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.
So what is I&R? 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 Coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the various first responders that step up and care for us when times are tough, and I&R professionals have certainly been one such group that deserves our praise and thanks. Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of I&R services. Since the earliest days of COVID-19 in North America, I&R services have answered calls for local health authorities or served as their state, region, or provincial hotline for assistance with COVID-19, from questions about symptoms to testing locations to how to navigate unemployment and obtaining financial or food assistance.
We at iCarol are 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.
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!
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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.
As we mentioned in our recent blog about the iCarol Ideas Portal, quite a few recent and upcoming enhancements to iCarol are a direct result of contributions and engagement on the portal. That includes these recent enhancements to Automated Verification — the iCarol tool that helps you keep Resource records accurate on a regular basis, and helps maintain AIRS accreditation, with less manual work by your Resource Management staff.
Automated Verification Request Email Outcomes and Bounced Email Notifications
Whether you’re sending just a handful or a hundred of requests for verification out to service providers, it’s nice to know what happened to those emails and if they made it successfully to their destination. With this latest enhancement, you now know even more about the outcome of those emails, specifically whether or not they “bounced,” i.e. they encountered a problem along the way and did not make it to their intended destination. This would happen particularly if the email address wasn’t valid, which tells your Resource Managers they may need to contact that organization to verify a valid email to use for future Automated Verification Requests.
In addition to seeing the bounced status when viewing the original request page, the Resource Specialist who initiated the request will also receive an email notifying them that the request bounced and did not make it to the intended recipient. The additional notification via email will help alert them to the fact that the verifier did not receive their Automated Verification request, which could help them address and resolve the issue more quickly.
Initiate an Automated Verification Request While Editing a Resource Record
Sometimes you may want to initiate an Automated Verification Request for a single record in your database. You could certainly do this using the typical method of going to the main Resources search screen, choosing the “Verify” option, and searching for the record you wish to verify.
However, often when a single verification is needed it’s because the Resource Manager was actively reviewing the record and notices it needs an update. Or, perhaps another staff member has flagged the Resource and the Resource Manager is investigating. In these and many other cases, it would be very convenient to initiate an Automated Verification Request right then and there, for that single record, without having to go to the main Resource search page. Well, now you can do exactly that! While editing a record, in the section that outlines verification information, a link appears that can initiate the request. When clicked, the link takes the Resource Manager to the page where they configure the request settings.
We hope our Automated Verification users enjoy these two enhancements to the feature. We think they’ll help maintain Resource accuracy while saving your Resource Specialists some time in the process.
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
- Click ‘Edit’
- Click ‘Notifications’
- 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.
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.”
When people in the public are searching your public website for a resource that can help them, it can sometimes lead to frustration that they are getting no results. When you look closer at how they are searching, it becomes clear that they aren’t familiar with the way that resources are named or categorized. In other words, they are expressing a need, like “I am hungry” but the resources in your database are represented as services, like “Food pantries”.
In fact in commonly used categorization schemes, such as the AIRS Taxonomy or a custom categorization scheme built directly by your helpline, you won’t find the word “hungry” in any of the categories, terms or definitions. Multiply this by all the possible needs people have, and you can quickly see how a great deal of the population won’t get connected to valuable services. Other example searches are “I need a ride to work”, “My family needs a place to stay” and “I lost my job yesterday”.
So how can these help seekers, who are expressing a need, be connected with the services that can assist them? Clearly, we need to build a bridge between the two approaches.
The solution we’re employing in iCarol’s Public Resource Directory is called the Folksonomy (an intentional mashup of the word Folk, as in “colloquial”, and Taxonomy).
In a nutshell, it helps find results if the search did not match an Agency or Program name, a taxonomy term or the officially defined synonyms for taxonomy terms (called “use references”). It does this by picking up colloquial words or phrases in a search and corresponds them to taxonomy terms, and then performs the search for resources assigned to those taxonomy terms.
A perfect example would be if someone typed “I am really hungry” into the search box. The Folksonomy fills the gap that normally would be mediated by a helpline’s phone worker on a call by connecting the expressed need to one or more taxonomy terms, like Food Pantries and Ongoing Emergency Food Assistance.
We have been testing this approach with clients and it is yielding exceedingly good results. Those clients also have an administrative interface to find recent searches yielding no results, and then to make Folksonomy entries so that future such searches will instead yield the right results.
Here is a scenario where the word “ride” is a Folksonomy entry corresponding to several taxonomy terms. If you had performed this search before we implemented the Folksonomy you would have gotten zero results. Instead you now get a number of transportation-related resources:
By building that bridge between the layman’s terms used by your web visitors and the detailed categorization of the 211 Taxonomy, iCarol’s Folksonomy will greatly improve the ability for your Public Resource Directory searchers to find what they are looking for and ultimately get the services they need.
We’ll have more information to share about implementing iCarol’s Folksonomy in the coming weeks. Want to learn more about managing your Resources with iCarol? Join us for our Resource Management Webinar on May 20th at 2pm EST.