Power searching on 211Ontario – because you should know how

I’ve been partnering with Findhelp Information Services on an online course – Settlement Information and Referral Online Training Program. It takes the best of some previous work done in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector, such as Settlement Information and Referral Training Manual – 2010 (PDF) and puts it into an online facilitated set of modules for settlement workers in Ontario (get yourself on the waitlist for the next course offering in January 2019).

The goal, after the initial project is done, is to leave the course up as a self-directed course that any settlement worker (and human service worker with an interest in I&R and newcomers) can access.

I think it’s a great course, and one that is really valuable, if only because the lead trainer is Faed Hendry, who is simply one of the most knowledgeable people in the I&R field, and also a fantastic trainer.

But I digress. One of the modules is focused on understanding the human services system. It includes information about finding, evaluating and using information sites and sources, along with providing a grounding on the information seeking practices of newcomers (something I’ve touched on frequently).

One of the sites you should be using frequently, and as a power user, is your local 211 site. But, 211 sites are not always the most user friendly. You might find search results a bit confusing, or are unsure how to start, etc. We created a screen cast walking course participants through the 211Ontario site.

I thought it would be useful to share here, along with a transcript (below the video) of my meandering narration… You’ll probably want to view the video full screen to see the details.

Hope you find it useful!

Transcript – Searching 211Ontario

When you’re using a website to do a search one of the tricks is to get to know it inside and out and become a power user. So obviously one of the sites you should be getting to know is 211Ontario or 2-1-1 in your region like 211Toronto, 211Eastern Ontario, things like that. But 211Ontario is a good starting point and you can as you’ll see drill down by geography.

Now when you come to the site there a number of options you’re presented with a search screen. It doesn’t look that different from say Google but there are a number of things that are useful for you to know right off the top. One is you can use a search tool which we’ll do in a little while which actually walks you through step-by-step how to layout your search.

Another is, and this isn’t obvious, you can actually enter a location here or you can click on this button and it will ask you if you want to give them access to your location and then you can tell them to remember. So the website will know where you are based on where you’re logged in. So if you go to a different city it’ll know that you’re in Toronto. If you go to Lake Louise you’ll be in Lake Louise and it will modify the search results based on that. Now that can be really useful if you’re looking for something that’s close to where you are but it may not be if you’re looking for something for somebody else or in a different location.

So you can also obviously enter the location manually.

Now one of the other things is and again this is getting to know the search tool these whenever you see something that says show options that’s useful to look at. Because it’s going to give you some information. Right now for example 211Ontario is set to default the distance from the location you enter which could be a postal code to 100 plus kilometres. Now for information and referral that’s not really that useful. You probably want something that’s a bit closer. In a lot of cases you’re going to want something that’s close to a major intersection or to a person’s home. Best match, nearthest to farthest, A to Z, Z to A, these are also other ways that the search results will be provided to you and will be filtered.

We don’t really know looking at this what best matches so hopefully 211Ontario can provide some information. Nearthest to farthest is probably likely to be what you’re looking for right off the bat especially, best match may well be the one, so what you want to do is play a little bit. But if you’re not sure what best match is doing or what it might be leaving out and geography is really important which it typically is in a search then you want nearthest to farthest.

Now if you’re just curious then doing a search that is in chronological from A to Z or reverse chronological from Z to A is also an option.

You can also select a topic right off the bat so you can see a number of different topics. Newcomers is one of them for example so whatever you search for in the search box will immediately be filtered by newcomers. And that can be really useful for example because 211 categorizes information in its database in a number of different ways. There’s topics, there’s geography, there’s additional categories and subtopics. When we select newcomers there are a number of additional subtopics that might come in handy here for you to look at. So maybe you’re looking for settlement services and maybe you’re gonna search the topic is women and the location is Toronto and it’ll pop up a little something and you do a quick search and all of those things help to refine your search and that can be incredibly useful.

So if you’re looking for, in theory what I just searched for are services for women in Toronto that are offered specifically for newcomers at settlement services and that narrows the search down to 49 possibilities.. And I can’t remember how I refined it so let’s just go back… Now that would be useful to have here in terms of how I refined it. Oh yes, so I did best match so let’s look and see what happens if I do nearthest to farthest. Now Toronto is a huge geography so maybe what I want to do is narrow that down and see does East York actually come up. Let’s see what happens. In theory that should narrow down the search results and it’s expanded them to 45 so Victoria, Working Wwomen, comes in. And then as you can see here you can get a little bit more information right off the bat for each one of the records that you get.

So that’s one way that you can start by drilling down with a search.

If you start with a very broad search, for example, let’s say if I type in immigrant women and then I put in the location is Toronto, Ontario without refining it at all let’s see what happens. So very quickly in theory what you’ll see is a humongous amount of results. So four thousand nine hundred and fifty nine results. Way too many results and even though they’re refined by perhaps best match starting with just a keyword search like you might in Google is not your best use of this particular search tool. And that’s important to know that using the refinement options on something like this is really important.

Now the other thing you can do is we scroll down a bit more is they’ve actually organize things by topics. So as you saw previously when you selected a topic these are all listed here and as part of refinements or filters in your search but you can also start by using them here. So if we started at newcomers and see what other subtopics they now have we can get a little bit more information, for example. So what do they mean by internationally trained professionals, what do they mean by refugees and in this case really important any stage of a refugee claim. I’m not sure what find help me and so let’s take a look. Okay so that just takes you to the search box. So what it does is it… that’s interesting so if you clicked on I browse the subtopics and clicked on refugees what would it do. Okay it takes me to the same page. So those two links, that’s a little confusing, but those two links take you immediately to – these are all the refugee services, 548, that they have in Ontario.

Now here’s a way that you can you can sort of test to the system. If you actually take that word and enter it, remember we saw five hundred and forty-eight, and just type in refugees with no location and I’ll just put Ontario, see what they give me. We end up with a search result that has 1015. So there’s the question. How is the system working in the background? How can you refine your search to be more accurate. So somehow they’ve created a subtopic list that’s smaller than the results you get in a keyword search and that’s really important. We don’t necessarily know why but you have to spend some time looking through to say is this the search result that I’m looking for. Typically the smaller the search results the better because you’ve added more refinements based on different things. So for example I could imagine that if they had services for Refugees maybe a sub refinement would be as part of settlement services, in which case it, which is what we saw – newcomer topic and then refugees. So perhaps it’s drilling down, if you will, through the topics and subtopics with more refinements along the way.

So starting with a keyword search might get you services that are related to refugees but are they going to get you the ones that you’re looking for from an eye on our perspective? It’s a great question. so this tool itself, you need to figure out how to use it a little bit more in order to make sure it’s accurate.

So if you want to start sometimes the best way is to try the search help tool which in this case is gonna actually walk you through using it. So can I help your search? Enter a topic. So I’m looking for refugees. Next it’s going to say OK search for refugees, enter the location. So in this case I’m just gonna say Ontario or I could click here again as I showed you at the beginning and it will ask you to get permission to know where you’re located and refine the search results based on that. But for this I’m just going to say Ontario. OK and this is really important again there are a lot of matches do you want to have a maximum distance. Yes although since my geography is so broad this will be interesting. And then next. Now how do you want do you want to choose a topic and allows you to start narrowing things down. So I actually want mental health in this case. It’s kind of odd when you choose the topic, ok it highlights it but it doesn’t close it… And is there a sub topic I want? Yes, I am interested in in-person crisis service, mental health, in this case for the keyword refugees. Let’s see what we get. So now it’s going to conduct the search based on all those refinements and each step of the way it’s walking you through the final search results. So I get 22.

And this is where your knowledge of the sector comes in really useful. You can scroll through a list of these to sort of see just do these jump out at you, do these show the kinds of results you would expect to be seeing if you were looking for this kind of information for example. So you know when we look at this for example we don’t see CAMH coming up and that could be for a number of reasons. CAMH of course will provide services for refugees but do they name them or do they outline them as an eligibility audience or as a target group in their service provision.

So part of the information you get here is going to be in part based on how the information has been provided by the organization and how its been entered into the database via the folks at 211. So in a long-winded way, in short, what that means is sometimes you have to keep searching and refine your searches and use the information that you have about the sector to know whether the search is getting you towards what you think you need. So we have to use the knowledge you have to help the tool be a better tool for you, in this area.

So if refugees and mental health, and you know that perhaps some service providers are not being listed here then that might be a sign that you might want to refine your search or change what comes up for example. Sorry, change the inputs that you use. And by that I mean the search keywords, the refinements, all of those kinds of things, as you’re using this the the tool.

So again even what seems as simple as a tool like 211 has a lot of complexity to it it’s important that you become familiar with it while you’re doing your searches.

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