Sunday, June 12, 2011

A functional community resource portal is an effective way to help people

"Our community does have many resources to offer people in need. But it’s often hard to know where to look."
What’s the 211? The Social Service Directory Problem.

Up-to-date and complete information is a vital part of the caseworker toolkit.   Social and human services program information is hard to find in one place in the District of Columbia.   211 Answers, Please! is supposed to have it but the source is unreliable according to the majority of respondents to a recent survey about the utility of 211 Answers, Please!

The majority of the 22 survey takers expressed negative experiences with 211 Answers, Please!, such as that the information is incorrect, more information is needed and there are technical problems.   Caseworkers need more detailed information about program eligibility, the intake process and times and specific information about services to better match clients.   Several responded that they were unaware of 211 Answers, Please!

Organizational resource directories were common among the respondents.   In fact, 16 of the 22 survey takers report creating organizational resource directories.   The utility of these organizational resource directories varies widely; some are updated regularly while others are updated every other year or only when interns are available.   It is not surprising, then, that all of the survey takers reported using other resource directories or other sources of information to meet client needs.   Examples of directories created by others include:

Survey takers also report using other sources to find social service resources for clients and constituents.   These include Internet searches, networking and word of mouth and current and former clients.

"It would be amazing if 211 was up to date. I am a social worker and would use it daily."
Survey respondent – nonprofit

Anyone who has done case management or constituent services—or even answered the phone and been asked for a referral—knows the challenges associated with linking clients to appropriate resources.   A fully functional community resource portal would be a boon to social service organizations and anyone else who makes referrals, a "God-send", in fact, according to one nonprofit respondent.   But beyond the use directly for clients, such a portal would allow organizations to spend time with clients rather than on directories, identify gaps in services by type and location and facilitate provider connections and collaboration.

That the survey was not scientific in no way invalidates the responses or the need for a functional community resource portal.   There is plenty of work to be done to ensure the District has a tool that meets the needs of providers and residents alike.   If you are interested in joining the ad hoc group or have suggestions about who should be at the table, leave the information at the DC Community Resource Portal wiki or email Bread for the City's Greg Bloom.

If you have ideas about what tools or information should be included in such a portal, leave a comment on the Bread for the City blog post about 211.

Finally, if you are interested in taking a look at the survey results, they are online.   You can review the raw data and the summaries.

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