Right now the information and referral industry is in the midst of transformation. In a time where there are varying challenges facing our communities, help-seekers need the expertise and hands-on guidance of information and referral specialists now more than ever. And, in an ever-evolving mobile and connected world, consumers are hanging up their phones in favor of the convenience of communication via texting, live chat, and simply finding the right resources on their own via the web. Meanwhile, stakeholders desire access to data about the needs of the clients served by helplines, the efficacy of the services, and the gaps between human needs and the availability of services to meet them. These changes, and the need to adapt to them in order to stay relevant, can understandably overwhelm members of the industry, from visionaries and leaders to helpline staff.
Coming from helpline backgrounds ourselves, we’ve always been passionate about creating tools that make helping people even easier. We want to share our insights with you, and that’s why this year we’re holding a special day long intensive training summit just before the AIRS conference in St. Louis. Whether you’re a long-term customer or are considering iCarol for use in your I&R center, please join us to focus on best practices using iCarol, led by our staff of Certified Resource Specialists. Focused on 2-1-1 Directors, Call Center Directors and Resource Managers, you’ll learn about:
- Strategies for getting the most out of the software
- Cases studies from our clients using iCarol for innovative solutions
- Serving clients by phone, web, chat and text in one integrated system
- Applying the AIRS Standards and using the taxonomy well
- Advanced training on existing iCarol features and a peek at features coming soon
This day long event will be conveniently located at the same hotel as the AIRS conference, and lunch will be provided.
Learn more and Register
As often is the case, an interesting topic was recently posed on the AIRS networker, to which many of the Information and Referral industry professionals added their own thoughts and experiences.
The original question was one many can identify with: What database search method works best for your specialists? With a number of options available, such as your own home-built hierarchy of categories and keywords, or the taxonomy as another example, which do you prefer and use?
This prompted another related question: With the many thousands of potential taxonomy terms available for assignment and searching, how many terms account for the majority of your searches? Could your top 20 or even top 10 terms searched actually account for a very large number of your overall searches? Meaning that many of the terms assigned to your resource records are rarely if ever being keyed into searches.
Neil took a look at the data available to us to shed some light on this. Here are Neil’s findings as posted in the AIRS networker thread:
Looking at all iCarol clients in North America, which represent a substantial portion of 2-1-1’s and I&R’s, yields some interesting results.
In addition to tracking the actual Needs using the taxonomy, we also track what was searched as a possible Need (whether it was marked as a Need or not) by the I&R Specialist.
In Q4’2015, here are the percentage of Needs searched out of all searches for phone, chat and text interactions by an I&R Specialist (but for now, not public website searches):
- Top 10 Needs searched = 45%
- Top 20 Needs searched = 57%
This echoes what others have posted here. Granted, due to the season, there was a bit of a skew toward holiday-related Needs, but I wanted to work with a relatively recent date range.
Rolling up to Level 3 of the taxonomy, to filter out the (significant) variation at lower levels:
- Top 10 Needs searched = 55%
- Top 20 Needs searched = 71%
…which not surprisingly shows even more consolidation.
So on a wider scale, this confirms what you’re seeing locally.
It does make me wonder what the cause and effect may be. Are these truly the majority of caller Needs needing consideration during a call/chat/text? Or do we have a bias towards searching for Needs with which we are more familiar? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I’d be keen to hear ideas about changes we could make in training, in our software, and possibly in the taxonomy that could help I&R Specialists familiarize themselves with less-used Needs, as [name omitted] is pointing out in this thread using the medical and dental examples.
For this and more great discussion, as always we suggest you look at AIRS membership for networker participation.
We welcome your thoughts and input on Neil’s findings above, please leave us a comment below to continue the discussion.
The staff of a 2-1-1 center in Maryland is celebrating February 11th (known as 2-1-1 Day) by encouraging people to display random acts of kindness and generosity toward one another.
This is the second annual event of its kind for 2-1-1 Maryland. Last year the organization representatives decided that the best way to spread the word about 2-1-1’s free information and referral services was to challenge the community to commit a combined two hundred eleven random acts of kindness and then share their acts via social media. The event was so successful it was destined to become an annual tradition. They encourage people to participate with three steps:
- Act: Commit a random act of kindness on February 11th
- Inspire: Share what you did by posting to the Facebook event page using #211ActsofKindness
- Challenge: Invite others to the event in person or online, or share the printable social media cards to get family, friends, and coworkers started on completing their own random acts of kindness
As of Wednesday, the Facebook event has over 600 people planning to participate. Some have even shared their plans for acts of kindness, or acts they’ve already committed in honor of the event. One woman said she’d been sending inspirational postcards to a friend who has been going through a difficult time. A local student posted a video of her teacher encouraging another student.
The staff of 2-1-1 aren’t just encouraging others to be kind; they’re getting in on the kindness action themselves.
For their first act of kindness they will be offering a light breakfast of coffee and baked goods at their Kindness Challenge kick off locations. One location will also offer free chair massages to employees of the local agencies served by the United Way. Another location will offer facility tours and information on why Mental Health Matters. For the remainder of the day, a “Kindness Crew” of 2-1-1 Maryland staff members and partner organizations will be out in the community performing random acts of kindness and encouraging others to do the same.
And even though the organization that operates 2-1-1 in western Maryland, the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, could benefit from donations and fundraising for their own programs, they’re instead accepting donations on behalf of two local agencies on Thursday. They’ll accept needed items for two local domestic violence shelters such as diapers, feminine products, and toiletries.
For more information on this event, visit the Facebook page.
Does your agency have an upcoming event, accomplishment, or other news you’d like us to share on the blog? Don’t hesitate to , we’re eager to share your good news with our blog readers.
With stories about the Zika virus beginning to appear in North American news media, some non-profit helplines and information and referral centers are already receiving inquiries about the illness. Though there have been no confirmed cases in the continental US* or Canada, confirmed cases in nearby countries south of the US and in the US territory of Puerto Rico have many beginning to ask questions about the virus, especially since these areas are popular travel destinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information about the virus which could be shared with those who are concerned. This information includes:
While unpleasant, symptoms are typically mild and becoming severely ill to the point of hospitalization is uncommon, and death resulting from the illness is rare.
For the full contents of information from the CDC which may be helpful to your constituents, visit the CDC’s Zika Virus webpage.
*Since originally posting this blog, confirmed cases have begun to emerge in the US. Authorities have confirmed a case where the Zika virus was contracted sexually, and others who contracted the virus, likely from a mosquito, while traveling.
Categorizing your resources can help your staff and volunteers find appropriate resources for those in need. Rather than searching for a resource by name, they can search by a category and be presented with a list of resources matching that search term. The list of categories is completely customizable, and for those using the AIRS taxonomy, please note you can use both the taxonomy and custom categories if you wish.
To turn on the custom category feature in iCarol, follow these steps:
- Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu
- Click the Resources Tab
- In the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the box next to “Uses Categories as well as 211 Taxonomy” to place a check mark there
- Click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen
Once the feature is turned on, the next step is to create a list of custom categories. It may be useful to review the resources currently in your resource database to determine what category names to use that would best represent the kinds of services those resources offer. Please note, this tool can be used to create just one list of categories, and it can also be used to create a list of categories with sub-categories.
To create a custom category, follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage Resources in the upper right hand side of the screen
- In the second column, click “Customize your keywords”
- Click “Add a new keyword”
- Fill in a Name for the category. A description and a rank for the category are optional.
- Before clicking Save, on the left hand side of the screen, place a checkmark either beside the option that says “Assign to the top level of your hierarchy” if you want the category to be in the top level of your hierarchy, or beside the name of a category already created, to make the new category a sub-category of that one. For example, in the screenshot below, “Youth” and “Matrimony” are sub-categories of Counseling.
- Click the Save button
The final step is to assign categories to your resources. There are two ways to do this. The first option is to search for a specific resource you want to assign categories to and edit it. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Search for the resource you would like to assign categories to
- When you receive the list of search results, click “Details” on the resource you would like to edit
- Click the Edit button in the upper right hand corner
- Scroll down the page to the Categorization section
- Click the link “Assign this resource to categories. For those who also use taxonomy, please note that this link will say “Assign this resource to taxonomy” but it will be used to assign both taxonomy and categories
- A pop-up box will appear that will show the categorization hierarchy you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the pop-up box, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- You can then close the pop-up box and the resource record will update to show the categories assigned
- Click “Save” or “Save and view resource” at the top of the screen
The second method to assign categories to resources is to use the “Assign resources to categories” tool. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage resources in the upper right hand corner of the screen
- Click “Assign resources to categories” in the second column
- Use the filters at the top of the screen to create a list of resources to assign categories to
- Once the list of resources has been generated, click the “Assign” link next to the name of the resource. This will bring up the hierarchy of categories you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the screen, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- The resource you just added categories to will disappear from the list of resources as your categorizations have been successfully saved.
- From here, you can click Assign beside the next resource and repeat the steps above
Once categories have been created, and resources have been assigned to these categories, one can then search by these categories. Searches can be conducted either by typing a category name in the search box and clicking the Search button, or by clicking on a category name in the category hierarchy that will appear on the resource search page. For example, the search depicted below was generated by clicking Cancer Type, and then Breast in the category hierarchy to generate a list of resources that provide services related to breast cancer.
If you have any questions about using categories in iCarol, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team.
Beginning in 2011, when the Unites States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers and statewide 2-1-1 networks providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
The 211 Taxonomy is one of the ways you can categorize your resources in iCarol. It’s a highly detailed set of over 9,500 various terms and an extremely precise, structured way of saying what services each resource provides. The Taxonomy is most used by 2-1-1 centers and other Information and Referral agencies, as its use is an essential part of AIRS accreditation. And when you subscribe to this feature in iCarol, you get to benefit of our regular updates such as migrating resources from terms that have been retired to active ones.
Taxonomy users in iCarol can import their own Taxonomy “filters.” These custom taxonomy filters are administered on the 211taxonomy.org website and anyone with a subscription to this site can download them at any time. The filters are a subset of the full taxonomy and allow you to deactivate a large number of taxonomy terms at once.
There are a few different types of filters available on 211Taxonomy.org. A couple filters are officially released by 211 LA County, distributors of the Taxonomy. Some others were created by other subscribers and set up to be shared.
Importing a filter can be useful when you want your taxonomy customizations to match those of the other entities using the taxonomy who have shared their filter on the site. Using these filters also gives your organization a starting point for the Taxonomy, rather than needing to pour over the 9,500 + terms to decide which your helpline wishes to employ. Applying these filters in iCarol was previously possible, but required help from our support team. Now we’ve put the control directly into your hands.
This tool to import a custom Taxonomy filter, available to Admin users only, can be used by taking the following steps:
- Download your custom filter from the 211taxonomy.org website. The file will be a .xml file.
- In iCarol, click Resources > Manage Resources > Customize the taxonomy
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Admins only – Import a custom taxonomy filter” section (non-admins will not see this)
- Click Browse and select the XML 211Taxonomy file
- Click “Delete all existing taxonomy customizations in my iCarol system and import this new filter”
- You will receive an email notification when the new customization has been uploaded and applied to your system.
Please note that by using this tool, all existing taxonomy customizations in your iCarol system will first be deleted. Proceed with extreme caution and be absolutely certain you wish to proceed before going through the import process.
November 5th is International Volunteer Managers Day!
Kudos to all you amazing Volunteer Managers out there. You do everything from recruitment to training to supporting and event planning. Check out a great blog by Volunteer Canada and infographic that goes over the 15 Roles that Volunteer Managers play. Your helpline couldn’t run without your great work bringing the talent and time of volunteers to your agency. On behalf of everyone here at iCarol, thank you for what you do!
We recently added a few cosmetic improvements to resource searching that add clarity to your search process as well as save you some time.
First up, the list of automatically suggested terms, whether you use Categories or Taxonomy or are searching by Resource Name, is more clearly defined with lines separating the items while the term you’re hovering over will be highlighted in blue.
Next, page numbers of search results appear not just at the top of the results list, but also at the bottom. So if you’re scrolling down to the bottom of your list and then need to go to page 2, you don’t have to scroll back to the top to move to the next page.
And finally as you assign the resources as given referrals, the main search page will reflect that with a “Referral made” note at each resource that has already been assigned as a referral. The ‘Referral made’ note will also appear while on the details page of that resource record.
These are just a few small tweaks but we hope they’ll make a positive impact on your work flow by saving you some time as you navigate through the referral search and assignment process.
Earlier this year, iCarol competed among other software solutions to be the Customer Relationship Management Software for the statewide Texas Information and Referral Network, also known as Texas 2-1-1.
We’re excited to share with you that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has chosen iCarol for its 2-1-1 Texas program. We are, of course, very proud to have won not just the business but the confidence of yet another significant and wide-reaching information and referral provider. Coupled with other large 2-1-1 networks currently using the iCarol solution, we feel this is a strong endorsement of our product and our team.
We work very hard to stay informed and current with the needs of the industry through the various groups, training sessions, conferences, and other networking opportunities available to us. But, we owe a degree of gratitude to our clients as well. Over the years your ideas, feature requests, and custom projects have helped build iCarol into the helpline software solution it is today. It is due in part to your expertise and input that we’ve developed a solution that continues to attract helplines from all over the world. We’re honored to play a small part in the positive impact you make in your communities.
We hope you’ll join us in welcoming the Texas Information and Referral Network to the iCarol family.