Filtering for resources based on where they are located, or by the area they serve, are powerful and essential capabilities for all but the most simple referral databases. They can help greatly in finding resources that are best suited to serve a client or caller based on where the person is located. With iCarol you have several options for doing this, based on how you set up and manage your resources.
To illustrate the different ways to search for resources, consider the the diagram to the right. It represents a simplistic area composed of four counties, one of which has two cities. Three resource records are located in various places in the area. (This diagram and the related description that follows would apply equally to countries, states, provinces, zip codes and postal codes - the concepts are the same. iCarol "knows" these geopolitical entities for Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.)
Finding resources within a specified area
If you wanted to find resources that are located within a specified area, then iCarol will look for them accordingly. For example, consider these searches:
- resources located within the state that contains these four counties will yield all three Resources 1, 2 and 3
- resources within County A will only return Resource 1
- resources within County B will only return Resource 2, because it is within City F that is itself within County B.
- resources within City F will also only return Resource 2
The key to remember is that when searching for resources within an area, then the larger that specified area is, the more resources you are likely to find in the resulting search....like the first example above searching the whole state.
Finding resources within a defined coverage area
Things get more interesting when you define coverage areas for your resource records. This lets you indicate that, even though a resource might be physically located in a particular place, it actually serves a larger area.
Let's say Resource 1 and Resource 2 both have defined coverage areas composed of County A and County B (both resources serve both counties). Resource 3 has a coverage area of County C and County D.
Then I perform a search for resources serving City E
. Resource 2 will be included in the search results, because City E is part of County B, which is part of the coverage area defined for that resource. Resource 1 will also be included - even though it is not located in County B, it is in a County A, which is part its coverage area. Resource 3, however, will not be included in the search results because its coverage area does not include County B.
Now let's search for resources serving the entire state (that contains the area above). None of the resources will show up, because all of them have coverage areas composed of individual counties, and none of these three resources has a "statewide" coverage area defined. Only those resources that truly serve the entire state would be included in those search results.
So the key to remember is that for searching for resources serving an area, you will likely get more results if you specify a smaller search location - because that location will be "contained" by a greater combination of coverage areas....iCarol "knows" that which larger geopolitical entities (e.g. counties) contain which smaller ones (e.g. cities and zip codes).
Ideally, when searching for resources serving an area, you would specify a zip code or postal code to ensure all possible combinations of coverage areas are included.
Coverage areas can be composed of any kind of geopolitical entity
When you are setting up coverage areas for a resource, it can be any combination of countries, states, provinces, counties, cities and zip/postal codes so that it reflects the reality for the resources service area.
You just want to make sure to be realistic when setting these up. Sure, a homeless shelter located in the center of a major city might accept people from anywhere in the state. But how likely would someone who is located 300 miles away from that city (but still in the same state) be to travel there for its services? Not very...so probably better in this case just to set its coverage area to the city it is in rather than the whole state.
If you use coverage areas, make sure most or all resources have them
Be careful, too, because any resource that does not have a coverage area defined won't be found when doing a search for resources serving a location...you're essentially telling iCarol "This resource does not serve any particular area." We recommend you don't enable such searches until most or all of your resources do have coverage areas defined. We also have tools to help you find those resources without coverage areas. We can also have iCarol create a "default" coverage area for your resources if/when we import them into iCarol and they don't have any specified.
Sorting search results by proximity
For either search type, you can have iCarol sort the search results by proximity to the specified location, giving you a big hint about resources that might be most convenient for the person to get to. iCarol will also tell you the approximate distance to that location.
Ignoring geographic filters
In certain cases, you don't want to have the search results filtered by geography at all - which is perfectly fine. iCarol lets you do that - but you can still specify a search location just so that you can also sort the search results by proximity to it.
What if we use Agency, Program and Site structure?
Things get more interesting. What if a Program is offered at several Sites all scattered around the area? Well, if you are doing a search by resources within a specified area, then as long as one of its Sites is located in that area, then the Program will be returned in the search results.
And if you're searching for resources serving a specified location? If you've specified your coverage areas at the Program level, then the Site locations don't matter. iCarol will simply consider the Program's coverage area when determining if a resource should be included in the search results.
But you can also specify coverage areas at the "ProgramAtSite" level, in which case each Site offering the Program can have its own different coverage area, and each will be considered accordingly when you conduct a search for resources serving a location. (To understand these ProgramAtSite records, read another article entitled "Understanding Agency, Program and Site structure
In any of these cases, when you actually view a Program that is offered at multiple Sites, as a convenience iCarol will initially show you location information for the Site that is closest to your specified search location. You can however get information about any of the other Sites that offer the Program, too.
Setting default search types
For all these various searches, we can set defaults for the filters ("resources within", "resources serving", "sort by proximity", etc.) so that your workers will use the combination of them you feel is best for the way you have set up and managed your referral database. We can also hide options you feel would be problematic in searches.