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.
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.
We recently added the ability for clients to configure which details of resource records are displayed in the search results list. This provides additional information to users, without having to open the resource record by clicking details.
Fields that may be included are:
- Coverage Areas (may slow performance)
- Application Process
- Languages Offered
- Hours of Operation Note
- Closest Site, or Location Description
The last setting “Closest Site, or Location Description” will be included in the results when a city value has been chosen from the Geographic Filters on the resource search page, and when the Program is linked to a ProgramAtSite record with location information.
Here is an example of a resource search results list without any of the above additional fields added:
Here is the same search with all of the available additional fields chosen:
If you would like to turn on any of these options, please submit a case via the online case submission tool.
The team had a blast in Dallas for this year’s I&R Training and Education Conference organized by the Alliance of Information and Referral Services (AIRS).
The weather was a big topic of conversation at the conference, as torrential rains, storms, and severe flooding wreaked havoc on the region in the days prior to the conference. In fact our developer, Spike, who attended the conference shared this image of the flight path towards the end of their flight into Dallas on Tuesday night. Just as their flight was cleared to land, the airport closed due to the storms and their flight was diverted to Tulsa where many others were also sent. It took several hours before they could get from Tulsa to Dallas. Getting there was an adventure for many conference goers due to the storms, but was ultimately well worth it.
And since disaster response is a component of the work of many 2-1-1 and I&R agencies, many attendees whose centers are located in the region had to split their time between attending their sessions and regularly checking in with staff at their call center. It was a great reminder of the never-ending and important work happening in the industry.
The conference was very centrally located in downtown, within a mile of interesting museums like the Dallas Museum of Art and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza which examines the life, death, and legacy of JFK.
Crystal noted that the local art scattered throughout the area was impressive, “I loved the art all around the city, the hotel had an interesting mural painted all along one side. Outside a little pizza shop, walking distance from the hotel, there was a really interesting bronze statue of horses, and everywhere you looked there was art beautifying the area. Art was everywhere!”
There was plenty of opportunity for fun while in Dallas. Several iCarol team members and helpline staffers took in a Texas Rangers game one evening which was a lot of fun.
We also found a delicious Mexican restaurant located about a block from the conference. YUM. Here we are again with a variety of folks from both our team and the industry chowing down.
The fun and games were great, but we accomplished a lot professionally as well. The iCarol Usergroup session was well-attended. For those who haven’t attended one of these sessions before, we use this as an opportunity to speak with iCarol users and provide a synopsis of the major enhancements that have been deployed over the last year.
Crystal’s session, “Taxonomy 102: How to make taxonomy customization decisions, and policies to consider” was popular among resource managers and the audience was really engaged! Be sure to keep an eye on the AIRS networker for the presentation if you’d like to check it out. Whether you use iCarol or another software vendor, please check into your Taxonomy capabilities and options for more information on how you can apply what you learned.
For more great photos from the conference, check out the album shared by AIRS. Our team would like to thank everyone who stopped by to say hi, attended a session, or engaged with us in any way while at the conference. We had a terrific time!
Crystal and Neil are dusting off their spurs and cowboy hats – they’ll be in Dallas for the Annual I&R Training and Education Conference, held by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), May 27 – 30th.
There are some special events we’d like to note, first that Crystal, who is a specialist in Taxonomy and I&R, will present a workshop titled
Taxonomy 102: How to make taxonomy customization decisions, and policies to consider.
Here’s the description of the session, which falls in the Resource Database Track:
So you understand the basic concepts of indexing records using the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy, but what comes next? Join us in discussing how to make Taxonomy customization decisions for your organization, and more importantly your resource database. Analyze a database and choose levels to index records. Learn the difference between horizontal and vertical indexing, and how to avoid these common indexing misadventures. Explore the different schools of thought on target terms, and work towards developing your own targeting policies. This session is intended for Resource Database staff with a basic understanding of indexing using the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy.
We should note that Crystal’s session is not iCarol-focused, it is educational and will be helpful to Resource Database staff regardless of the software solution used by their helpline. You can join her session on Saturday, May 30th from 10:45am to 12:15pm in the Dallas Ballroom B, 1st Floor, Conference Center.
There will also be an iCarol User Group session on Wednesday May 27th from 2:00-3:45 in Majestic 5, 37th Floor, Center Tower. The User Group session is aimed at leaders and staff at organizations who use iCarol so they can learn about our latest updates and ask questions. If your helpline would like to learn more about iCarol, whether you’re a current subscriber or not, you’re certainly welcome to attend.
Of course while in Dallas we’ll also be welcoming visitors to our booth (201) in the exhibitor’s hall. We’re looking forward to talking with everyone there in hopes of telling others about the iCarol solution, and welcoming more I&R centers into the iCarol family. If you plan to be at the conference and would like to chat with us, please !
Note: This blog describes a process that helps you or your web developers create guided searches of your iCarol Public Resource Directory. While this is still relevant to users of that version of the Public Resource Directory, as of July 3, 2017 a new version of the Public Resource Directory includes a built-in Guided Search builder. Learn more…
Passing parameters from your website to your Public Resource Directory (PRD) is a great and easy way to help guide your users to helpful resources. This feature is included in the Public Resource Directory add-on at no additional cost.
Guided searches can save time, help your users find what they need, and if you use the 211 Taxonomy, can help improve your statistics by encouraging exact Taxonomy searches. Webmasters can pre-load the Public Resource Directory public search page by sending search parameters in the URL hyperlink.
A current example of a client who does this is http://montana211.org/. They put a custom search box on their main page, which was developed by their webmaster. When a search is conducted by a PRD user, they generate a URL for the resulting page. Not only can search terms be passed to the Public Resource Directory (PRD), but other search filters such as location can be passed to the initial search.
Another client who uses pre-populated searches is http://www.211oc.org/211oc-guided-database-search.html. The guided search enables the public users to choose a general category, and then presents them with a list of more specific categories. Once a more specific category is chosen, the public resource directory is pre-populated and the user is presented with a list of appropriate search results.
Basic PRD URL vs. Populated URL
Example of Basic PRD URL:
This link will open the PRD in a new tab/window, with empty search criteria. A user will then have to enter a search term, choose geographic filters to refine their search, and initiate the search by clicking search (or choosing from the drop down list).
Example of a populated PRD search URL:
This link will open the PRD in a new tab/window, but will include populated specific search criteria. iCarol will also complete the query before the page loads for the user, removing the extra step of clicking “search”. The user can change any of the filters or search terms to further refine sequential searches.
How to read the Populated URL
The parameters are passed within a defined section of the URL, and by programming the hyperlinks from your website to the pre-populated URL, you can pass these criteria to the PRD. Search parameter starts with the field name, includes an equals sign (=), then includes the parameter value to pass. Each parameter is separated by an ampersand (&).
You can get the populated URL by completing a search in your PRD system, and copying the URL from the address bar. For a more dynamic approach, your webmaster can use text boxes or drop down boxes to help guide a user’s input.
Understanding Available Parameters
Org – Org is your Organization number, the unique number used by iCarol to represent your system
Country – Geographic Filtering for Country
StateProvince – Geographic Filtering for State or Province
County – Geographic Filtering for County
City – Geographic Filtering for City
PostalCode – Geographic Filtering for Zip/Postal Code
pst – [Coverage | Physical | All ] – Filter resources based on coverage area (“Resources serving”), physical location (“Resources within”), or omit this parameter to use your systems default.
Search – [Food] – Is the actual search term you want to find using the filters above. This can include the name of a specific resource, a general concept or phrase, or be specific such as a customized category or taxonomy term.
Sort – [Alphabetical | Proximity] – Is the sort order that the results will display in.
NameOnly – [True | False] – Set your search type to “Search Names” or “Search All Fields”, or omit this parameter to use your system default.
If your organization wishes to use this feature, or if you have any additional questions on how to use it, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team via the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu.
Next month members of our team will be in Dallas for the 37th Annual I&R Training and Education Conference, held by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS).
In case you’re not familiar with AIRS, it is a membership association for Information and Referral agencies and personnel, and it is the driving force behind the standards and quality benchmarks set in the field of I&R. They boast a diverse membership that includes agencies, community organizations, and even governmental departments that all connect people to the services they need. Their members are located all throughout the US and Canada. Many of the 2-1-1’s and other helplines using iCarol hold AIRS accreditations and many of their staff hold certifications offered by AIRS.
Whether a helpline’s resource database needs are limited to a small community with just a few dozen referrals, or they are a large scale 2-1-1 with contact centers all over the state or province, iCarol’s resource database will work for them. That’s because our tools are scalable, flexible, and robust. That’s the message we’ll bring to Dallas next month, and we’re looking forward to talking with everyone there in hopes of telling others about our tools, and welcoming more I&R centers into the iCarol family as we have been doing for years now.
Will you be in Dallas? We hope we can catch up with some of you attending and talk to you a bit about iCarol. If you’re planning to attend, and let’s find a time to chat at the conference.
The Automatic Resource Verification tool is a powerful tool used to update and maintain your Resource database. You can create any number of custom Verification Requests, to update large groups of Resources (up to 1,000 records at a time), or only specific records that need to be reviewed. Your Resource Contacts, or Verifiers, receive an email, with a link requesting them to review their information and submit any changes. They are able to work on the update over multiple sessions, and can submit their changes to you for approval when ready.
How to Create an Automatic Verification Request:
1. Log on to iCarol, using an account with Resource Editor privileges.
2. Click on Resources from the left menu, then to the right of the Geographic Filters choose “Verify” which will change the page to allow you to create a request.
3. Choose the automated verification request method (see explanation below) that best meets your needs.
4. Create search query/find the records you wish to include in the automated verification request. Here are some examples:
- Find all Resources with a specific Taxonomy term. eg. “Suicide Issues”, “General Counselling”, “Homeless meals”, “Homeless people”, etc.
- Find all Resources with a specific Keyword/Category term eg. “Meals”, “Income Tax”, etc.
- Find all Resources that have a specific word in their Resource Name. eg. “Meal”, “Counselling”, “Mental Health”, etc.
- Find all Resources that have a specific word or phrase in any field on the Resource Record. eg. “Low income”, “form filling”, etc.
- Find all Resources that have a Custom Field Value chosen. eg. “Update Quarter”, “Update Month”, etc.
5. Apply any additional filters to the request, such as including only Agency or Program Records, Geographic Restrictions, or Resources that have not been updated within a specific time frame. Once you have applied all the filters you wish to the search, click the Search button. You will be presented with a list of resources that meet your search criteria. Here is what the list will look like:
6. Deselect any resources you do not want to send in the request by unchecking them. Please note, as soon as one Resource record is deselected, Setup Method 2 will apply to the automated verification request (see below).
7. Click “Start a verification request with these search results” to configure the automated verification settings.
Note: Only one query can be used per automated verification request. If you want to send a request to all Resources with “Meal”, or “Food” in their name, you will have to create two separate requests, unless you can find a search query that will include records in both searches. This is an example of where Custom Fields may be an option.
Setup Methods for the Automated Verification Request:
Method 1: Preform a search, and create the automated verification request from ALL listed/found resources. As soon as you deselect any displayed Resource, you are now using Method 2. Important to note, the query you use to create a Method 1 automated verification request will be saved, and repeated at the time the request is actually sent. If any changes happen to your Resources between the initial creation of the automated verification request, and when it is sent, all records that are found in the same query will be sent.
Use example: On Monday, you decide to send an automated verification request to all resources that have a “Suicide Issue” term applied. However, you end up busy and unable to send the automated verification request that day, and decide to delay sending it, until Friday. In the meantime, you or other team members have added a new service, and updated the taxonomy/category of other services, with the “Suicide Issue” term. When the automated verification request is sent on Friday, all records that match the initial query will be included, including those that were not included when the automated verification request was first created on Monday.
Method 2: Perform a search, and deselect/select only the specific resources that you want to contact.
Use example: You receive a complaint that an agency “Fruit Rescue Coop” is no longer running. You want to send an automated verification request to just this agency to inquire about the status of their programs.
Explaining the Automated Verification Request Email Settings:
Setting 1 tells the automated verification request what email address to send the request “From”. You can choose to use the iCarol default (which a verifier cannot reply too), or to setup your own “From” email address by contacting iCarol Support. Please note that verifiers are only able to reply to a verification request to you directly, if you setup your own “From” email address.
Setting 2 tells the automated verification request what template you want to use when sending the request. You can setup multiple templates with custom phrasing for your verification requests by using the “Create and edit email templates” link at the top of the automated verification request page.
Setting 3 tells the automated verification request in what order to look for email addresses. The default is “Main Contact” first, “Senior Worker” second, “Last Verified By” third, and “General Email” fourth – however, you can customize this to any order that you prefer. When the automated verification request is sent, it will look into each of these fields, in the order you specify, to determine where to send the request.
Setting 4 tells the automated verification request what records to include in the request. This setting modifies the initial request creation method.
- “To all the Agency’s child records” no matter which setup method you choose for the automated verification request, ALL the agency’s records will be included in the request, even if they do not match the initial query in method 1.
- “To child records only that match the search criteria above” will expand the initial search, to include the resources that match the query in the first method of setting up the automated verification request.
Setting 5 tells the automated verification request what emails to look at to send the request, and if one does not exist, which email to use instead.
- “Ignore the parent Agency, just use whatever email is found in each Program or Site” tells the automated verification request to ignore the Agency (Parent) record, and to use what is found in the Program or Site record (Child records), in the order specified in Setting 3. If no email is found, the record will not be sent.
- “If no email address is found in a Program or Site, then try to find one in it’s parent Agency” This is a good option for when Programs may or may not have their own contacts. The automated verification request will look for an email address in the Program or Site records (Child records), in the order specified in Setting 3.
- “Only use email addresses from the parent Agency, not from the Program or Site” tells the automated verification request to ignore any emails found in the Program or Site records (Child records) and to send all records to the Agency (Parent) record, in the order specified in Setting 3.
Setting 6 tells the automated verification request how to include ProgramAtSite records, if they exist in the request (a combination of Setup Method, and Setting 4). If they exist, they are sent either “merged” or “separately”.
- “Merged” – “Program Contacts” tells the automated verification request to merge ProgramAtSites with the attached Program. Verifiers can confirm/remove which sites are linked to the Program, and can provide general notes about the changes. Setting 5 and Setting 3 then determine which email to send the merged record too.
- “Separately” – “ProgramAtSite Contact if one exists, otherwise program contact” tells the automated verification request to include the ProgramAtSite records separately. The automated verification request then looks at Setting 5 and Setting 3 to determine which email to send the separate record too. Note: The ProgramAtSite record exists independent from the Program, and may, depending on Setting 5, and if an email exists in the ProgramAtSite record, be sent alone, with an Agency Record and/or with a Program record.
If your organization wishes to use this feature, or if you have any additional questions on how to use it, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team via the online case submission tool.
We’ve got a new optional tool for searching for resources using custom categories. This tool lets you conduct category searches on up to three categories (sometimes also referred to as “keywords”) simultaneously.
Those using the taxonomy are familiar with this already; what’s new is the ability for everyone with custom categories to use this.
So how can this be helpful to your searches?
You could use this new tool to search for resources tagged with both “rent help” and “utility help” (if you had those categories set up, for example). That could be helpful if your caller had transportation issues, and needed a single place to go for both. The search results would only include resources tagged with both of those custom categories.
As another example, you could also use the tool to search for “rent help” OR “utility help.” That could be helpful if the caller had general financial issues, and you wanted to find any resource that might be able to help. In that case, the search results would return resources tagged with at least one of the categories you indicated. You’d get more search results with this method than you would for the first example.
If you’d like this tool enabled in your system, there’s no added charge. Please submit a support case, and our team will take care of that for you.
With February nearly over, are you finding you and your team are still working on items from your January to-do list? So much to do, so little time.
Perhaps it’s time to consider shifting to new timesaving workflows. One of the best ones: Automated Resource Verification (ARV). It’s particularly helpful if you have more than a couple hundred resources, and/or your certifications require regular updates.
This handy tool – a well-integrated add-on to your iCarol system – makes short work of keeping your resource information up to date. Say goodbye to the headaches and time-eaters of the old way of verifying resource information: Endless games of telephone tag, bloated email inboxes, and hours cross-checking resource records to see if they include the latest information.
Check out the time-saving workflow you’d use with this tool:
- In just a few clicks, create a list of resources that need to be verified, right from your iCarol resource search page. Verification-specific filters, such as “date last verified” can be combined with standard resource search filters to find just the resources you need.
- Use radio buttons and pull-downs to select options, such as the email address the request will originate from, how to handle parent/child records, which email address to try first in the record, etc. The “visibility settings” area of iCarol lets you designate exactly which resource fields verifiers will and will not see.
- With one click, have iCarol send verification requests for all resource records in your list. Each email will automatically include your custom message, plus iCarol will drop in a custom link that leads the recipient to information about just their resources.
- Recipients click that link to view online the resource information you have in your database. They suggest changes to individual fields.
- In your iCarol system – not in your email inbox, hooray! – you’ll get a prompt when responses have arrived, and you can review them. The fields with suggested changes are highlighted, making it fast and easy to focus on the changes. Feel free to make edits to the suggested information as needed, then click “Save.”
- Your resource has now been updated and the changes are live in your database.
Clients who use ARV tell us the manpower savings, improved response rate, and greater precision over the process more than makes up for the add-on subscription cost.
If you’d like to find out more about this tool, add it to your subscription, or would like a free trial, please open a support case if you’re a current iCarol client, or if you’re not yet using iCarol. And if you’ve looked at Automated Resource Verification in the past, I invite you to take another look – we’ve added lots of enhancements in the past year.