For many years, leaders in the Information & Referral (I&R) industry have sought to improve the reliability of exchanging the data they curate about social and human service providers in their community, with partners. In any given region or metropolitan region, it is important for these providers to know about other providers so they can provide referrals to their clients for more specialized services. However, with each provider tracking and managing their own such referral database, it adds up to a significant amount of duplicated effort and large discontinuities in data quality amongst the providers.
But what if the providers could agree upon pooling their efforts and sharing the data amongst themselves, either as a loose federation, or with one obvious centralized provider who is willing to share the data with partners? And what if, on a larger scale, they desired a similar type of pooling across their state/province or even country?
Accomplishing this with all providers using the same software system like iCarol can be done fairly expeditiously and we have many such successful examples in our client base today. But in reality, these service providers have quite different operational needs for tracking and serving their clients and hence have a heterogeneous collection of different software systems they use for their daily work.
That’s where an agreed-upon data standard can facilitate the sharing of resource databases amongst partners using different software systems. There are several such standards that are either completed or in development in the industry and iCarol continues to play an active role in their definition and adoption.
One of those emerging standards we’re hearing a lot of active support for in our client base is the Open Referral initiative. Since we want iCarol to continue to be the most innovative provider of I&R software, we are building support for Open Referral’s Human Services Data Specification (HSDS) version 1.0 directly into iCarol. Administrators and Resource Editors can export their referral database to HSDS 1.0’s “comma separated value” format (CSV), as a free add-on to all iCarol systems. This capability is in our upcoming release, scheduled for the week of May 16th, 2016.
This is the first of a number of steps leveraging HSDS with iCarol, and will allow our clients experimenting with the standard in data sharing partnerships, to quickly generate a dataset for distribution as they see fit to trusted third parties.
Later, we expect to provide our clients with a real-time Application Programming Interface (API) supporting an enhanced version of HSDS, so that they can share their resource data with trusted third parties without the need for exporting and transferring files. We will continue to support our existing iCarol API for the future as well.
According to Greg Bloom, the Chief Organizing Officer of the Open Referral initiative, “iCarol is the market leader for call-center software, with clients all around the country and even the world. That’s why this announcement marks a major step toward a future in which all resource information systems can speak a common language.”
Neil McKechnie, the Director of Services for iCarol, adds “We’re excited about the possibilities of sharing data in a standard way amongst our clients and their trusted partners. As an ‘agnostic’ technology platform, we’re enthusiastic about supporting whatever data standards are well-suited for the information our clients are stewarding in iCarol. We’ve been hearing a lot of support for HSDS in recent months from our most innovative clients and are happy to give them this option. And since we have been active contributors to the HSDS’s definition from its earliest days, we started the effort with a high degree of familiarity.”
In an email distributed today, The White House announced that officials will hold an update call on the Zika virus. We realize many of helplines, particularly in the 2-1-1 or information and referral sector, are receiving calls, chats, and texts about Zika and are always looking for new information to use as they update resources.
The email announcement reads:
Please join Amy Pope, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor at the White House and CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat on Tuesday, May 10th at 4:30pm ET as they share updates on the President’s plan to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus at home and abroad, as well as an update on CDC guidance.
WHEN: Tuesday, May 10th at 4:30 pm ET
RSVP: Use this link to RSVP for the call. For closed captioning, please visit this website and use code 2941599
This call is off the record and for engagement purposes.
In an email distributed today, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that CDC officials will hold an update call on the Zika virus. We realize many of helplines, particularly in the 2-1-1 or information and referral sector, are receiving calls, chats, and texts about Zika and are always looking for new information to use as they update resources.
The email announcement reads:
Please join Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC Principal Deputy Director, and Anne Reid, Counselor for Science and Public Health to the Secretary, on Tuesday, April 26th at 2:00pm ET as they share updates on the Department’s plan to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus at home and abroad, as well as an overview of Secretary Burwell’s trip to Puerto Rico. Dr. Judith Monroe, President and CEO of the CDC Foundation, will be on the call to discuss the CDC Foundation’s role working with external partners in support of CDC’s Zika virus response.
Date: Tuesday, April 26th
Time: 2:00 pm ET
Dial In: 888-455-0031
This call is off the record and for engagement purposes.
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.
The staff of a 2-1-1 center in Maryland is celebrating February 11th (known as 2-1-1 Day) by encouraging people to display random acts of kindness and generosity toward one another.
This is the second annual event of its kind for 2-1-1 Maryland. Last year the organization representatives decided that the best way to spread the word about 2-1-1’s free information and referral services was to challenge the community to commit a combined two hundred eleven random acts of kindness and then share their acts via social media. The event was so successful it was destined to become an annual tradition. They encourage people to participate with three steps:
- Act: Commit a random act of kindness on February 11th
- Inspire: Share what you did by posting to the Facebook event page using #211ActsofKindness
- Challenge: Invite others to the event in person or online, or share the printable social media cards to get family, friends, and coworkers started on completing their own random acts of kindness
As of Wednesday, the Facebook event has over 600 people planning to participate. Some have even shared their plans for acts of kindness, or acts they’ve already committed in honor of the event. One woman said she’d been sending inspirational postcards to a friend who has been going through a difficult time. A local student posted a video of her teacher encouraging another student.
The staff of 2-1-1 aren’t just encouraging others to be kind; they’re getting in on the kindness action themselves.
For their first act of kindness they will be offering a light breakfast of coffee and baked goods at their Kindness Challenge kick off locations. One location will also offer free chair massages to employees of the local agencies served by the United Way. Another location will offer facility tours and information on why Mental Health Matters. For the remainder of the day, a “Kindness Crew” of 2-1-1 Maryland staff members and partner organizations will be out in the community performing random acts of kindness and encouraging others to do the same.
And even though the organization that operates 2-1-1 in western Maryland, the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, could benefit from donations and fundraising for their own programs, they’re instead accepting donations on behalf of two local agencies on Thursday. They’ll accept needed items for two local domestic violence shelters such as diapers, feminine products, and toiletries.
For more information on this event, visit the Facebook page.
Does your agency have an upcoming event, accomplishment, or other news you’d like us to share on the blog? Don’t hesitate to , we’re eager to share your good news with our blog readers.
With stories about the Zika virus beginning to appear in North American news media, some non-profit helplines and information and referral centers are already receiving inquiries about the illness. Though there have been no confirmed cases in the continental US* or Canada, confirmed cases in nearby countries south of the US and in the US territory of Puerto Rico have many beginning to ask questions about the virus, especially since these areas are popular travel destinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released information about the virus which could be shared with those who are concerned. This information includes:
While unpleasant, symptoms are typically mild and becoming severely ill to the point of hospitalization is uncommon, and death resulting from the illness is rare.
For the full contents of information from the CDC which may be helpful to your constituents, visit the CDC’s Zika Virus webpage.
*Since originally posting this blog, confirmed cases have begun to emerge in the US. Authorities have confirmed a case where the Zika virus was contracted sexually, and others who contracted the virus, likely from a mosquito, while traveling.
Available space is filling up fast! If you haven’t already, please be sure to register for our Quarterly Enhancement Review scheduled for next Wednesday January 6th at 12pm EDT.
Because iCarol is a web-based program, our software is updated and new features deployed via regular releases. In this webinar we plan to review some of our best and most useful features from recent months, and give you a few exclusive sneak peeks at features being released very soon. Just some of the advantages of these new tools? You can:
- Improve your chat and text service delivery
- Increase productivity and efficiency when providing resource and referral services
- Enhance communication within your networks
- Meet your follow-up mandates with less impact on your staff
- Gather data from the public, your clients, potential volunteers and others via new channels
- And more!
We hope you can join us next week and hear in person about all the latest tools that help your daily workflow. Please click the link below to register. Can’t join us on the 6th? The webinar recording will be up on our site shortly after the webinar ends.
Click here to Register