Wednesday January 31st is a big day for Canadian mental health initiatives: It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day!
This annual event draws attention to the topic of mental health, particularly the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents many from seeking help. The idea is that if we all talk more openly about mental health and are open to conversations about it, it will lessen the shame attached to mental illness. Bell also champions access to care, workplace mental health, and research.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, people are encouraged to take to social media and discuss the topics of mental health and mental illness, and use the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, and watching the Bell Let’s Talk video featured on their social media pages. On Facebook, watching the video or using their special profile photo frame raises funds. And Snapchat users can watch a video or use special filters to help raise funds. For participating in these various social media activities, Bell donates 5¢ to mental health initiatives and programs across Canada (including many services that are part of the iCarol family!). Bell customers can also participate by texting or making calls. Find out more about how to take part.
Bell Let’s Talk has had a profound impact across Canada. Since the campaign began in 2011 there have been nearly 730 million interactions around Bell Let’s Talk, with over $86 million donated to mental health initiatives. And 4 out of 5 Canadians say they are more aware of mental health issues since Bell Let’s Talk launched.
To learn more about Bell Let’s Talk, check out their website and toolkit that contains everything you need to participate. We hope you’ll follow us on Twitter and tweet along with us to raise awareness and remove the stigma from the conversation about mental health!
The end of a year is typically a time for introspection as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and begin to plan for the future. This past year has certainly been challenging for a variety of reasons, but you, our clients, have been a consistent source of inspiration throughout it all. You have repeatedly stepped in to assist the most vulnerable in their time of greatest need. Whether it was responding to those at risk during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, helping survivors in the aftermath of a violent attack and addressing the surge in awareness and discussion around those topics, assisting those struggling in their day-to-day environment, or handling countless other problems and requests, you have stepped up to make a positive difference in the world.
They say there’s strength in numbers, and you demonstrated it this year with creative partnerships to aid each other in your respective missions. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite just two examples: first, a California 211 who on very short notice agreed to back up a Florida crisis center as Irma grew close, utilizing iCarol’s ability to share contact forms and resource data. The plan ensured help seekers would still have someone to assist them even as the Florida center lost its power and telephone service. The California 211 logged over 1,100 call reports during that crisis.
In another powerful example of strength in numbers, a group of crisis centers across Canada banded together to form the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), agreeing on a common process and technology standard in order to provide a seamless network of assistance to those in crisis. The vision of a unified national service was first championed by Karen Letofsky, and began providing service in late November of this year. CSPS uses iCarol for logging contacts, chat and texting. Their very first interaction, a chat, resulted in an active rescue of a teenager. Countless other stories could be told of the valuable services you’ve all performed throughout this year, and of the powerful network you’ve built to assist each other in times of need.
At iCarol we have always strived to provide the best possible software and service we could to empower you further. After listening closely to your feedback last year, in 2017 we focused most strongly on overall service stability, product quality and in the addition of critical functionality to iCarol. We also wanted to ensure we built in additional feedback loops from you to help us continue to improve. So, you might ask, how have we done?
I’m pleased to say that for 2017 thus far, we’ve achieved our best “up time” in the past 10 years, exceeding 99.972% system availability, per our third-party monitoring service. To put 99.972% in context, it averages out to only 24.2 seconds of down time per day, or a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 15.9 seconds for the entire year. We’re feeling especially good about the percentage given that this year our customers logged over 10 million contact forms in iCarol, doubling the number of forms entered just 3 years ago. Your need for access to iCarol stretches ‘round the clock, and our relatively small company has delivered this year with up times comparable to industry giants like Salesforce and Amazon, ensuring you have access to your systems as you provide vital services.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve product quality. iCarol contains almost 300,000 lines of code, which implies a significant amount of work to continually test its feature functionality. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, we’ve been investing in automated testing as a way to ensure more ongoing, consistent testing. To date we’ve created 220 automated test cases, which will be kicked off nightly as the codebase is updated with new bug fixes or features. Our plan is to grow the number of automated cases to cover more and more of iCarol, thereby relying a little less on manual testing, which can be subject to human error. The more product defects we can capture before a release, the better iCarol will perform for you. This will also help us to speed up our release cycle in 2018, releasing an update on average every two weeks throughout the year, delivering feature functionality to you more quickly. As always, check the iCarol Dashboard for news on upcoming releases and any features it may contain.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was launched this February as a more formal feedback loop for you to suggest improvements, and to vote on Ideas of fellow customers. It also enables the ability for Q&A, allowing our Product Management team to gather more detailed information about selected Ideas. We’re thrilled that you’ve jumped in and begun logging your Ideas, enabling us to see trends in your voting. We’ve implemented multiple Ideas this year, and plan to add more in 2018.
In 2017, 2,769 code changes were made to iCarol, which translates into over 790 features and bug fixes added throughout the year, as we strove to improve iCarol per your feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements this year included a new release of Messaging, which incorporated the text or chat conversation into the call report form, the massive Field Visibility enhancement for resource database managers, and an updated Public Resource Directory 2.0, with its configurable Guided Search, among other features.
Smaller enhancements can also provide a lot of value for our clients, as you reminded us through your suggestions on the Ideas Portal. These included enabling a custom date range for the Summary Report, receiving an email notification when a resource is flagged for review, requesting email outcomes from an Automated Verification campaign, receiving notifications for bounced email from an Automate Verification campaign, and initiating an Automated Verification request when editing a resource record.
Finally, we’ve also begun formalizing focus groups on particular areas of functionality we’d like to improve. If you are a “Power User” of a particular area of iCarol, meaning you use it heavily, and have strong opinions on how it could be improved, we’d love to hear from you so that we can add you into a focus group. Each group will be small, but will hone in on specialized functionality so that we can obtain very detailed feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the special requirements and limitations you run into in your environment. As I hope I’ve conveyed throughout this note, your voice and expertise is a valued part of our business, especially as part of our product management process.
All in all, it’s been quite a year. We hope you’ve weathered the storm well in both your personal and professional life, and we wish everyone a safe, secure and happy new year. Everyone at iCarol continuously marvels at the fine work you do and your life-changing and life-saving contributions to our world, and we’re excited to see your continued positive influence in the new year. We remain honored to serve you, our clients, and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2018 and beyond.
Today marks the beginning of Bullying Awareness Week throughout much of Canada. The Kids Help Phone website is currently highlighting bullying resources and information to help educate people on the topic of bullying.
You can also join Kids Help Phone for a live webinar on Facebook this Thursday at 4pm EST.
In honour of #BAW2017, Kids Help Phone will be hosting a bullying information session and Q&A on Facebook Live with counselling manager Rebecca. Join us on Facebook next Thursday, November 23 at 4 p.m. EST! pic.twitter.com/haPGcBwxMm
Microsoft products play a large role in what we do and the innovative service offerings we’re able to pass along to our clients. So, we were delighted to have the recent opportunity for Jackie and Neil to sit down with Andy Pitman, Director of Health and Human Services Solutions at Microsoft, to talk a bit about iCarol and the incredible work of our clients as life-saving social safety nets of their communities. You can check out that interview here. We’ve very excited to announce some additional initiatives between ourselves and Microsoft soon – stay tuned to the blog and your iCarol Dashboard for more information.
At the 2017 Startup in Residence Demo Day held this past month in San Francisco, participating groups were given 5 minutes to present their collaboration’s technological solutions to identified problems. iCarol and skyClutch were delighted to work together with the Our Children Our Families Council (OCOF) as one of the participating groups. skyClutch is an independent company which aims to help their clients with better resource delivery through user-friendly website integration. San Francisco’s Our Children Our Families Council works to make sure the resources of the city of San Francisco are directed toward helping children and families thrive.
The identified problem? Many of our youth and their families have the burden of searching multiple directories and portals for information but none of them are comprehensive. Most online directories provide basic health and human service listings, but do not include out-of-school activities, in-school services, child care openings, affordable housing listings, or information on medical support groups. The Our Children Our Families Council, a collaborative effort with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Unified School District, seeks to create a comprehensive digital service directory, which would include all publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families including San Francisco Recreation and Parks, Department of Children Youth and their Families (DCYF), public safety resources, childcare, housing, health care, legal aid, and more. Currently, service data is decentralized and often inaccessible to the populations most in need. Much of the current service data is locked in proprietary silos maintained by individual organizations in different formats and is inaccessible to other departments, agencies, and stakeholders.
The proposed solution: A digital directory that connects disparate data sets into one holistic portal to increase accessibility and uptake of services to help San Francisco families thrive. Intended users are students, parents, teachers, counselors, youth, community based organizations, and city departments. The site would have front-end (e.g., homepage) that links to multiple search portals, which are unique to a particular data structure, user segment or issue such as transitional aged youth (TAY), child care, or housing. The goal is for the front-end to be user-friendly, translated into multiple languages, and mobile friendly. Users can search the service inventory via text field, location search, category search and bookmark, print, save, and share the resources they’ve identified and plan to access.
Moving forward: The Our Children Our Families Council is focused and committed on building, in partnership with iCarol and skyClutch, a centralized database of all San Francisco’s publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families. Through the use of the iCarol Resource API, skyClutch and the operational support from the Mayor’s Office of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District, children and families awareness and ability to access needed resources will increase. The centralized database system will also allow the city to be more cost effective in how it can make residents aware of services and address resident needs. Behind the scenes, it also assists the city in knowing what types of services residents need most and what gaps there may be, ultimately helping the city strategize and improve response. And finally, it reduces frustration and builds trust between residents in need and their local government offices.
We are proud to be the chosen technology platform for OCOF’s service inventory and are very excited for the positive impact this project will have on children and families in San Francisco.
What is the STIR Program?
Local governments are under increasing pressure to meet constituent needs and engage with the public in innovative and cost effective ways. But, spending time and money on innovation is not always easy for city governments already stretched thin and busy with the day-to-day work operations. The Startup in Residence (STIR) initiative began in San Francisco in 2014, with the goal of solving civic challenges and addressing residents’ needs by pairing up government agencies and startups.
The partnered startup and governmental department work together over the course of 16 weeks to address a specific challenge using a co-developed technological solution. While the STIR program originated in San Francisco, it has since expanded to the nearby cities of Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento, with plans to go nationwide in 2018. You can learn more about STIR’s origin and history by watching this brief video.
At iCarol we believe that our customers are also some of our best innovators. From the very start, helpline volunteers created iCarol and we’ve continued that tradition of users driving product development as the years go by. Many of the features you use in iCarol every day grew from a “light bulb moment” had by one of your peers. This community development approach drives our future product development. After all, no one knows your business or what type of tool or enhancement could improve your work like you do.
iCarol Usergroup Summit at the AIRS Conference
Our conference appearances throughout the year provide opportunities for iCarol usergroup sessions where iCarol users can discuss our software, provide feedback, and hear about our development plans, often referred to as our “Product Roadmap.” Prior to the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) conference in May we hold an iCarol Usergroup Summit where we offer trainings by AIRS Certified iCarol staff, as well as a traditional usergroup meeting.
This past spring, we asked for the AIRS Usergroup Summit attendees’ help on voting and prioritizing identified enhancements that should be first in line for development. Attendees received a firsthand look at how hard it is for us to decide where to focus our efforts. They took their task seriously, and graciously provided valuable feedback. You’ll be seeing the results of their efforts soon as these new developments start to be released in your iCarol system. As always, watch the iCarol blog and the Dashboard in your iCarol system for details.
Following the Summit one attendee described iCarol as, “Not just a vendor but a partner” in their organization’s mission. This is absolutely our goal as we work with all of our clients as we believe deeply in helping you to affect positive change in your communities. We’re happy to share that 100% of Summit attendees described themselves as Satisfied or Very Satisfied overall with the material presented at AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit, and 100% of the group found the individual session content relevant to their everyday work. We think it’s a great event that you should attend next year, but you don’t have to take our word for it – 91% of attendees said they are likely to recommend attendance to others. We’ll be announcing future AIRS iCarol Usergroup Summit plans in 2018 so stay tuned!
Advisory Boards and Focus Groups
In an effort to keep client discussions going not just when we see you at conferences but throughout the year, we’ve recently kicked off a new and exciting venture — creating two separate iCarol Advisory boards, one to represent Crisis Centers/Helplines, and one to represent Information and Referral organizations. Each iCarol Advisory Board will ensure representation of industry voices in our development process through virtual meetings year round. Goals include providing iCarol with guidance on their industry’s evolving needs, providing feedback on existing and future software development, and validating that iCarol’s strategy and development plans meet the needs of the industry being served.
In addition to the iCarol Customer Advisory Boards, we are also hosting more focus groups than ever before. Focus groups are made up of individuals to discuss a particular challenge or development approach we are considering. Focus groups give the iCarol Product Development team the opportunity to discuss challenges our clients experience and potential solutions.
Want to get involved in an iCarol Advisory Board or Focus Groups? Participants are identified and invited through their participation on the iCarol Ideas Portal, from the cases they submit, feedback from surveys or ways in which their iCarol systems are configured.
Annual Customer Survey
It’s important to provide organization leaders and management staff across our client pool with the opportunity to share feedback covering all areas of iCarol, from our customer service to the use of the product itself, and to that end we just wrapped our annual Customer Survey a few weeks ago. We’re busy compiling and analyzing those results now so we can internally discuss how this feedback will drive us in the months ahead. We truly value the time you took to complete this survey and we will share results and action plans coming from that survey in the months ahead.
iCarol Ideas Portal
And finally, we just celebrated about 7 months of having the iCarol Ideas Portal available. This has proven to be an effective way of both receiving and prioritizing client ideas, and communicating about these ideas and their progress towards implementation. You may have caught our recent blog sharing some notable stats on the portal’s usage and just how much this method of client involvement has impacted your iCarol system already. If you haven’t, you can check that out here.
We hope, with these various methods through which we receive feedback and ideas, that you feel like a part of our iCarol Community where your voices are heard and opinions are acknowledged. Your role in our product development is an integral part of what we do and we look forward to continuing that tradition in both familiar and new and exciting ways.
From Oct 18 – Oct 20, I’ll be attending the National Crisis Centers Conference in Buffalo, NY along with iCarol’s Director of Business Development, Polly McDaniel, and our newest Solutions Expert, Tonya Broomer, who you may recognize from her previous role as an iCarol Support Team member!
Our history with this group is our longest association, going way back to iCarol’s earliest days, and many of the helplines and crisis centers who host this conference were some of iCarol’s earliest users. It’s a long standing relationship that we value and we’re proud to not only attend but are also long-term sponsors of this important gathering organized by pillars of the helpline industry, CONTACT USA (CUSA) and the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD). Both organizations are phenomenal in supporting crisis work and we recommend considering membership for your service. Find out more about CUSA membership here and NASCOD membership here.
This year’s conference theme is “Unity in Helping.” Time and again we see how coming together and working towards a common goal makes organizations and communities stronger. We recently joined NASCOD and CUSA member organizations and others to rally around a common theme of “being there for others” during National Suicide Prevention Week. This movement empowered millions of people to take action to prevent suicide. Having so many voices on this common theme helped broadcast that message further. We’re looking forward to this year’s conference sessions highlighting all the ways in which we’re stronger together, whether it’s teamwork within your helpline or collaborating with partners in other organizations.
Let’s meet up!
While we look forward to these conference workshops that keep us in-the-know about the issues faced in the industry, which in turn helps us better serve our clients, we also enjoy the chance to see current and potential iCarol users face-to-face so we can hear about their vital work and explore ways we might be able to help. This year we’ll offer some dedicated space before the conference begins, to be available to those who may wish to talk with us.
When: October 18, 9am-4pm
Where: Embassy Suites (same hotel as the conference), Encore Ballroom on the second floor
We’ll be prepared to address whatever topics you wish to discuss, such as:
Training on how to use certain iCarol features
Quick system tours to those unfamiliar with iCarol
Feedback or comments
Any other iCarol questions
There’s no need to schedule an appointment — just stop by at any time you’re free from other conference activities (click here to check-out the preliminary schedule). If you have any questions you’d like to ask prior to stopping by, feel free to !
If you can’t make it on the 18th but wish to meet with us, don’t worry. We’ll be attending sessions and other conference activities and can catch up with you at whatever time is most convenient. See you in Buffalo!
From October 1-3, our Director of Business Development, Polly McDaniel, will head to the Texas AIRS (TAIRS) Professional Development and Education Training Conference in San Antonio, Texas. This year’s gathering is extra special as TAIRS celebrates 40 years of supporting Texas I&R agencies.
In addition to the learning opportunities offered at the TAIRS Conference, this is a great time for us to recognize in person the amazing work the Texas Information and Referral Network accomplished during and following the devastation and flooding in southeast Texas, caused by historic Hurricane Harvey. We are honored to be the software supporting the TIRN network as they assist their neighbors in need.
At the TAIRS conference we’ll be on hand to answer questions, meet and greet members of the Texas Area Information Centers, meet additional information and referral providers from across the state and take part in sessions and conversations that will help us better understand the needs of those providing I&R across Texas so we can continue to provide the best service possible.
Like many others, we’ve been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas, stunned by the images of record setting flooding and the impact on residents. In particular we’ve been thinking of all of our friends and clients in this area. As is typical of helpline work, they have an important role to play in disaster planning, relief and recovery, all while their own homes and families are at risk. We’re told that 2-1-1 Texas has remained operational throughout — a truly amazing feat in the wake of this historic hurricane. As we hear from them and gain permission to share their experience and stories of those they helped, we hope to bring that information to you.
Harvey serves as a reminder to all non-profit services and particularly helplines, contact centers, and 2-1-1s that you have a role to play in your community’s disaster plan as government services look for partner organizations that can disseminate life-saving information, offload call volume to government switchboards, and provide information across a variety of communication methods to make sure everyone is reached. Meanwhile, these not-for-profits naturally have to concern themselves with the safety of their own staff and their own infrastructure in order to remain operational. With Hurricane Irma now making its way towards North and Central America, and months left in hurricane season, it’s time to consider your disaster plan. And of course disaster goes far beyond tropical storms and flooding. Wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and other forms of disaster threaten communities across the globe.
We’ve recently been made aware of a website that provides a number of free resources helpful to any organization as they plan and prepare for disasters. You can access these resources here.
If you are interested in aiding in Harvey relief efforts, the United Way has announced establishment of a Harvey Recovery Fund. In the midst of these events it’s usually recommended to donate money rather than items, as storage space tends to be in short supply but cash allows organizations to purchase items on the ground for immediate distribution. They’ve offered information on the various ways you can make meaningful contributions on their website.
We extend our warm thoughts to everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey. If you have information about relief efforts or if your organization has been directly impacted by Harvey and you would like to share your stories, please .
Photo appears courtesy of the United States Department of Defense. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Niles Lee.
Congratulations to our friends at Ontario 211 (ON211) — recent winners of the 2017 Citizen and Community Global Impact Award for their website, along with partners BDO IT Solutions. This award is granted to an organization that exhibits excellence in creating solutions that improve communities.
This award is a result of a partnership between ON211 and BDO IT Solutions to create a cost-effective, web-enabled solution aimed at transforming ON211’s online presence and among other goals, making their website easier for community members to navigate and find needed resources. BDO worked closely with Ontario 211 Services to develop the service on Microsoft’s technologies and implement in the Microsoft cloud, Azure. ON211 Resource records are curated in the iCarol database and that data is made accessible to the website via the iCarol Resource API.
Read ON211’s full press release about the project and award here.
Find out more about iCarol’s Resource API here and here, and please contact us if you’d like to learn even more about using the Resource API at your organization.