As another year closes and a new one begins, we naturally reflect on the accomplishments, celebrations, and important moments of 2019 while anticipating all that lies ahead. Personally, I consider the past year to be one full of progress, both in the industries we serve and here at iCarol.
All year we engage with our customers at industry conferences, forums, and in other capacities so we can be intimately aware of the topics currently affecting them and others on the horizon. This helps us to respond in kind to meet these needs with new, innovative solutions from iCarol. This year was no exception – we have seen movement across all of the industries we serve that open opportunities for our customers that we are actively exploring ways to support using iCarol software.
In the world of Information and Referral, the topics of Social Determinants of Health, Closed-loop referral, and further encouragement to engage in partnerships and collaboration all show promise for many exciting opportunities for our customers. Those working to address sexual and intimate partner violence continue to advocate for education, awareness, prevention, improved response, and justice for all those who experienced a crime. We’re excited to see their advocacy result in new legislation across several states that extend statutes of limitations for crimes, signaling better recognition of the complexities and time involved for survivors to report, and improved allocation of resources towards testing material from forensic exams, improving the chances that survivors will receive justice. In December, the United States Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to establish a three-digit number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the next 18 months. This is long sought after acknowledgement that mental health emergencies deserve the same attention and response as the types of emergencies reported to 9-1-1, something suicide prevention advocates have long been pressing for as a way to prevent suicide. Finally, concerns about consent for contact and data privacy continue to loom large across the world. Previous years have given us CASL in Canada and GDPR in the EU, both sweeping and comprehensive sets of regulations. Now we are beginning to see individual states and provinces taking on the task of writing their own legislation to protect consumers from having their data harvested and sold without their knowledge and consent, most notably in California’s Consumer Protection Act. We are doing all we can, and relying on our resources available through Harris Computer, to make sure that we are in full compliance with such laws, and that our customers are aware of how these laws may impact them directly.
These are just a few examples of developments impacting our customers in the year ahead. Of course we will look for any ways iCarol can support our customers through these changes, and help them carry out their life saving work. Look for more from us on our blog and webinars for updates on how we are addressing these topics.
The industries we serve aren’t the only ones experiencing progress – iCarol, too, went through positive changes in 2019. In December we moved to a new infrastructure on which the iCarol web application runs – Microsoft Azure. The migration to this new platform was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and effort, and was not without its challenges and setbacks, but we are delighted to now be fully operational in the new environment and excited for all it means for our customers. Microsoft Azure will help us provide the most up-to-date, technologically advanced platform available. We can scale and ramp up performance as needed to meet increases in system use, whether it be due to an event, disaster, or the normal periodic demands on the system that occur for monthly exports and reporting. We are delighted not just by the way this move allows us to be more responsive to system demands, but knowing that Azure offers built-in security services that include unparalleled security intelligence. We are very excited to track data over time to show how this new infrastructure improves performance and stability, and supports the future growth in iCarol’s customer base.
I must acknowledge and express deep gratitude for the great support and patience we received from our customers during this transition and in the months prior. Our customers exercised immense trust and patience with us as we developed the plan to make this sweeping change to our infrastructure. Their user testing of the new environment, feedback, and communication with us greatly contributed to the success of this project. I cannot say enough wonderful things about our customers as essential partners with us on this journey.
There is much more to share about what was accomplished in the year behind us, and what’s on our agenda for the year ahead. Later this month we will host a “State of iCarol” webinar for our customers reviewing 2019 progress and our plans for 2020. You can also look to our blogs and email updates, and for customers, our Admin Dashboard, for more exciting information as it develops.
So, as this new year begins, I wish to thank everyone who makes it their life’s work to help others, most especially our customers, on behalf of the entire iCarol Team. Every day we see the positive impact you have on individuals and communities as a whole, and we could not be more honored to play a small part in the amazing work you do. The team at iCarol is excited to see what 2020 holds and hope for continued progress towards a safer, happier, and healthier society thanks to the work you do.
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!
A Public Resource Directory (PRD) — the iCarol feature that empowers iCarol customers to allow their resource database to be accessed and searched on the web — is an invaluable tool, especially for 211s and other Information and Referral contact centers who need to provide their communities with modern ways to find help using self-service and other alternatives to making a phone call.
When a website visitor is browsing a PRD and collecting resources to pursue, they want easy ways to save the information so they can access it when they are offline, share it with a friend or family member who needs assistance, or simply keep a local copy of the resources they’re planning to pursue accessing services from.
iCarol customers using the Public Resource Directory 2.0 version can allow public visitors to their iCarol Public Resource Directory to download a PDF of a resource record, providing another option to make the resource record information portable, accessible, and shareable.
iCarol customers using the PRD 2.0 can learn more by accessing the Help Articles knowledge base when signed in to their iCarol web application.
On Sunday, June 2nd, members of the iCarol team will conduct our annual User Group Summit, held just before the start of the Alliance of Information and Referral (AIRS) Training and Education Conference in Atlanta, GA.
The User Group Summit provides iCarol customers, and those not yet using iCarol but considering it for their organization, the chance to receive hands on training that will directly benefit service delivery and program administration. Following a number of training sessions held in the morning and early afternoon, the day concludes with a traditional user group session where guests can learn more about our strategy and product plans for the year, provide input on the types of solutions most important and impactful to their agencies, and help prioritize product development with their input on features in stages of consideration, development and implementation.
Our training topics were picked by our customers and will cover a number of in-demand topics including:
Recording and Reporting on Met and Unmet Needs
Resource Advanced Search and Bulk Editing Tools
Statistics and Reporting
**Note** We welcome our guests to attend any part of the day they wish — it is perfectly acceptable to attend only the User Group session, which will get started at approximately 2:30pm.**
We do ask that regardless of what part of our day you plan to attend, you register for the event so that we can plan accordingly. Registration is open now! Click the button below to learn more and register you and your staff. We look forward to seeing you in Atlanta!
Rachel Wentink, Vice President, Operations
Polly McDaniel, Director of Business Development
Crystal McEachern, Senior Product Manager
Val Kozintsev, Development Team Manager
Sean Higgins, Executive Vice President of Cityview, the division of Harris of which iCarol is now a part, will also join us for the Summit and early portion of the conference so he can learn more about the information and referral industry and meet the 2-1-1 and other I&R clients we regularly work with.
We’ll start our time in Dallas with our annual User Group Summit, on Sunday, June 3 beginning at 9am. This free, all-day iCarol training is aimed at iCarol users and prospective customers with anywhere from beginner to advanced usage experience with iCarol. The day is a chance for our team to focus in on a few key areas of iCarol capabilities and teaching our users how to leverage their iCarol system for the biggest impact.
This year we’ll present two training sessions at the Summit. Our first session of the morning is called Build a Better Picture: Using iCarol Statistics. That session will help attendees identify their reporting needs so they can then build out their contact forms and work flows to support those needs. We’ll take users through an overview of iCarol Statistics with a heavy focus on the analysis tab of reports, discuss Met and Unmet Needs reporting, and talk a bit about how to access data for more advanced reporting needs.
Following a brief break, the second session of the morning is titled Do More Together: Are You Ready? and will focus collaboration with partners. There are a multitude of ways you can use iCarol to partner with both fellow iCarol users, and outside organizations that don’t use iCarol. The session will take attendees through the tangible steps to evaluate readiness and then prepare to communicate with potential partners about collaboration. Attendees will leave with an outline and use cases to help them begin to build successful sharing relationships.
Attendees will then be released for lunch on their own, and then we’ll reconvene at 1:45pm for a traditional User Group session. All are welcome to the User Group Session, even if they did not register for the sessions held earlier in the day. In the User Group session, we’ll share a summary of the enhancements made to iCarol in the previous year, and speak to the upcoming developments in the works and coming soon. We’ll gain feedback from attendees and use their account of trends, themes, and common requests to help us prioritize upcoming and future developments that will best meet the needs of our customers.
If you’re heading to Dallas and will be in town by Sunday morning, it’s not too late to register for the User Group Summit. You can learn more and register here.
From there, the AIRS Conference sessions officially begin on Monday morning. Attendees can come visit us at booths 103 and 104 where we’ll have some items to hand out, including a number of data sheet flyers on a variety of topics of interest to conference attendees, including resource data sharing, offering centralized intake, ensuring continuity of care, dispatching mobile crisis services, and information on iCarol data privacy and security. As always we’ll welcome your questions, comments, and conversation on what’s going on at your organization. We always enjoy the opportunity to talk to you about the projects and partnerships you’re engaging in and investigate how we could potentially contribute to that.
We’ve recently added to iCarol the capability to send your Resource Specialists or Resource Managers an automated email notification when a Resource record in your database is “flagged for review.”
What Are “Flagged Resources?”
It’s important that your Resource Database information is kept accurate and reliable so that your Call/Chat Specialists are giving out the best information possible. One of the tools that help you accomplish this in iCarol is Resource “flagging” — marking a record in such a way that Resource Specialists or Resource Managers know to give it some attention.
How It Works
Say a client received a referral from your organization last week, but when they call that referral they find the number is out of service, or they reach the organization but are told the program they called about is no longer offered. Oftentimes such clients will call you back to complain or report the difficulty accessing services. In other cases, you may discover the encountered barriers on a follow-up conversation with the client. Another potential scenario — one of the employees of an organization listed in your database may proactively call your service and speak with a Call Specialist to report needed changes to their listing. Regardless of how the question is raised to a record’s accuracy, within iCarol your volunteers and staff can go into the Resource record and “flag” that record along with a note describing the necessary changes, or simply note the request that the Resource Manager follow-up with the organization.
This process is far better than taking the time to write the Resource Manager an email, or leaving them a note or voicemail. Those steps take time away from your specialists’ responsibility of answering calls or chats and providing other direct services to clients. By simply typing a note in the Resource record within iCarol and hitting the “Submit” button, your specialists won’t have to leave their workstation or stop what they’re doing to pass the information along. This not only saves them time and keeps their focus on serving clients, but also helps safeguard against this important task being forgotten or overlooked.
On the receiving end of the flagged Resource is the Resource Specialist or Resource Manager, who will see an alert on the main Manage Resources page noting that a Resource was flagged for review. Simply clicking a link on that page takes the Resource Manager to the full listing where they can review the issue and clear the flag once any investigation and adjustments are complete. Until they do this, others who view the record as a potential referral for a client will see that is has been flagged, so they know to be aware and proceed with caution before providing it as a referral.
With this latest enhancement, in addition to the in-system alert seen at the top of the Manage Resources page, certain staff can also receive a system generated, automated email alerting them that a Resource has been flagged. This additional alert helps Resource Managers respond more quickly when a Resource record’s accuracy requires review.
How To Enable/Disable This Notification
We have automatically enabled this setting for all users whose security permissions indicate they have a role in Resource Management, i.e. they can create and edit Resource records. To change settings for any of your users, take the following steps:
Log in to iCarol as an Admin
In the left main menu, click on ‘Vols-Staff’
Click on the name of the person whose notifications you wish to change
Select or un-select the ‘Resource flagged for review notification’ setting
Click the ‘Save’ button
If you wish to disable this setting for all users of your iCarol system, but the size of your staff makes this an onerous task to complete manually, please open a case with our Support Team and they can assist you. Your case should contain the subject line: “Disable the ‘Resources flagged for review’ setting for all our users.” For a limited time our Technical Team can run a script to turn off this notification en masse for all users in your system. We’ll honor requests for this action through December 31, 2017.
At the 2017 Startup in Residence Demo Day held this past month in San Francisco, participating groups were given 5 minutes to present their collaboration’s technological solutions to identified problems. iCarol and skyClutch were delighted to work together with the Our Children Our Families Council (OCOF) as one of the participating groups. skyClutch is an independent company which aims to help their clients with better resource delivery through user-friendly website integration. San Francisco’s Our Children Our Families Council works to make sure the resources of the city of San Francisco are directed toward helping children and families thrive.
The identified problem? Many of our youth and their families have the burden of searching multiple directories and portals for information but none of them are comprehensive. Most online directories provide basic health and human service listings, but do not include out-of-school activities, in-school services, child care openings, affordable housing listings, or information on medical support groups. The Our Children Our Families Council, a collaborative effort with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Unified School District, seeks to create a comprehensive digital service directory, which would include all publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families including San Francisco Recreation and Parks, Department of Children Youth and their Families (DCYF), public safety resources, childcare, housing, health care, legal aid, and more. Currently, service data is decentralized and often inaccessible to the populations most in need. Much of the current service data is locked in proprietary silos maintained by individual organizations in different formats and is inaccessible to other departments, agencies, and stakeholders.
The proposed solution: A digital directory that connects disparate data sets into one holistic portal to increase accessibility and uptake of services to help San Francisco families thrive. Intended users are students, parents, teachers, counselors, youth, community based organizations, and city departments. The site would have front-end (e.g., homepage) that links to multiple search portals, which are unique to a particular data structure, user segment or issue such as transitional aged youth (TAY), child care, or housing. The goal is for the front-end to be user-friendly, translated into multiple languages, and mobile friendly. Users can search the service inventory via text field, location search, category search and bookmark, print, save, and share the resources they’ve identified and plan to access.
Moving forward: The Our Children Our Families Council is focused and committed on building, in partnership with iCarol and skyClutch, a centralized database of all San Francisco’s publicly-funded and publicly-administered services for children, youth, and their families. Through the use of the iCarol Resource API, skyClutch and the operational support from the Mayor’s Office of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District, children and families awareness and ability to access needed resources will increase. The centralized database system will also allow the city to be more cost effective in how it can make residents aware of services and address resident needs. Behind the scenes, it also assists the city in knowing what types of services residents need most and what gaps there may be, ultimately helping the city strategize and improve response. And finally, it reduces frustration and builds trust between residents in need and their local government offices.
We are proud to be the chosen technology platform for OCOF’s service inventory and are very excited for the positive impact this project will have on children and families in San Francisco.
What is the STIR Program?
Local governments are under increasing pressure to meet constituent needs and engage with the public in innovative and cost effective ways. But, spending time and money on innovation is not always easy for city governments already stretched thin and busy with the day-to-day work operations. The Startup in Residence (STIR) initiative began in San Francisco in 2014, with the goal of solving civic challenges and addressing residents’ needs by pairing up government agencies and startups.
The partnered startup and governmental department work together over the course of 16 weeks to address a specific challenge using a co-developed technological solution. While the STIR program originated in San Francisco, it has since expanded to the nearby cities of Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento, with plans to go nationwide in 2018. You can learn more about STIR’s origin and history by watching this brief video.
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.
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.