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 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 and substance abuse 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, text, or through intake and screening forms or resource searches on their websites.
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.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need, and addressing the social determinants of health in your communities!
Learn more about Information and Referral:
There are over 100 different “standard” fields available for use in your iCarol Resource Database which allow you to track and curate resource information you need to help your community. Some of these fields include Phone Numbers, Address, Languages Spoken, Description of services, etc. and are commonly used in the industry to describe what a service is, how it is offered and who it serves. But, you may not wish to have all of these fields appearing and populated on each level of the resource “hierarchy.”
For example, many people choose to have fields like Address and Phone number shown only for the Program, Site, or ProgramAtSite resource records, and not the Agency record level. There are probably several fields that you don’t wish to appear on the Public Resource Directory listing for the public, but you would like to have them appear in your internal iCarol system for your I&R and Resource Specialists. Customizing the fields being shown and editable at each level of the resource hierarchy is controlled using iCarol’s Resource Field Visibility tool, which recently underwent some very helpful enhancements.
Why the Changes?
These enhancements are a direct result of the feedback we’ve received from clients about this tool. Among this feedback was that the tool took too many clicks to operate, not all fields were available, some fields that were available shouldn’t be, and more. In addition to this feedback about what wasn’t working, clients offered some great suggestions on what could be added, such as ways to control the visibility of fields appearing on resource PDFs, and ways to enhance resource quality by requiring some fields to be required and always have values or text entered when editing.
Important note, we’re making the new Field Visibility tool available users now as a BETA feature. We welcome you to use it and test it out, and report any problems to the Support Team. Right now the new tool is available for configuration by Admins and those with Resource Manager security settings, but please note that the new Field Visibility settings and new version of the tool will not be applied to your system until you switch over to use the new tool (instructions below). Right now, these settings can only be used to control Resource Viewer, Resource Editing, Resource Auto-Verification, and Resource PDFs. Support for either version of the Public Resource Directory and Resource API are coming very soon.
The New Tool
To get to the Field Visibility tool, take the following steps:
- On your left main menu in iCarol, click on ‘Resources’
- Click on ‘Manage Resources’
- In the far left column click on ‘Field visibility’
You will arrive at this page.
When you navigate to this Field Visibility Settings page, you’ll note that to the right is a setting which shows which version of the Field Visibility tool you are currently using. Until you switch to ‘BETA: New field visibility settings,’ your settings as they are on the old tool remain in place. Warning: If you click on ‘BETA: New field visibility settings,’ you will be switched over to the new tool. We advise that you first configure your new settings before making the switch.
To explore the new settings page and/or begin configuring settings using the new tool, click the link to the right that says ‘Setup my new field visibility settings.’
Like the old tool, the field names appear down the left, and there are four columns to represent each level of the resource structure hierarchy: Agency, Program, Site, and ProgramAtSite.
There are a few new key things to note on this page:
- The new tool can currently be used to change the following areas: Resource Viewer, Resource Editing, Resource Auto-Verification, and Resource PDFs. To decide which of these you want to change the visibility settings for, select the appropriate one from the dropdown list.
- Where appropriate, for instance the settings used for Resource Editing, you can note that a field should not only be visible, but should also be required to have a value or text entered. Some fields, like ‘Name,’ are already set to be required and this is not editable, as having a Resource name is necessary in every record. These requirement settings will help you ensure important and necessary fields are not left blank, and results in cleaner and more accurate resource data management.
- There is a “Select all” or “Apply to all” setting at the top of each hierarchy column, allowing you to either turn visibility on or turn it off for every field* in the list with a single click.
*does not apply to the ‘Name’ field as this must always be visible.
- If you use Custom Fields, they appear at the bottom of the fields list. This allows you to control Custom Field Visibility in the same place as all other Field Visibility, rather than needing to navigate to the Custom Fields settings area of iCarol’s resource management tools.
- While changing your settings, it may help to have the field names appear alphabetically rather than having to sort through their typical groupings. Here you can change the field order from grouping to alphabetical and back again.
- If you haven’t yet Saved your changes and would like to undo the settings changes you made, simply click the ‘Undo Changes’ button. After clicking this button and clicking through a warning message, all settings will revert to what they were at your last save point.
- When you are ready to save the Field Visibility settings, click the ‘Save Field Visibility Settings’ button.
When you’re satisfied with the settings under the New Field Visibility Tool, and have saved your settings, you can then switch over to putting the new tool into use whenever you like. To do that, simply click the ‘BETA: New field visibility settings’ button.
We hope you enjoy the New Field Visibility tool and that you find it useful. Our goal was to apply all the helpful feedback we’ve received over time and make the process more streamlined and efficient, while offering even more options, control, and helping with clean data management. If you have questions or need to report any issue with the BETA of this tool, please contact the iCarol Support Team.
From October 1-3, our Director of Business Development, Polly McDaniel, will head to the Texas AIRS (TAIRS) Professional Development and Education Training Conference in San Antonio, Texas. This year’s gathering is extra special as TAIRS celebrates 40 years of supporting Texas I&R agencies.
In addition to the learning opportunities offered at the TAIRS Conference, this is a great time for us to recognize in person the amazing work the Texas Information and Referral Network accomplished during and following the devastation and flooding in southeast Texas, caused by historic Hurricane Harvey. We are honored to be the software supporting the TIRN network as they assist their neighbors in need.
At the TAIRS conference we’ll be on hand to answer questions, meet and greet members of the Texas Area Information Centers, meet additional information and referral providers from across the state and take part in sessions and conversations that will help us better understand the needs of those providing I&R across Texas so we can continue to provide the best service possible.
You can find out more about the conference here and on their event page. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to follow along with our activities at the conference!
Like many others, we’ve been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas, stunned by the images of record setting flooding and the impact on residents. In particular we’ve been thinking of all of our friends and clients in this area. As is typical of helpline work, they have an important role to play in disaster planning, relief and recovery, all while their own homes and families are at risk. We’re told that 2-1-1 Texas has remained operational throughout — a truly amazing feat in the wake of this historic hurricane. As we hear from them and gain permission to share their experience and stories of those they helped, we hope to bring that information to you.
Harvey serves as a reminder to all non-profit services and particularly helplines, contact centers, and 2-1-1s that you have a role to play in your community’s disaster plan as government services look for partner organizations that can disseminate life-saving information, offload call volume to government switchboards, and provide information across a variety of communication methods to make sure everyone is reached. Meanwhile, these not-for-profits naturally have to concern themselves with the safety of their own staff and their own infrastructure in order to remain operational. With Hurricane Irma now making its way towards North and Central America, and months left in hurricane season, it’s time to consider your disaster plan. And of course disaster goes far beyond tropical storms and flooding. Wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and other forms of disaster threaten communities across the globe.
We’ve recently been made aware of a website that provides a number of free resources helpful to any organization as they plan and prepare for disasters. You can access these resources here.
If you are interested in aiding in Harvey relief efforts, the United Way has announced establishment of a Harvey Recovery Fund. In the midst of these events it’s usually recommended to donate money rather than items, as storage space tends to be in short supply but cash allows organizations to purchase items on the ground for immediate distribution. They’ve offered information on the various ways you can make meaningful contributions on their website.
We extend our warm thoughts to everyone impacted by Hurricane Harvey. If you have information about relief efforts or if your organization has been directly impacted by Harvey and you would like to share your stories, please .
Photo appears courtesy of the United States Department of Defense. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Niles Lee.
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.
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.
Recently, the responses screen in the automated verification tool has been updated and expanded to add more tools to make it even easier for you to manage your verifications. Please read on to learn more about the tools now available on this screen.
The screen is laid out in a table format, with several columns of information. You can reorder any of the columns (alphabetically or by date, depending on the data in the column) by clicking the up or down arrow beside the name of each column. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, there is a search box, so you can search for particular data by resource name, resource type, date, email address or a person’s name.
You will note there is a column titled “Assigned To”. When an individual sends a verification request, that request and the subsequent responses are assigned to that person. In this way, you can divide the responsibility for automated verification requests and responses between several people. Using the check boxes next to the Resource Name and the “Reassign” button at the bottom of the screen, you can reassign the responses to another worker if you wish. Please also note there is a Delete button at the bottom of the screen. You can use the check boxes next to the Resource Name and this button to Delete particular responses if you wish.
Also at the bottom of the screen, there are some settings you can use to filter the data in the table. To access these settings, click the link “Show settings”. “Show Verification Responses for” allows you to filter the list to show only those verification responses assigned to you, or those assigned to everyone. “Show Verification Responses in” is used to filter the responses according to what status they are in. The definitions of the statuses are:
Pending – A verification request has been sent, but the verifier has not responded yet.
Responded – The verifier has submitted (responded to) the verification request sent to them, but the response has not yet been approved by someone at your agency.
Completed – The verification response has been approved by someone at your agency.
“Include the following fields in the Results” will only appear if you are using custom resource fields. These custom fields will appear in a list so that you can filter the responses list to only include those resource records with the chosen custom field.
Finally, in the top left corner, you can determine how many entries you would like to see per page. The default is 10, but you can change this to 25, 50 or 100. If there are multiple pages of results, you can move through each page by clicking “previous”, “next” or a page number in the lower right hand corner.
If you use the “AIRS Problems / Needs” categories, there will be a small change to them coming with our next update of the taxonomy. AIRS announced they are splitting “Housing and Utility Assistance” into two separate categories: “Housing” and “Utilities”.
When you subscribe to the 211 Taxonomy in iCarol, you get the benefit of automatic updates and maintenance to the taxonomy about once per quarter, helping you stay current and meeting AIRS accreditation standards. Our next taxonomy update will be in early October 2014 so when that is completed, you’ll see this new Problems/Needs category change reflected in your iCarol system.
Once the change is in place, you can continue using any number of statistical reports on Problems/Needs to track and report on these issues, like this one showing the Problem/Needs categories with the current category breakdowns.
Our Taxonomy updates take care of things like adding new codes or replacing codes that have been retired by AIRS. With the October update we will apply the changes to the needs categories, and we’ll automatically and retroactively place previously collected needs into the new appropriate categories, making your annual reports fall in line with what is being requested by AIRS.
If you’re a current iCarol user and have questions about what it means to use Taxonomy in iCarol, check out our videos found in the ‘Help’ section of your iCarol system. If you have questions or want to add Taxonomy to your iCarol system, log a case with us and we’ll be happy to work with you!
In iCarol, we offer a resource structure, or hierarchy, called Agency, Program, Site. If you’d like to learn more about this structure, you can download our guide about this information. The Agency – Program – Site hierarchy in iCarol follows the structure recommended by the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and is most often used by those agencies using the AIRS taxonomy. Using this structure, at the 3rd or 4th level, (the 4th level being programatsite), has an effect on which information is displayed when viewing agency and program records within iCarol.
An agency is a legally recognized organization that delivers services. (edit screen identified by a grey ribbon)
The agency is the main location of the resource where the administrative functions occur, where the organization’s director is generally housed and where it is licensed for business. An agency may or may not deliver direct services from this location.
Sites are the physical locations (eg. branches) from which clients access services provided by an agency. (edit screen identified by blue ribbon)
If only one locations exists, all information may be stored in the agency record. If multiple sites exist, then ALL information recommended for Site must be stored there, since those fields will be displayed instead of the agency version.
The display hierarchy is: Program-at-Site (if using) Site / Program (if using)/ Agency (if a piece of information exists at all three levels, Site info will display
A service/program record describes the types of assistance/service an agency delivers to its clients. (edit screen identified by green ribbon)
If only one program exists for an agency, all information may be stored in the agency record for that resource.
Program-at-Site contains specific details about a program that are available at a site. (edit screen identified by beige ribbon)
It is helpful to understand what information from which type of record (agency, program, site or programatsite) will display so you can made educated decisions on what information to place in each record so that referrals given to your callers as an accurate as possible.
Our Support Team can provide you with an Excel document that shows what information will be displayed when viewing agency and program records. There are two tabs in the Excel document, one for those using the three level hierarchy (agency, program, site), and one for those using the 4 level hierarchy (agency, program, site, programatsite). If you’d like us to send you this document, please open a Case with support using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.
We mentioned recently that at this year’s AIRS conference a workshop called Resource Database Assembly: The Next Generation provided some inspiration in making a measurement available within iCarol that calculates the complexity of your resource database. We have now added this tool to iCarol.
Resource Complexity is a concept first suggested by several AIRS luminaries. By using approximations, it is used to calculate how complex your resource database is and how many hours per year it would take to manage them using the AIRS standards. For each Agency record, it gets 1 point for every Site record and 2 points for every Program record belonging to it. The Agencies are then grouped by their point score into the following categories:
Simple: 0-10 points
Moderate: 11-20 points
Difficult: 21-40 points
Complex: 41 points and higher
Once grouped and counted, you then assume an average number of hours per year for a trained worker to manage those resources, as follows:
Simple: 1-5 hours (average of 2.5 hours)
Moderate: 5-10 hours (average of 7.5 hours)
Difficult: 10-20 hours (average of 15 hours)
Complex: 20-40 hours (average of 30 hours)
With the total number of hours calculated to manage your entire database, you can then estimate how many Full Time Equivalent employees you may need to manage your database. There are 2,080 hours in a standard work year (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) but the hours available to an employee are usually less than that to account for vacation, sick days, training, meetings and other administrative work that will reduce their hours available to do resource database management.
To use this tool, simply navigate to Statistics and click on the Resources tab. The values for the assumptions of Resource Database Complexity described earlier obviously greatly affect the calculations. They have been in use by a major US 211 center since 2009, who claim they very accurately predict workload. Your own results may vary. If you would like this tool to allow you to modify these assumptions, you can contact our Support team using the Case Management tool found in the Help section of your iCarol system.
A large chunk of time spent managing records according to AIRS standards involves keeping those resources up-to-date. When records are regularly checked for accuracy and updated, you know your clients are receiving helpful, good information. This reduces the frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed experienced by those who may already be in crisis or an otherwise difficult situation. Even a database full of records rated as “simple” will take thousands of work hours to manage.
If you check your database’s complexity and feel overwhelmed at the number of hours it may take to keep your database in check, then it’s time to consider iCarol’s Automated Verification tool. With this upgrade you can seek out the resource records that need to be verified using the same search tools as you would to give referrals, with the additional tool of date parameters showing when the records were last verified. Next, automatically send an authorized worker of that agency or program an email asking them to review the information you have on file and make suggestions or updates. They’ll be given a peek at the information as it exists in your live database so they can make those suggestions. Finally, your Resource Manager can review this information and choose to accept what’s been submitted or make some of their own tweaks first, and then apply the update to the resource record. What might have taken weeks of phone tag to accomplish has been squashed down to a fraction of the time. To find out more about Automated Verification and how it can assist you with keeping your resources updated, sign in to your iCarol system and check out the video.
We hope you enjoy this new ability to view the complexity of the resources in your iCarol database and that it helps you analyze your staffing needs pertaining to keeping your Resource Database accurate and up-to-date.