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.
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.
Categorizing your resources can help your staff and volunteers find appropriate resources for those in need. Rather than searching for a resource by name, they can search by a category and be presented with a list of resources matching that search term. The list of categories is completely customizable, and for those using the AIRS taxonomy, please note you can use both the taxonomy and custom categories if you wish.
To turn on the custom category feature in iCarol, follow these steps:
- Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu
- Click the Resources Tab
- In the AIRS/211 Taxonomy section, click the box next to “Uses Categories as well as 211 Taxonomy” to place a check mark there
- Click the “Save all settings” button at the top of the screen
Once the feature is turned on, the next step is to create a list of custom categories. It may be useful to review the resources currently in your resource database to determine what category names to use that would best represent the kinds of services those resources offer. Please note, this tool can be used to create just one list of categories, and it can also be used to create a list of categories with sub-categories.
To create a custom category, follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage Resources in the upper right hand side of the screen
- In the second column, click “Customize your keywords”
- Click “Add a new keyword”
- Fill in a Name for the category. A description and a rank for the category are optional.
- Before clicking Save, on the left hand side of the screen, place a checkmark either beside the option that says “Assign to the top level of your hierarchy” if you want the category to be in the top level of your hierarchy, or beside the name of a category already created, to make the new category a sub-category of that one. For example, in the screenshot below, “Youth” and “Matrimony” are sub-categories of Counseling.
- Click the Save button
The final step is to assign categories to your resources. There are two ways to do this. The first option is to search for a specific resource you want to assign categories to and edit it. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Search for the resource you would like to assign categories to
- When you receive the list of search results, click “Details” on the resource you would like to edit
- Click the Edit button in the upper right hand corner
- Scroll down the page to the Categorization section
- Click the link “Assign this resource to categories. For those who also use taxonomy, please note that this link will say “Assign this resource to taxonomy” but it will be used to assign both taxonomy and categories
- A pop-up box will appear that will show the categorization hierarchy you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the pop-up box, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- You can then close the pop-up box and the resource record will update to show the categories assigned
- Click “Save” or “Save and view resource” at the top of the screen
The second method to assign categories to resources is to use the “Assign resources to categories” tool. Follow these steps:
- Click Resources in the left hand menu
- Click Manage resources in the upper right hand corner of the screen
- Click “Assign resources to categories” in the second column
- Use the filters at the top of the screen to create a list of resources to assign categories to
- Once the list of resources has been generated, click the “Assign” link next to the name of the resource. This will bring up the hierarchy of categories you have created.
- Click the boxes beside the categories you would like to assign the resource to. This will place a check mark in the box
- At the top of the screen, click the “save selection for this resource” button
- The resource you just added categories to will disappear from the list of resources as your categorizations have been successfully saved.
- From here, you can click Assign beside the next resource and repeat the steps above
Once categories have been created, and resources have been assigned to these categories, one can then search by these categories. Searches can be conducted either by typing a category name in the search box and clicking the Search button, or by clicking on a category name in the category hierarchy that will appear on the resource search page. For example, the search depicted below was generated by clicking Cancer Type, and then Breast in the category hierarchy to generate a list of resources that provide services related to breast cancer.
If you have any questions about using categories in iCarol, please submit a case to the iCarol Support Team.
Beginning in 2011, when the Unites States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of Information and Referral (I&R) services. I&R services come in all shapes and sizes, from crisis lines that provide their local community with a core set of human service referrals, to larger scale 2-1-1 centers and statewide 2-1-1 networks providing comprehensive Information and Referral services to entire states or provinces covering many different topics and types of services.
Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The people who work these lines are consummate professionals who are often times like living, breathing encyclopedias; providing answers to questions ranging from, “Where can I get a free meal for my family” to “There’s a horse running loose in my neighborhood, who do I call?” We at iCarol are really honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, or text.
If you’d like to learn more about what iCarol does to support efficient referral management, check out this page of our website that goes over some of those features. You’re also welcome to join one of our regular webinars that focuses solely on our Information and Referral tools. We hope you’ll join us sometime to learn more.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need!
The 211 Taxonomy is one of the ways you can categorize your resources in iCarol. It’s a highly detailed set of over 9,500 various terms and an extremely precise, structured way of saying what services each resource provides. The Taxonomy is most used by 2-1-1 centers and other Information and Referral agencies, as its use is an essential part of AIRS accreditation. And when you subscribe to this feature in iCarol, you get to benefit of our regular updates such as migrating resources from terms that have been retired to active ones.
Taxonomy users in iCarol can import their own Taxonomy “filters.” These custom taxonomy filters are administered on the 211taxonomy.org website and anyone with a subscription to this site can download them at any time. The filters are a subset of the full taxonomy and allow you to deactivate a large number of taxonomy terms at once.
There are a few different types of filters available on 211Taxonomy.org. A couple filters are officially released by 211 LA County, distributors of the Taxonomy. Some others were created by other subscribers and set up to be shared.
Importing a filter can be useful when you want your taxonomy customizations to match those of the other entities using the taxonomy who have shared their filter on the site. Using these filters also gives your organization a starting point for the Taxonomy, rather than needing to pour over the 9,500 + terms to decide which your helpline wishes to employ. Applying these filters in iCarol was previously possible, but required help from our support team. Now we’ve put the control directly into your hands.
This tool to import a custom Taxonomy filter, available to Admin users only, can be used by taking the following steps:
- Download your custom filter from the 211taxonomy.org website. The file will be a .xml file.
- In iCarol, click Resources > Manage Resources > Customize the taxonomy
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Admins only – Import a custom taxonomy filter” section (non-admins will not see this)
- Click Browse and select the XML 211Taxonomy file
- Click “Delete all existing taxonomy customizations in my iCarol system and import this new filter”
- You will receive an email notification when the new customization has been uploaded and applied to your system.
Please note that by using this tool, all existing taxonomy customizations in your iCarol system will first be deleted. Proceed with extreme caution and be absolutely certain you wish to proceed before going through the import process.
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.
Our resource search allows for you to set several parameters and filters to help you find what you need. However, logged in users to iCarol can also use an advanced search system called “Query Language” to even further refine their results.
The Query Language is an advanced search system that allows you to refine search results by looking for specific values in resource record fields. iCarol Admins can turn on this feature in their iCarol system by following these steps:
1. Click Admin Tools in the left hand menu.
2. Click the Resources tab.
3. Scroll down to the “Other settings” section.
4. Click the box next to “Enable Query Language in Resource Searching” to place a check mark there.
5. Click the Save settings button at the top of the page.
How to use the Query Language
1. Log into iCarol from an account with viewing access to the Resource database
2. Click on “Resources” from the left menu, or click on “Search resources” from a call report.
3. Enter a search term in the search text box, and click search (eg. Food)
4. To refine your search results you will add a specific code to the end of the initial search term. The code consists of a short code (or abbreviation) for a resource field, then an equals sign, followed by the value to search. (eg. Food elg=homeless), then click search.
iCarol will then look for records were the original term exists AND where the additional field values exist.
Please note, Query Language searches can be added to Taxonomy, Resources and custom Category searches.
Available Codes for Query Language searches
Code Resource Field Searched (Example)
adr= Exact address (eg. “adr=10025 106 Street”, “adr=Cambridge”)
str= Address Line 1 & 2 (eg. “str=”Jasper”, “str=cambridge”)
loc= City/Town (eg. “loc=Toronto”, “loc=Washinton”)
pcd= Postal/Zip Code (eg. “pcd=”T6K 2W8”, “pcd=91210”)
des= Description (eg. “des=taxes”, “des=women”)
elg= Eligibility (eg. “elg=homeless”, “elg=unemployed”, “elg=low income”)
enm= Main Contact, Senior Worker Verifiers Name (eg. “enm=Carol”, “enm=Neil”)
hrs= Hours Opened (eg. “hrs=9:00am”, “hrs=3:00pm”)
lng= Language (eg. “lng=french”, “lng=spanish”)
acc= Accessibility/wheelchair (eg. “acc=yes”)
Note: Multiple codes can be used on the same search, for example “Food Bank lng=french elg=feed”
Here are a few examples of searches using Query Language.
Below is a taxonomy search for “Food Pantries” with no Query Language codes added. There are 34 resources that meet the search parameters:
In this next search, the Query Language code des=food is added, to find the resources assigned to the taxonomy term Food Pantries that also have the word “food” in their description. This reduces the total number of search results to 22. You can see in the first few results where “food” is found in the description of the agency or program.
And in this final search, two Query Language search codes are added, des=food and loc=Gary. This search will find those resources assigned to the taxonomy term Food Pantries that have the word “food” in their descriptions, and that are also located in Gary. There are now 5 search results.
With these advanced codes added to the search area, you can tell iCarol more specifically what criteria you’d like your search results to meet.
If you have any questions on how to use this feature, please send a request using the Online Case Submission Tool, found in your Help menu, for support.
September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.
Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.
The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.
Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.
Benefit from Partnerships
During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.
We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.
With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.
Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.
Collect Essential Data
In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.
The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.
When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.
Offer Alternative Channels
Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.
With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.
Increase Your Bandwidth
An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.
If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.
iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.
Provide Critical Information and Referral
During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.
Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.
You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources
Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.
Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.