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WIN 2-1-1: The development of evaluation measures of 2-1-1 I&R systems

Dr. Matthew Saxton Assistant Professor, The Information School, University of Washington Box 352840, Seattle, WA 98195-2840 Voice: (206) 616-2542; Fax: (206) 616-3152 Dr. Karen E. Fisher Associate Professor, The Information School, University of Washington Box 352840, Seattle, WA 98195-2840 Voice: (206) 543-6238; Fax: (206) 616-3152 Charles M. Naumer PhD Student, The Information School, University of Washington Chris Pusateri MLIS Student, The Information School, University of Washington

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


Every moment of every day, someone in the United States is in need of information related to an essential service such as finding a health care provider, a shelter, a food pantry, care for an aging parent or an after school program for a child. Citizens requiring help are often faced with a bewildering number of information sources. They may call several phone numbers or visit a number of websites seeking help through a range of agencies, non-profits, and other human assistance organizations

Community Information and Referral (I&R) networks have played an important role in making health and human service information available for nearly 50 years. Recent efforts have been made by the United Way of America (UWA) and the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) to expand the reach of community information and referral networks through a designated 2-1-1 national dialing code. Their efforts have resulted in one of the largest information-intensive efforts ever launched in American history. Since the first 2-1-1 number was implemented by the United Way of Atlanta in 1997 there have been 141 active 2-1-1 systems implemented in 29 states.

This effort has been supported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who designated 2-1-1 as the national dialing code for health and human services information and referral. It was further supported when on June 12, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-188), allowing the use of funds from state block grants to establish 2-1-1 systems. The “Calling for 2-1-1 Act,” which is still pending in Congress, would earmark $200 million annually from the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop and operate 2-1-1 I&R systems nationwide.

In order to determine the value of the 2-1-1 systems currently implemented federal and state funding agencies are mandating benefit-cost studies. In order to conduct sound benefit-cost analysis, valid measures need to be developed to better understand the use of this information. The current study was commissioned by the Washington Information Network 2-1-1 for the purpose of developing measures for evaluating the 2-1-1 service.

Our research is being conducted in terms of both measures of efficiency and effectiveness. Measures of efficiency entail quantitative analysis of service inputs (staff time, equipment costs, software, etc.) and service outputs (number of calls, length of calls, increases and decreases in call volume or referrals, etc.) Methods for observing effectiveness require analysis of the callers’ situations, their interaction with the 2-1-1 call center, and their post-call behavior (i.e., whether and how they use/benefit from the 2-1-1 referrals).

Data are being collected using several methods, including: 1) Analyzing call logs generated through the WIN 2-1-1 call center software. 2) Conducting follow-up surveys of the callers to determine their use of the information received and their attitudes, opinions, and behavior following the use of the service. 3) Interviewing the information professionals at the call centers regarding their experience providing information and referrals to callers.

Outcome indicators are being derived by creating categorical schema and scales from user and staff data along the following themes:

• The topics on which callers seek information • Callers’ motivations for seeking information • Providing the caller with connections to resources that will meet identified needs • Successful connection to resources by the caller and resolution of identified problems • How 2-1-1 staff devise and use particular strategies when giving information • Information sources suggested by staff • Increasing the caller’s understanding of how to access services • Why callers prefer particular sources • Increasing the caller’s understanding of his/her needs • Increasing the caller’s understanding of available options • Effects of how 2-1-1 staff respond to queries.

Many of the 2-1-1 systems throughout the nation have been in operation for multiple years and are working on ways to demonstrate their efficiency and effectiveness. The results of this research will not only inform benefit-cost analysis but will also be used to guide continual process improvement efforts among 2-1-1 call centers nationwide.

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