to be accountable to the data consumers - Council, Police, CCG, Housing, Third sector etc; then this is the most efficient way to maintain the data. We say hat you should go out of your way to get the service providers on board.
  • Service Provides often only partially populate the information, but without a rich dataset the benefits won’t be realised.  There is value in considering the use of a completeness checker to encourage people to enter a full data set. A richness checker is also useful for the frontline to remove the incomplete datasets (which can be very frustrating for consumers).
  • The frontline workers are a large consumer of the data but also provide a considerable resource in maintaining the data. Currently they only tend to informally update their team of any service information that has changed but they can just as easily (in fact probably more easily) notify the central system of these changes and all frontline workers across sectors benefit. Again our lesson would be to involve them in the project perhaps especially the PCNs Social Prescribing LinkWorkers.
  • The needs and circumstance model is a difficult concept to grapple with and it is easy to give up but without taxonomies then management information across a place and nationally will remain a frustration. We recognise that each sector in a place will want their own taxonomy and we need to find a way to bring all these together. We are hoping that MHCLG or LGA might take a lead on this. 


The Care Forum have taken a lead to collect, assure the information/data and then to consume the data. The impact currently has been that richer and more accurate information about local services is available to Bristol frontline workers and citizens through the WellAware website.

However, the potential impact remains to be seen. Bristol now have the capability to introduce more collectors of information and more consumers of information. The many to many diagram below shows this. Moving to this place-based approach will minimise public sector costs and maximise the impact on citizen’s lives through engaging with local appropriate support services.