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Posts Tagged ‘Searching’

How Agency, Program, and Site structure displays

In iCarol, we offer a resource structure, or hierarchy, called Agency, Program, Site. If you’d like to learn more about this structure, you can download our guide about this information. The Agency – Program – Site hierarchy in iCarol follows the structure recommended by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and is most often used by those agencies using the AIRS taxonomy. Using this structure, at the 3rd or 4th level, (the 4th level being programatsite), has an effect on which information is displayed when viewing agency and program records within iCarol.

An agency is a legally recognized organization that delivers services. (edit screen identified by a grey ribbon) The agency is the main location of the resource where the administrative functions occur, where the organization’s director is generally housed and where it is licensed for business. An agency may or may not deliver direct services from this location.

Sites are the physical locations (eg. branches) from which clients access services provided by an agency. (edit screen identified by blue ribbon) If only one locations exists, all information may be stored in the agency record. If multiple sites exist, then ALL information recommended for Site must be stored there, since those fields will be displayed instead of the agency version.

The display hierarchy is: Program-at-Site (if using) Site / Program (if using)/ Agency (if a piece of information exists at all three levels, Site info will display

A service/program record describes the types of assistance/service an agency delivers to its clients. (edit screen identified by green ribbon) If only one program exists for an agency, all information may be stored in the agency record for that resource.

Program-at-Site contains specific details about a program that are available at a site. (edit screen identified by beige ribbon)

It is helpful to understand what information from which type of record (agency, program, site or programatsite) will display so you can made educated decisions on what information to place in each record so that referrals given to your callers as an accurate as possible.

Our Support Team can provide you with an Excel document that shows what information will be displayed when viewing agency and program records. There are two tabs in the Excel document, one for those using the three level hierarchy (agency, program, site), and one for those using the 4 level hierarchy (agency, program, site, programatsite). If you’d like us to send you this document, please open a Case with support using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

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Calculating your resource database’s “complexity”

We mentioned recently that at this year’s AIRS conference a workshop called Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation provided some inspiration in making a measurement available within iCarol that calculates the complexity of your resource database. We have now added this tool to iCarol.

Resource Complexity is a concept first suggested by several AIRS luminaries. By using approximations, it is used to calculate how complex your resource database is and how many hours per year it would take to manage them using the AIRS standards. For each Agency record, it gets 1 point for every Site record and 2 points for every Program record belonging to it. The Agencies are then grouped by their point score into the following categories:

Simple: 0-10 points
Moderate: 11-20 points
Difficult: 21-40 points
Complex: 41 points and higher

Once grouped and counted, you then assume an average number of hours per year for a trained worker to manage those resources, as follows:

Simple: 1-5 hours (average of 2.5 hours)
Moderate: 5-10 hours (average of 7.5 hours)
Difficult: 10-20 hours (average of 15 hours)
Complex: 20-40 hours (average of 30 hours)

With the total number of hours calculated to manage your entire database, you can then estimate how many Full Time Equivalent employees you may need to manage your database. There are 2,080 hours in a standard work year (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) but the hours available to an employee are usually less than that to account for vacation, sick days, training, meetings and other administrative work that will reduce their hours available to do resource database management.

Resource Complexity

To use this tool, simply navigate to Statistics and click on the Resources tab. The values for the assumptions of Resource Database Complexity described earlier obviously greatly affect the calculations. They have been in use by a major US 211 center since 2009, who claim they very accurately predict workload. Your own results may vary. If you would like this tool to allow you to modify these assumptions, you can contact our Support team using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.

A large chunk of time spent managing records according to AIRS standards involves keeping those resources up-to-date. When records are regularly checked for accuracy and updated, you know your clients are receiving helpful, good information. This reduces the frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed experienced by those who may already be in crisis or an otherwise difficult situation. Even a database full of records rated as “simple” will take thousands of work hours to manage.

If you check your database’s complexity and feel overwhelmed at the number of hours it may take to keep your database in check, then it’s time to consider iCarol’s Automated Verification tool. With this upgrade you can seek out the resource records that need to be verified using the same search tools as you would to give referrals, with the additional tool of date parameters showing when the records were last verified. Next, automatically send an authorized worker of that agency or program an email asking them to review the information you have on file and make suggestions or updates. They’ll be given a peek at the information as it exists in your live database so they can make those suggestions. Finally, your Resource Manager can review this information and choose to accept what’s been submitted or make some of their own tweaks first, and then apply the update to the resource record. What might have taken weeks of phone tag to accomplish has been squashed down to a fraction of the time. To find out more about Automated Verification and how it can assist you with keeping your resources updated, sign in to your iCarol system and check out the video.

We hope you enjoy this new ability to view the complexity of the resources in your iCarol database and that it helps you analyze your staffing needs pertaining to keeping your Resource Database accurate and up-to-date.

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AIRS Conference Recap

Recently Vinh and I attended the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems annual conference in Atlanta, GA. As always it was a great crowd and we had fun seeing so many friendly faces, catching up with our friends, clients, and colleagues, and hearing about what everyone’s been up to. Here we are at our booth, waiting to tell everyone in the exhibitor’s hall all about iCarol Helpline Software.


A true highlight was the reception on Monday night, held at the Georgia Aquarium, an amazing and beautiful place. If you visit the Atlanta area it’s a great attraction to check out.

aquarium (2)

On Tuesday night we had a great time with some folks at the Atlanta Braves game, though unfortunately the home team lost against the Mariners 5-7.


And of course, there were lots of great presentations and exhibits to check out at the conference. We enjoyed 211 Ontario’s presentation on Service Delivery from the Community up. With 7 call centers, 36 data providers, and 500,000 calls per year, it’s quite an impressive group that we’re proud to be associated with.

There’s a lot of discussion about “Open Data” with various initiatives underway, and iCarol is involved in all the discussions and brainstorming on that topic. We’ll have more to share about this topic and our involvement in the coming weeks.

California 211 presented information on the Kinship Navigator project which utilizes the iCarol API. In short, people search the Kinship Navigator system on the iFoster server, which is totally separate from and unrelated to iCarol. When a user searches the iFoster server on that website, it realizes there’s information in the participating iCarol systems that may fit that person’s search, and so with the details and nuances existing via the iCarol API, iFoster servers reach out via iCarol API to the four different participating iCarol systems and collects appropriate and authorized resources, then sends them back to the iFoster system for the person searching that website. This all happens seamlessly and in a matter of seconds. To hear a little more about this you can check out our recent webinar on iCarol’s Resource Tools (skip to the 36:10 minute mark if you want to hear specifically about this project). The technical ins and outs of understanding how an API works can be daunting, and so there were lots of questions. One audience member posed the analogy, “So is an API sort of like when a cashier at the front desk hollers back to the store room to bring them a can of beans, and the stock boy brings it to the cashier who then sells it to the customer?” And yes, that’s a great analogy!

The Orange County 211 presentation on their public website revisions was fantastic. With just a few small tweaks in how they use iCarol’s Public Resource Directory, including the addition of Folksonomy, they increased their website traffic by 108% in two months, with no changes in their marketing at all.

And finally a workshop on Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation, presented a very interesting notion on Resource Complexity. It was so inspiring that it’s going to result in a new feature to iCarol, more details on that soon!

AIRS put on a really great conference this year, and in case you’re interested they’re making a collection of photos from the conference publicly available here. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth to say hi, and of course to the new friends we made if you want to learn more about iCarol we’d love to hear from you. Give us a call, or join an upcoming webinar to learn more about us and our features.

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Resource search tips to get you great results

iCarol has many tools to use when searching for resources. Using these tools, call takers can fine tune their searches in order to find the most appropriate resources for your clients. Please read on to learn about these tools and how to use them.

Search Type

There are three search types in iCarol – Taxonomy, Resources and Keywords.

Resource Search Bar

Taxonomy refers to the AIRS Taxonomy, used by 211 agencies in Canada and the United States. This is a 7 level categorization hierarchy that is used to categorize human service agencies into over 9,000 categories.

Resources is used to search your resource database for the name of the agency or program.

Keywords refer to a categorization system that you can set up yourself. Placing your resources into categories can help your call takers narrow their searches quickly to find, for example, Domestic Violence resources or Individual Counseling resources.


There are several filters you can apply to your searches on top of the search type.

Search filters

Names should be used when you want to search by the name of the agency or program. Please note that searching Resources actually searches three different text fields in your resource records – Name, Alternate Name and Search hints. In this way, you can search for the Salvation Army by its official name, Salvation Army, its alternate name, Sally Ann, or a term that is placed in the search hints, perhaps the name of the building the agency is housed in, the Hope Center.

All fields can be used to search other text fields in the resource record besides Name, Alternate Name and Search hints, such as the Description field. This can be helpful if you are searching for a term that is not likely to be found in a name. For example, perhaps the client needs help obtaining diapers. It is very unlikely that there is a resource name in your database with the word diapers, but that word may appear in a Description field where the services the agency or program offers are outlined.

Specific field, with the associated drop-down menu, can be used to conduct a search in a very specific text field, such as address or eligibility.

Agencies, Programs, Sites or ProgramAtSite will appear for those using the three or four level resource hierarchy available in iCarol. In this way, the call taker can limit their searches to just certain record types. Best practices indicate that the majority of searches should be conducted at the program level.

Include Inactive and Include Active but do not refer refers to the status of the resource records. These filters can be used to search records of all statuses, not just the active resources.

Geographic Filters

These filters can be used to narrow searches by their proximity to the client or the coverage area the resource serves.

Geo filters

All resources means that no geographic filters will be applied to the search and all resources that meet the other filters indicated will be displayed

Resources within means that iCarol will search for resources that are physically located within the geographic area indicated by the country, state/province, county, city and postal/zip code filters entered. iCarol bases this search on the physical address entered into the resource record.

Resources serving means that iCarol will search the coverage area of each resource and return those that meet the geographic area indicated by the country, state/province, county, city and postal/zip code filters entered. iCarol bases this search on the coverage area field in the resource record.

Combining the filters above when conducting resource searches can result in a smaller, targeted list of results that is much more manageable for the call taker to look through. This saves time and increases the likelihood that the client receives the most appropriate resources to meet their needs.

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Introducing iCarol Folksonomy

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When people in the public are searching your public website for a resource that can help them, it can sometimes lead to frustration that they are getting no results. When you look closer at how they are searching, it becomes clear that they aren’t familiar with the way that resources are named or categorized. In other words, they are expressing a need, like “I am hungry” but the resources in your database are represented as services, like “Food pantries”.

In fact in commonly used categorization schemes, such as the AIRS Taxonomy or a custom categorization scheme built directly by your helpline, you won’t find the word “hungry” in any of the categories, terms or definitions. Multiply this by all the possible needs people have, and you can quickly see how a great deal of the population won’t get connected to valuable services. Other example searches are “I need a ride to work”, “My family needs a place to stay” and “I lost my job yesterday”.

So how can these help seekers, who are expressing a need, be connected with the services that can assist them? Clearly, we need to build a bridge between the two approaches. The solution we’re employing in iCarol’s Public Resource Directory is called the Folksonomy (an intentional mashup of the word Folk, as in “colloquial”, and Taxonomy).

In a nutshell, it helps find results if the search did not match an Agency or Program name, a taxonomy term or the officially defined synonyms for taxonomy terms (called “use references”). It does this by picking up colloquial words or phrases in a search and corresponds them to taxonomy terms, and then performs the search for resources assigned to those taxonomy terms.

A perfect example would be if someone typed “I am really hungry” into the search box. The Folksonomy fills the gap that normally would be mediated by a helpline’s phone worker on a call by connecting the expressed need to one or more taxonomy terms, like Food Pantries and Ongoing Emergency Food Assistance.

We have been testing this approach with clients and it is yielding exceedingly good results. Those clients also have an administrative interface to find recent searches yielding no results, and then to make Folksonomy entries so that future such searches will instead yield the right results.

Here is a scenario where the word “ride” is a Folksonomy entry corresponding to several taxonomy terms. If you had performed this search before we implemented the Folksonomy you would have gotten zero results. Instead you now get a number of transportation-related resources:


By building that bridge between the layman’s terms used by your web visitors and the detailed categorization of the 211 Taxonomy, iCarol’s Folksonomy will greatly improve the ability for your Public Resource Directory searchers to find what they are looking for and ultimately get the services they need.

We’ll have more information to share about implementing iCarol’s Folksonomy in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about managing your Resources with iCarol? Join us for our Resource Management Webinar on May 20th at 2pm EST.

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How is iCarol better than Google for Information and Referral software? Let me count the ways.

Would you want police officers driving their personal vehicles for their work? Doctors performing surgery in a spare bedroom at their house, using utensils from their kitchen? Teachers writing their own textbooks? Librarians arranging books by their personal tastes? No – and for similar reasons you want call specialists to make referrals to service providers based on the standards and tools honed by professionals for decades, nation-wide.

Here are some reasons why Information and Referral software like iCarol is better than using a public search engine like Google, and also why those search engines are poorly suited for professional work.

Why Information and Referral software is better than Google (or other public search engines):

    • 1. Well-structured resource records and fields that have been tuned for information and referral work – when a call specialist is looking at a record, they know exactly where to find relevant information about a service, like service description, eligibility, contact information, hours of operation, etc.
      2. Search algorithms under your control – yielding predictable, repeatable search results based on factors highly tuned for doing information and referral work, not on factors that are best for generating advertising revenue or that favor entities who happen to have done a good job of search engine optimization.
      3. Geographic service areas – limit search results to just those that serve the client location, and then also sorted by proximity to that location. Otherwise you risk sending a client to a service for which they are not eligible.
      4. Precise categorization of services, with the 2-1-1 Taxonomy or another well-structured category scheme – So for example when you are looking for a “Food pantry”, that term is well defined, sits in a rational place in the taxonomy (so it can be found) and will yield all services available in your community that meet the definition. With over 9,500 such taxonomy terms in a well-structured six-level hierarchy, call specialists can find the right services with high accuracy.
      5. Find related services relevant to the caller – recommends other services that might be useful to the caller, based on referrals made to callers in the past and/or services that are often referred to together.
      6. Annual validation of data – Confidence that the information you are providing is up-to-date and correct in the recent past.
      7. Adherence to your Inclusion Policies – Ensure that incorrect, illegitimate, illegal or immoral resources are not referred to by your call specialists.
      8. Consistent and professional results – For two callers with the same needs and locations but served by different call specialists, they would get the same referrals, as they should.
  • And why public search engines like Google are not well suited for professional I&R work:

    • 1. Human services are in the business of, well, serving humans. They are not in the business of optimizing their website for high rankings in search engines. Many valuable services do not even have websites. Relying on Google to find and rank searches would inevitably miss countless important services in your community.
      2. Websites get outdated leading to incorrect service information.
      3. Services go defunct, even if the websites are still available.
      4. Even if correct, website formats, layout and content are vastly different from service to service, leading call specialists to spend undue time trying to figure out if they offer services a) meeting the clients needs b) that the client is eligible for and c) that is near the client.
      5. Google changes its search algorithm frequently to suit their needs and the needs of their advertisers, often in very controversial but opaque ways.
      6. The terms a call specialist might search for would be of course highly subjective, which would yield different results even for callers with identical needs.
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