Beginning in 2011, when the United 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 so you can better connect your clients with resources, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You can also click here to read all of our blogs relevant to I&R and 2-1-1 helplines.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
Next week, members of the iCarol team will head to the Texas AIRS (TAIRS) conference in Lubbock, Texas.
You may recall we announced last year that we were chosen to be the software provider for the Texas Information and Referral Network’s 2-1-1 program. Since that time we’ve enjoyed working with the service providers in Texas and remain proud and honored to have been selected by them. When considering the systems using iCarol prior to 2015, then with the addition of Texas last year, followed by several more networks in the year since welcoming Texas, approximately 42% of all 2-1-1 systems in North America now use iCarol.
It’s important to us that we connect with these service providers at events when possible and so we’re excited to be sending our team members Polly and Diana to represent us in Lubbock next week. We’ll be on hand to answer questions, meet and greet members of the Texas area information centers, and take part in sessions and conversations that help us better understand the needs of these centers so we can continue to provide the best service possible.
You can find out more about the conference here or download their mobile app. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to follow along with our activities at the conference.
Resources that are organized and have a hierarchical structure are going to be much easier to navigate, whether you are a Resource Manager looking to make updates, or an I&R Specialist finding referrals for a client. In iCarol we follow the structure put forth by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) called Agency, Program, Site structure. You can read more about this structure here.
The most detailed and complex way of organizing your referral database is to include the ProgramAtSite record in your hierarchy. This record connects exactly one Program to exactly one Site. That is to say, at a particular Site location for an Agency, a Program may be offered at that Site. And details about the way this Program operates at this Site may vary from the way that Program operates at a different Site.
ProgramAtSite records can include detailed, nuanced information about the way this Program operates at this Site. Conversely, a ProgramAtSite record may simply contain only the information that this Program is offered at that Site, and nothing more. When you go into your iCarol system, edit a Program record, and designate which Sites offer this Program, you’re essentially creating ProgramAtSite records.
But sometimes these ProgramAtSite entries that describe a simple link between a Site and the Programs offered there may not be considered true, fully fledged ProgramAtSite records depending on your organization’s policies, and having them treated as such in your helpline software may unintentional skew your results when analyzing the number of records you maintain, the staff hours needed to keep records up-to-date, etc.
In a recent release to iCarol, we created the ability for our users to say whether a ProgramAtSite record is a Link Only, meaning it is not edited or maintained by your resource managers or editors. Link Only ProgramAtSite records cannot be edited and will not contain detailed information about how this Program operates at this Site, just that the Program is offered at the Site.
This feature is currently available to any of our users who employ the ProgramAtSite record level to their resource database. If you’re not yet using an Agency, Program, Site structure in your iCarol resource database, please contact our support team for assistance.
Initial Set Up
First you need to be sure you have ProgramAtSite records turned on for editing, and turn on the Link Only feature. To do this, take the following steps:
Note: If in the future you disable the Link Only ProgramAtSites feature, all existing Link Only records will be automatically converted to standard ProgramAtSite records.
- Log into iCarol as an Admin
- Click on “Admin Tools” from the left menu
- Click on the “Resources” tab
- If not already enabled, click on the checkbox for “Can edit ProgramAtSite records”
- Click on the checkbox for the “Enable LinkOnly ProgramAtSites”
- Click the “Save all settings” button
Creating Link Only Records
Now that you’ve turned on this feature, you can start creating these Link Only records. To do that, take the following steps:
Note: Not selecting the Link Only setting will create a standard ProgramAtSite record by default.
- Click on “Resources” from the left menu
- Find or create a new Agency, Program, and Site record
- From the Program record, select a Site from the “Available sites” list
- Click the “Create ProgramAtSite as a Link Only record. Editing will be restricted” checkbox
- Then click “Add >>”
- Click the “Save” button
Now that you’ve created these records that are Links Only, you may find from time to time that you’ll need to convert them back to being full, editable ProgramAtSite records. Link Only and Standard ProgramAtSites can be converted from one to the other when editing the ProgramAtSite record. When converting from a Standard to Link Only ProgramAtSite all field values on the record will be cleared, and editing of the Link Only record will be restricted.
- From the Edit page of the ProgramAtSite record
- Click on the “Convert to [record type] ProgramAtSite” link above the ProgramAtSite Name field.
- Click “Ok” from the confirmation dialogue window that opens, and the record will automatically convert.
- Click the “Save” button
Impact on Automated Verification
You may be asking, how does this new enhancement impact my Automated Verification requests? Link Only ProgramAtSites will be sent merged with the Program record, even when the Automated Verification Request, Setting #6 “Send verification request to ProgramAtSite contact if one exists, otherwise Program Contacts” is selected. If Standard and Link Only ProgramAtSites exists for a Program, both separate and merged ProgramAtSite records will be sent to verifiers.
Example: Program “Fruit Collection”, is offered at three sites: 5221 60 Street (Standard), Southeast Community Centre (Link Only), and Northeast Family Centre (Link Only). When the AVR request is sent for “Fruit Collection” and setting 6 “Send verification request to ProgramAtSite Contact if one exists…” is selected, the Program verifier receives the Program and both Link Only ProgramAtSite merged, and the Standard ProgramAtSite separately to the verifier listd on the ProgramAtSite record (if available).
Reporting and Other Changes
For a number of reasons you may want to exclude Link Only ProgramAtSite records when running certain reports or other queries inside of iCarol. Here’s a quick breakdown of the areas where you can choose to do that, and ways to otherwise be aware of these records when analyzing your database.
- From the “Manage Resources”, “List all Resources” tool LinkOnly ProgramAtSites can be excluded from the list by clicking “Exclude LinkOnly ProgramAtSites”.
- From the “Statistics”, “Resources” reports LinkOnly ProgramAtSites can be excluded from results by clicking the “Exclude LinkOnly ProgramAtSites.”
- In Resource Exports, LinkOnly ProgramAtSites are flagged as LinkOnly in the “IsLinkOnly” column.
- LinkOnly records can also be excluded from Resource API results
We hope that this new ability to create ProgramAtSite records as Links Only rather than full, standard records will be useful to your agency. Should you have additional questions about this feature, please contact our Support Team.
Searching for the right resource in iCarol is quick and easy, and can be done in two basic ways: either by its name or how it’s categorized. Searching for something by its name is typically most helpful to Resource Managers or other specialists who need to find an exact listing because they want to do a quality check or make changes. When it comes to assisting help seekers, it’s much more fruitful to search for something based on how it’s categorized, that is, the list of keywords or categories assigned to that resource that help describe what types of problems or issues the referral can assist with.
And then, there are two different types of categorizations one can use in iCarol: Categories or the Taxonomy. Each iCarol system will let you build your own hierarchy, as simple or complex as you like, of custom categorizations to assign to your community service provider listings to describe what they do. The Taxonomy is typically used by I&R helplines, 2-1-1’s, or other AIRS accredited information and referral providers, as this is an extremely detailed and complex categorization tree, which AIRS takes the time to maintain to keep everything consistent. This requires additional subscriptions both from AIRS and within iCarol, which you can read more about here.
Many of our users, for a variety of reasons, prefer to use both Categories and the Taxonomy in their iCarol systems. This allows for greater flexibility and other benefits, if requiring some additional time to categorize each resource with the proper terms using both categorization methods.
For these users, we’ve devised a new way that helps you ensure these varying types of categorization are ultimately working together well and producing great search results. Beginning with our next release, slated to occur on Tuesday July 19th, you can link one or more Taxonomy terms to your custom categories. This way, when someone is searching a certain custom category for a help seeker, the system ensures that not only will they be shown resources which have been coded with that category assigned, but also returns results that have been coded with a certain Taxonomy term or series of terms.
This can really speed up the process of collecting appropriate referrals for your caller, eliminating the need to do multiple searches by essentially creating Taxonomy groups. Here’s how to turn this feature on, once available:
- Log in to iCarol as an Admin, or other user who has been granted access to Admin Tools
- Click on “Admin Tools” from the left menu
- Click on the “Resources” tab
- Under the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the checkbox for the setting “In category searches, also look in taxonomy terms linked to the category”
Next, you’ll want to begin linking your Categories to Taxonomy terms. To do that…
- Click on “Resources” from the left menu
- Click on “Manage Resources” to the right of the geographic filters
- Click on “Customize your categories” from under the Taxonomy and categories section
- Click on an existing category to view the Taxonomy terms assigned to this category configuration menu
- Using the same process as assigning a Taxonomy Term to a resource, search for, or drill down to select taxonomy terms to link to the category.
- Once terms are selected, click “Save taxonomy selections below” to add terms to the Category. To delete existing terms from a category, select the term to delete and click “Delete taxonomy selections above”
As shown in the example above, one way you can use this tool to group together similar Taxonomy terms to create Taxonomy groups, which are then linked to a single custom category. In the example above, an I&R Specialist can search for the category of Holiday Meals, and all records that have been assigned any of the singular and specific listed Taxonomy terms (Christmas Meals, Easter Meals, etc.), will be returned in that search. A note that while Resource Managers can create these groupings at any time, this tool will only work and actually return the proper results if the feature is turned on in Admin Tools, as shown in the first set of instructions.
We hope this new feature will help save your specialists time as they’re working with your clients, getting them even more appropriate referrals quickly, and without having to recall as many individual Taxonomy terms as they do so. If you have questions about this new tool that isn’t answered in our Help Articles or this blog, please reach out to our Support Team.
May was a busy month for our team, capped off with a trip to St. Louis for the 38th Annual Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) training and education conference. But before that conference got started, we had an exciting event of our own to host.
For awhile now we’ve been wanting to experiment with holding an in-person training event for our clients; something that would allow us to go beyond the sessions we historically participate in during these conferences which generally must be not vendor specific. We love sharing our broad knowledge with folks at sessions like this, but recognize there’s an opportunity for iCarol-specific education especially given that so many of our clients would be present and, we hoped, interested in spending some time with us.
So late last year we began planning what would become the iCarol Summit, a day-long intensive training event hosted by us and featuring members of our team with extensive knowledge and expertise in Information and Referral (I&R). The Summit was held on Sunday May 22nd to superb turnout by iCarol users all across North America.
Neil welcomed everyone with an opening keynote where he discussed recent iCarol growth, the state of the I&R industry, and trends we’re seeing. A few highlights include:
- The size of our team has doubled in the last 18 months
- The number of users worldwide is solidly above 50,000 and growing
- 1/3 of 211s in North America use iCarol and that number is continuously growing
- 5 of our staff hold CIRS or CRS certifications from AIRS
- iCarol leadership continues to take an active role in discussions about AIRS standards and technology initiatives in the I&R industry
- In 2015 we added over 1,600 enhancements to our product with many more coming before 2016 ends
- There are more ways than ever for our users to enhance their iCarol knowledge, from training webinars and on-demand videos available now, to tailored walk-throughs which are coming soon
- Discovering and trialing iCarol will be made easier with added automation to the onboarding process
The I&R Industry Trends
- AIRS standards continue to evolve
- Big data and data sharing
- Extending reach via mobile, live chat, texting, and social media
- Self-service via the web and apps
From there, our participants headed onward to a day of sessions we developed with our users’ needs in mind. Polly gave a thorough presentation which walked us through bringing together AIRS standards and AIRS resource database quality recommendations using iCarol. She discussed iCarol program metrics and tools and how they can directly improve your ability to meet certain AIRS standards and recommendations. Just one of many examples, the Resource Complexity report, which provides an analysis of your records and how they rate on complexity. The report suggests the number of hours it may take to manage them using the AIRS standards as a guide, therefore giving the tools to determine the number of FTEs needed at your agency to meet these standards. The rest of the presentation covered similar program tools and metrics that directly assist with meetings AIRS standards and thus achieving certification.
Christa led a session on the many ways you can use iCarol to reach your community beyond fielding phone calls — and we’re not just talking about iCarol Messaging (Live Chat and Texting). This session covered tools like the Public Resource Directory, Online Forms, texting or emailing referrals, follow-up texts, the API, and more. In fact, for each of these areas she discussed not just the tool as a whole, but some individual components or settings in each function. The group was exposed and educated on many iCarol features that they had previously not discovered, or didn’t have extensive knowledge of. Crystal held a session on Proving Your Value, covering topics like Needs and Unmet Needs reports, examining your exports, and a peek at new exporting tools coming soon, along with some discussion about Microsoft’s powerful Power BI capability.
These are just a few examples of the highly detailed and helpful breakout sessions we aimed to bring our participants, and we’re so pleased by the attendance and enthusiasm at these presentations.
At the end of our Summit, Rachel presented a traditional usergroup session, which was open not just to Summit attendees but to any interested party who was visiting the conference and wished to learn more about iCarol. In this final session of the day, Rachel touched on some of iCarol’s product initiatives, including planned enhancements we’re currently calling “Messaging 2.0” and “Public Resource Directory (PRD) 2.0.” Messaging 2.0 will enhance the usability of this feature via a more efficient approach to both the workflox and access to the resource search. These enhancements will also improve your productivity — not only will you be able to find and give visitors their referrals even faster, but the enhancement should result in a quicker response time when working in your forms. Messaging 2.0 will also bring with it increased reliability and fewer opportunities for the already low occurrence of “lost” messages. This enhancement is still being developed and so we cannot commit to a firm release date right now, however at this time we estimate a fall 2016 launch.
The new developments to the iCarol PRD will boost your ability to direct help-seekers to services via the PRD’s embedded resource search on your website. The enhancements will reduce the time it takes to obtain search results, while simultaneously offering greater control over appearance including more integrated tools to build “guided” searches, or customizing CSS or using the API for even greater control. Further, you’ll be able to configure the weighting of search results, set up guided searches, filtering, and more.
Rachel wrapped up our day by speaking to other recently released development, and spoke to a few other planned enhancements for the remainder of 2016.
We thoroughly enjoyed presenting our first ever iCarol Summit, and we truly hope all who attended enjoyed themselves and learned a lot that they can put into practice at their helplines. The feedback we’ve received so far has been extremely positive, and the success of this event has encouraged us to plan future events. We’d appreciate your help in making that happen. Please take a second to answer just a few questions that will help us develop future training events.
Help us plan future events
Next up was the AIRS Conference, and the team had a blast. It’s difficult to sum up so much activity and also express how much fun we had. These events are always a great chance for us to see each other, our clients, industry folks, and meet lots of new friends.
Polly and Crystal hosted an extremely popular session called “Crunching the numbers” where they took the audience through the process of interpreting your data through Excel tools like pivot tables. This workshop was non-vendor specific, meaning the session focused on elements that any helpline with data could find helpful, regardless of the software they use to collect that data. According to Polly, one attendee of the presentation said he was working on his MBA and some of the material covered in the session wasn’t even included in an advanced course on Excel.
We received great feedback about this workshop — Stay tuned as you may see the opportunity to watch either a live or recorded version of this presentation in the future.
As usual, we had a booth set up so we could share information about iCarol to interested parties, as well as having a place to greet our users who came to visit. The exhibitor’s hall was expansive and impressive, located in the lobby area of the historic St. Louis Union Station Hotel. Check us out in the bottom left of the photo.
We kept ourselves tuned in to the trends and discussions impacting the I&R industry. There were a lot of conversations that extended the themes of the keynote from the United Way 2-1-1 CEO convention back in March, which we attended. There are plans to build a national resource data repository for United Way Worldwide, and it appears those plans are progressing and getting more detailed. We’ll be keeping a close watch on this, as it could influence iCarol innovation and development of tools for our users who may want to participate in such a database.
Follow-ups, measuring outcomes, processing and effectively reporting your data, and expanding your reach to help seekers all emerged as hot topics. As we hope you’d expect by now, we’re actively engaged in these conversations and constantly assessing how iCarol can be developed to give you the leverage you need.
Our users are doing some pretty cool stuff using iCarol — notably Kings United Way in California which created the 211 Intelliful app that connects residents of Kings and Tulare Counties in California with the resources available to them. It’s available via the App Store and Google Play, and will give you a good idea of all the amazing things you can do using the iCarol API. We were happy and really impressed with the app they developed and others clearly were, too.
Of course we left time for fun. St. Louis provided lots of opportunities for that. The gang enjoyed a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery
And as is tradition, we also took in a ball game, Cardinals vs. Cubs.
And just like that, it was over! We loved our time in St. Louis and this was a particularly energizing conference in part because of the iCarol Summit and in part because of all the creativity, innovation, and excitement we were exposed to. Don’t forget to give us your input about future in-person trainings by iCarol — we’d love to take you with us on our next adventure!
We’ve previously talked about the many ways in which your community can help you build and refine your resource database. For example, iCarol’s Public Resource Directory allows you to embed your searchable database right on your website and encourages self-service searches for resources, while at the same time allowing your organization to accept feedback about a resource, or receive requests from service providers to verify or correct a record using another useful tool, Automated Verification. Being able to partner with your community at large, and crowd source information this way, can ultimately help you build a robust database that’s going to be super useful, and help even more people.
We just added yet another tool designed to boost your referral database accuracy and comprehensiveness. Users of Automated Verification can send a unique web link via email, in an Automated Verification request, or posted publicly on their website, that allows new organizations to submit their information. Best of all, the resulting information lands in your iCarol system as an Automated Verification response. Review the submission, edit if necessary, and once accepted the new Agency is seamlessly added to your resource database!
You’ll also recall that awhile ago we added the capability for responders of existing resources to add Program or Site records when submitting their Automated Verification request. If this feature is turned on, then those who are sending in these new Agency submissions will also be invited to add Programs or Sites at that same time.
How it works
You must be using the Automated Verification tool in iCarol to enable these new Agency submissions or allow existing Agency representatives to add Programs or Sites. To learn more about Automated Verification, click here. If you’d like to turn on Automated Verification in your iCarol system, contact our support team.
To allow all responders, of both new and existing submissions, to also have the ability to add new Programs or Sites to their Agency, take these steps:
- In the left main menu of iCarol, click on ‘Admin Tools’
- Click the ‘Resources’ tab
- Scroll down to the heading for Automated Verification and check the boxes for “Automated Verification responders can add…” for either or both Programs and Sites
- Be sure to click “Save all settings” at the top of the page
To invite new submissions, first click on ‘Resources’ in left main menu of iCarol. From there:
- Click on the ‘Verify’ radio button
- Click on the ‘Requests’ link
- Just under the area where you’d create and edit your email templates, you’ll find a URL. This URL is unique to your helpline.
This link can be used to encourage agencies to add their information to your system, and can be shared with your community in many ways — Send it in a personal email, or include it in an email template that can be sent within iCarol via Automated Verification. You could also create a button or hyperlink text on your website that sends visitors to this URL inviting them to “Click here to add your organization to our resource database” or other language you see fit.
When someone clicks on this unique URL, they’ll be guided through the process of filling an entry form that’s very similar to the one existing organizations see when they complete a verification request from you. The main difference is that this entry is blank, and grants the user the opportunity to submit all new information about a resource that may not yet be known to you.
If you enabled the addition of Programs and Sites by responders, then once the Agency is added, they’ll be invited to add on that information as well. Similarly, Automated Verification responders who are simply updating their record information as part of a verification request will also be invited to add new Program or Site records when they make their updates.
Once they complete and submit all their information, it arrives directly into your iCarol system alongside other verification responses. You’ll be able to tell the new submissions apart from the rest of the responses — If you look under the ‘New Record’ column, you’ll see that new resources have the word ‘True’ appear here.
From there, the new record continues to behave much like other Automated Verification responses. You’ll need to review the entry and make any necessary edits. Once you save and accept the record, it will be added as a new Agency in your iCarol resource database.
Important note: Once new records are accepted, don’t forget to edit these records to add any necessary custom or Taxonomy categorizations!
We hope you enjoy yet another new way to invite inclusion of new and helpful resources to your database, further increasing your responsiveness as an organization, as well as the reliability of the resource information you provide to those in need. The convenience of adding these new records will mean a more complete collection of services which will ultimately help even more people in your community.
Being a web-based software means we make regular updates to iCarol with each of our ongoing releases. In these releases we do some general maintenance and apply updates or fixes, but most exciting of all we add new tools and features.
In recent weeks we’ve added three new features that I’d like to tell you about. If you’re an iCarol user you may have already read about these in the release notes available on your dashboard, but in case you haven’t, here’s some information for you:
Receive feedback from Public Resource Directory visitors
You can now enable a setting on your Public Resource Directory (PRD) that allows visitors to submit comments. This will empower the public to alert you of errors in your record, or other troubles they may encounter with a resource. In order to submit their comment, they will need to enter their name, email address, and captcha code. This is not a comment for public view that will be there for all to see, but rather once submitted, the resulting comment goes directly to your resource staff as a resource flagged for review. Your resource manager will simply open and edit the record to view the comment. When they are satisfied that any reported issues are resolved, they can clear the comment to remove it from the record, thus removing it from the “flagged for review” list as well.
You simply need to follow a few steps to turn on this setting:
- Click the Resources button on the left hand menu
- Click ‘Manage Resources’ and then on the next page click ‘Public Resource Directory’
- Scroll to “Page to show for details view” and ensure that “Combined view (blends Agency, Program, Sites and ProgramAtSite)” is selected (this feature will not work if the setting is “Simple view”)
- Check the setting for “Allow people in the public to provide comments on resource records”
- Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “Save” button
Then, users will be able to submit their comments when they view a record on your PRD.
Resulting comments will be similar to when resources are flagged internally within your organization, appearing on the main Manage Resources page and within the record itself.
Remove a user’s ability to post to the chatboard
Depending on the practices at your individual helpline, you may wish to restrict volunteer and staff access to the Chatboard. Previously you could restrict a user’s ability to see or use the Chatboard at all. Now you can more specifically allow your users to see and read Chatboard posts, but then decide whether or not any non-Admin user can post messages or replies to the Chatboard via a separate setting. This is available in the Advanced Security Settings of each volunteer or staff member’s profile.
Customize the list of resources marked as “Flagged for review.”
You can now choose to have a single, drop-down style Custom Field appear with a record that is Flagged for Review. When you enable this setting you additionally will see the date it was flagged along with the reason when you first go to the Manage Resources page.
To use this new tool you’ll first need to make sure you have at least one drop-down style Custom Field set up in your system, with choices assigned to the drop-down. Custom Field creation and editing can be found by clicking on Resources, then clicking Manage Resources, and then clicking Custom fields from the leftmost column.
Once a Custom Field is set up, you’d take the following steps to enable this field choice as visible within the list of flagged resources:
- Click Admin Tools and click the Resources tab
- Scroll down to Other settings, and click the drop down box for “On the Flagged for review list on the Manage Resources page, include a column for this single-select custom resource field”
- Select the custom field that you would like to display in the list of resources that have been flagged for review
- Scroll back to the top of the page and click “Save all settings”
Now flagged resources will appear on the Manage Resources page, along with the flagged date, reason, and the information contained in that chosen Custom Field as it exists in the record.
This has multiple potential uses that could help streamline processing of your flagged records. You could use this Custom Field to assign a priority level to your records, so that Higher priority records could be investigated and cleared more quickly. Another potential use would be to identify which staff person or position, or center if managing resources across a network, is responsible for management of the resource and thus should be the one to investigate the flagged record.
We hope that you’ll try out these new features if you think they may be helpful to you in your daily work. Set up and other information can also be found via the Help Articles posted within the Help section of iCarol, but please contact our support team if you have questions or need additional assistance.
Last week I had the privilege of attending the United Way CEO 2-1-1 summit hosted in Denver, Colorado. It’s important to us that iCarol continue to be involved and at the forefront of developing initiatives and thoughts in this industry, hence our attendance at this summit and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems conference next month, including our own all-day training just before AIRS which we hope you’ve heard about by now. We’d love to see you at that event, or at our usual User-group open session that we’ll hold at about 2:30pm on May 22nd. For information on all our activities at AIRS next month, check out our web site.
In Denver last week, Stacey Stewart, President of United Way, opened the CEO 2-1-1 summit with an emphatic speech about the importance of 2-1-1 to United Way. It seemed clear to me that United Way wishes to continue bolstering 2-1-1 as a national initiative and several thoughts were put forth to support those plans. My additional takeaways and interpretations about United Way’s position on 2-1-1 after listening to the speech include:
That the major focuses for 2-1-1 should be…
- Self-service options that are intelligent and accurate
- Providing predictive trending to community and national leaders and decision makers
- Meeting help-seekers where they are, notably on mobile devices
And that the 2-1-1 Brand promises access to:
A note on Outcomes: there is a growing chorus of support for 2-1-1 ensuring not just that a quality referral is made but that the person actually received the help they needed. This of course means added emphasis on follow-up, surveys, and the like.
In her opening remarks Ms. Stewart also left us with the thought that 2-1-1 should, “Be the barometer of human need in America.” We know this to already be true; 2-1-1’s have long been on the front lines of hearing directly from help-seekers about what is needed, and having first-hand knowledge of the gaps between needs and availability and accessibility of services to fulfill those needs. This is one of the reasons why reporting and other information about the Needs as tracked with the Taxonomy, as well as documentation on Unmet needs and why those needs go unsatisfied, have long been a part of iCarol software.
In her closing speech on Day Two, she clarified an earlier mention of a “National Platform” to make sure people did not think it equated to one specific software ‘platform’. Although software and technology will certainly be a component, by “Platform” they mean an encompassing suite of services and initiatives from UWW that will advance 2-1-1 at the national level. Examples included:
- Develop marketing materials like commercials, videos, websites, etc. to both provide as turnkey items for local 2-1-1’s as well as execute their own national campaigns
- Strategy setting
We’d be interested in hearing from those of you who also attended to get your thoughts on all of this, and any other takeaways you had from this summit. Leave us a comment below to keep the discussion going. As for us at iCarol, we’ll continue to stand strongly behind our 2-1-1 users, who make up about one-third of all 2-1-1’s in North America, as these initiatives by UWW move forward. We’ll be there to support you with all the latest tools and innovation and strong infrastructure that will help you meet and exceed these big ideas put forth by UWW.
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.