TiHS Episode 23: Carrie Moody & Dave Montague – 211, the essential service you don’t know enough about

Welcome to episode 23 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this conversation I speak with Dave Montague and Carrie Moody from Findhelp Information Services in Toronto. Among other things, they manage the 211 service in the Greater Toronto Area.

I think that 211 is still a relatively under known service and community gem and I wanted to talk to them to bring out some of the important work they do. In particular, 211 has become an essential service during the pandemic. So I asked them about the vast range of information services they provide through 211 and other work they do. We talked about the experience of running an essential service like 211 during the pandemic and what the future looks like.

211 is more than a phone line. It’s a website, text and web chat service. They manage and share open data. They engage in data partnerships, provide Information and Referral training, and are an important part of helping connect people to services and information they need where they live.

We also discussed what the importance of a service like 211 is in a world of misinformation and what others learn from them about information currency, reliability and accuracy.

We recorded this conversation in June. Since then, in October, 211 has gone national, available in very city and province across Canada.

Between March and August calls to 211 across the country increased by 31% and website visits to existing 211 services increased 45%. In the Greater Toronto Area, the top issues they’re being asked to help with include food security, community information, health and mental health supports, and housing help. As you’ll hear, they’ve been busy. I think you’ll find this an interesting and illuminating conversation.

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 23 of the technology and Human Services podcast. In this conversation, I’m speaking with Dave Montague and Kerri moody from find Health Information Services in Toronto. Among other things, they manage the 211 service in the Greater Toronto Area. I think the 211 is still a relatively unknown service and community gem and I wanted to talk to them to bring out some of the important work they do, in particular to one one has become an essential service during the pandemic. So I asked them about the vast range of information services they provide through 211 and other work they do. We talked about the experience of running an essential service like 211 during the pandemic and what the future looks like. Two on one is more than a phone line. It’s a website, text and web chat service. They manage and share open data they engage in data partnerships provide information and referral training, and are an important part of helping people connect to services and information they need where they live. We also discussed what the importance of a service like 211 is in a world of misinformation, and what others can learn from them about information currency, reliability, and accuracy. We recorded this conversation in June 2020. Since then, in October 211 has gone National vailable in every city and province across Canada, between March and August calls to 211. across the country increased by 31%. And website visits to existing two on one services increased by 45%. In the Greater Toronto Area, the top issues they’re being asked to help with include food security, community information, health and mental health supports and housing help. As you’ll hear they’ve been busy. I think you’ll find this an interesting and illuminating conversation.

Carrie Moody 1:34
Hi, my name is Carrie Moody, I’m the director of strategic solutions at find help to one, one central. My job is to help the organization expand its impact and grow its reach. Welcome.

Dave Montague 1:48
Hi, my name is Dave Montague. I’m the director of information resources and technology for find help two on one central. But I also do a lot of the technology for 201. Ontario, as well.

Marco Campana 2:00
Thank you both for joining me. So for folks who who may not know what a 211 services. And and I think I think I mentioned in my email exchange, I think sometimes 211. And the work that you guys do is one of the best kept secrets, even though it’s so essential, how would you describe what a two in one services for people who may not know and what what it means to our communities,

Carrie Moody 2:21
to one one is a phone and online service that connects people to Community and Social Services. So it’s there to support people to be able to engage and access the services that help them lead more, more productive lives and improve their well being?

Marco Campana 2:40
everything, even the community and government services? Mm hmm. Yeah. And it’s not it doesn’t tend to be an emergency. So the the nuance of two, there’s because people went Oh, 211411311911511 even? Or does it fit in that continuum of emergency to to more in depth kind of service.

Carrie Moody 2:58
to them. One is sort of a supplement to that to those other services. It’s, it’s a non emergency service. So people can call for food banks for childcare, anything that is a non emergency, government or community service. And we can help them help them connect. And we can do that, like I said earlier, be too friendly with the chat, text, email, or online, we often have to we often do what’s called warm transfers. So if somebody is struggling to access the service, if they’re maybe they have a English isn’t their first language, we’ll help them connect with another service provider and make sure that they that they get the service that they need.

Marco Campana 3:43
So yeah, you mentioned earlier that it’s a phone and web service. But now you’re expanding it a bit. And I’m really interested in that tech technology has changed the way people interact with information. So you mentioned text and web chat, as well. How is 211 being more access? How has it become more accessible to communities, and not just from a technology perspective, but I know that you also can can handle a lot of a lot of different language interactions as well.

Carrie Moody 4:08
Yeah, we, so we serve in over 150 languages. So we have about 23 of those languages in house. We’re bilingual 24 seven. So the other thing I should have said is that we’re a 24 seven service we have, we’re staffed continually. We provide French and English service all the time. And we also can support people through to multilingual service through a language line that we use so so we offer that kind of translation as well, which, which is a great way to make sure that people have better access to services. And then we also provide, like I said, chat, text, email, and online as, as a way to just provide multiple channels so that people can access in whatever way they choose. We also provide data to different apps and I’ll let Dave talk about Little bit more about that. But to make sure that other kinds of service navigation tools have the information that they need to, to get to get that kind of thing out into the community.

Marco Campana 5:10
Yeah, no, that’s a good segue to talk about data. But before we even do, in terms of technical data, the one of the things that that I know of about 211 is that your commitment to the principles of INR, and I mean, it’s not a regulated industry, but it’s one that has, has certification principles that are really highly relevant to authoritative, accurate and up to date information. So when you talk about the data that you collect, and you provide, I mean, it’s important for people to know that it is up to date and how you keep it up to date. So I’m curious if you can speak to that side of things as well.

Dave Montague 5:43
So we have a team of editors, the literally librarians and library science scientists, if you will, of library science, and they will spend their days trying to connect with thousands of agencies that are in their database across in, in Toronto, we have about 3000 Records plus about 1000, childcare records that we get from the city. And out of those records, we try to connect with each of those agencies once a year at a minimum. And that means that we connect with a live person and they review our listing and tell us what any changes. And so that’s once a year. And the goal, I think, is 80% completion rate that we try to get to 80% of those agencies. And it’s hard to do, getting people to update their records is literally the most time consuming part of this entire endeavor. Because people can scrape websites and do all that kind of stuff. But the fact is, if you really want to have that authority, authoritative data that you’re talking about, you need somebody at the agency to validate. But that said, the more and more agencies are getting better keeping their websites up to date, because they know it’s such a vital sort of recruitment tool, if you will. So we are getting more into working, just going to their website, if we can’t get ahold of somebody right away. He used to be there his whole path, you know, phone call, email, email, phone call phone call. But now we’re getting a little bit more likely to go to their website for updates, especially on maybe non core stuff. But so that’s the big thing there. And then across Ontario, the there’s centers, data providers across Ontario, about 20 or so that are providing data into the 211, Ontario system, and they all have editors. Toronto has just by virtue of the size has the most, but other groups will have one or two for Niagara or three or four, three and a half for Ottawa kind of thing. So yeah, it’s a whole, it takes a village kind of thing. And it’s a, it’s a lot of work. And we are trying to find, we can talk about it, I’m sure we’ll talk about later. But this idea of sharing data amongst data providers, because anybody that works in the source, community agency will have been asked four times a year or five times a year from different agencies, or different groups to update their records. You and they always ask, Well, I just did that. And they were like, no, ours is slightly different. So yeah, that’s the big thing. The editing is a big full time job for 20 people across the province.

Marco Campana 8:13
There’s also something important that I think that people need to realize, and that is, when you go to a website, typically you think something might be out of date, there’s very little mechanisms to tell people or to update information. But that’s different for 211. When I go and I go into an organizational record, there’s actually a spot where I can I can provide a suggested update for that information, right?

Dave Montague 8:33
Yeah. And then the then the work begins, right? Because then you need to go validate that information. You can’t get anything.

Carrie Moody 8:39
And that’s really great, though, is that our some of our funders like Medway, Greater Toronto, and the City of Toronto have been really, really good at supporting us to make sure that that information is updated. So ensuring that all of their grantees have an updated to one run to one one record is really, really great way that we can make sure that all of those organizations have up to date information.

Marco Campana 9:03
Yeah. So I mean, like there’s the data sharing in the background, but also everybody encouraging the agencies to update their records. And what I guess sort of what’s the what’s the return on investment for an agency to understand why they should be updating their their record in the two on one database, not just for for find help, but also what happens in the back end with how it distributes to all these other places. For example,

Carrie Moody 9:24
from my perspective, I think there’s there’s sort of two things. The first is that we can it’s a it’s an almost a promotion tool, so it makes sure that people know that your services available. But I think the other thing that it does really well is that it gets people to the right service the first time. So rather than you your organization needing to sort of sift through and provide a more appropriate referral if somebody doesn’t necessarily fit into your eligibility criteria, or if there’s some other reason that it’s not the not the perfect fit. To one one can sort of help bypass that experience. So that so that we’re getting People, like I said to the right service the first time,

Marco Campana 10:02
right, which is, which is obviously essential for, but also for your 211 phone operators that they are making referrals to information they know is accurate and up to date as well. Right? That’s right. That’s right. And in terms of numbers, before I actually, let’s move into the data first. So the other part that that I think is happens below the iceberg and some below the surface is all of that data partnership stuff. Now, some of the high level things that have come out recently is for example, you’re helping support the chatbot by ampere labs, the charmers chat bot, but there’s other places where people are literally pulling in the data, they don’t have to recreate it, they don’t have to update it, they can work with you to focus on what you’re good at. And then they can focus what they’re good at. and pull the two together. So what’s the future look like? For I mean, I guess what’s happening now with that lay of the land? And how, how can that benefit organizations in the future as well.

Dave Montague 10:53
So it’s a good thing. So the 211 definitely is a principle of open data. But it’s easier said than done in our ecosystem. And because there’s a lot of providers and potentially different, you know, aversions to risk and aversions to like different data, different models of how data should be shared, but in general, and for the and I would say, almost every single time, we default to Yeah, let’s make this open, but there is not. But that doesn’t just mean that it’s free for one because there’s different elements to open data, right, I can give you a data set today in an XML file. But today’s for now you’re gonna want something new. So, but when it comes to like, the biggest things happening right now, in the data sharing line, like we are, we started the York Region project where we were working with Kids Help Phone connects, it was the Newmarket public library for a while, while they were still doing it, they got it. But the the idea is to get to a point where Yeah, and you just you only take one record, and either be it through because we we tend to try to get it to be all technical, like data sharing files, and XML, everything, all this fancy stuff happening in the background. But that’s the hardest part to do sometimes, because you know, find help is pretty has a lot of capacity and technical resources, but a lot of other places don’t. And, and then there are times when we’re the laggards. And so what we are doing is starting to say well, at some step one is let’s just agree that Kids Help Phone is the primary source for all things related to children’s mental health services. So why are we going to that same agency to ask that information when we know, Kids Help Phone is already asked, and they will be asking the right questions. So we have an agreement now we can help them to explore, you know, it’s almost like you just say this branch of the social services belongs to kids cell phone. Yeah, all the agencies and services under that. That’s where we go for the service, we don’t even ask the agency anymore. And it’d be great if they could send their data to us magically appears in our database. But sometimes that’s not possible. So that will go to their website or will be like we’ll have other some other data sharing process where we don’t have to go to the agency. I think the key is, the agency doesn’t care how the data gets shared, they just want to know, they don’t have to answer five times. Right, right. Because really, in York Region, I did sort of research in there. And like one record had five or six different online personas. And each one was different to some elements, some are outdated three years ago, one was by the city, you know, it is all ridiculous stuff. So what we’re trying to do is explore that or expand that to Ontario, and Kids Help Phone would be the first one. But groups like connects. And of course helpline which does all the health data is a very big and good partner to them already. And then we do already do technical data shares. So that’s why I say when it comes to data sharing, there is a push, because no government wants to be paying for people to update the same information five times not only agencies time, but not on our time, like why is it? Why would they pay us to ask agencies and so and I’ve said this before in this podcast, but I’ve said it a million times, is I’d rather pay people to spend time making a record amazing, as opposed to having thousands of middling records, right. So I want a smaller data set data, data, that’s maybe not our core business coming in through sharing agreements, and then I can the editor spend their time really parsing down on the wreck. So and then, but you’re talking about the sample ads and traumas and all that kind of stuff. But that’s part of the problem, right? We have this wide array of data that’s been built on legacy systems and legacy audiences, you know, reading, so what we need is to have, we need to use those records and use editors times to make the records more shareable, more machine readable, all that kind of stuff. It sounds, you know, robotic to say, but that’s really the future of the data, I think, sharing 211 data to other providers, things like chat bots and applications and right now our data is not great for So I want our editors to spend the time doing.

Marco Campana 15:03
And but that it sounds like that’s something that I mean, not just you, but within 211 that you’re all looking at, like, how can you be the the core provider, and then people don’t waste their time. Again, asking people five times or even trying to recreate databases, which we know happens.

Dave Montague 15:17
Yeah, at the agency level, everybody, it’s still a bit of a chore like the big providers are on. It’s the next level down, everybody wants to create their neighborhood directory or whatever, yeah. And they just, you know, they just forget that we exist, or they never knew existed in the first place. So a lot of it is promoting and promotion. And again, the funders are a big part of that, too. Like Carrie said, you know, if somebody gets in there trying to find like, some seniors agency to create a directory, they need to know that that directory already exists, they just need to contact us, and we can do it for them. Yeah, a lot of it is

Marco Campana 15:50
promotion. For sure. Because I mean, I think, especially as apps start to proliferate, we see I’ve seen some settlement agencies that have created mapping apps, but they’ve used their own data. And then as you say, three days later, it’s literally out, it’s obsolete. And then a year later, it’s even, it’s even dangerous as a referral tool, for example. And so the the idea that it’s almost like, even the from, there’s, there’s an awareness of funders as well, if they’re going to fund these kind of technical developments, they need to also understand the ecosystem and the landscape to know that, oh, you’re talking about community information, okay, you, I want to make sure that you’re talking to 211. And we’ll fund that API or whatever the the technical interface is to make sure that you get the data. And it also then means we don’t have to fund you to collect that data or hire editors, because it’s taken care of, so we can fund you to make the app excellent. And these other kinds of more interesting ways, basically.

Dave Montague 16:39
But in fact, this is no the people, you know, we are have turned into an essential service for a lot of people, but also for a lot of funders and stakeholders. And people try to do these directories and quick turnaround on things, we have the whole platform ready to go like the data is a one size fits one one has a whole infrastructure of like, contact center, you know, be able to just ramp up almost any service related to providing virtual support. Right. And so, I think we, when we think about promotion, and you know, eyes on to one, one, it’s never been like it has been in the last few months. I don’t think either I maybe I don’t even know

Carrie Moody 17:18
why I think that’s absolutely true. I think the other thing that’s become really, really clear is the usefulness and value of our statistical data. So related to hearing from callers and needs and what needs are not being met, we’re starting to talk about demographic data in a new way, which is, I think, a really interesting question that we need to be grappling with how to how to do that responsibly, how to collect that information responsibly. You know, all kinds of different kinds of indicators that we’re able to see from our statistical data that I think COVID has allowed us because it became the number of calls that we’ve had to see a little bit differently.

Marco Campana 17:57
When you’re putting that out, I’m looking at one of your, your most recent, or one of your COVID reports for the city. And just talking about what what the the major areas of people calling in or asking for information, and just how much your your calls, chats and web sessions have increased and things like that. So I guess, essential services a great way to put it, but what’s the what’s the 211 experience been during the pandemic in terms of either raising that profile? I mean, certainly, you’re busy. But what else has it meant for for your work, to be front and center as a place for people to call when they’re not sure where else to go?

Unknown Speaker 18:32

Carrie Moody 18:34
It’s the first thing that jumps to mind is just partnerships, like the ability to act as a front door and to so many of the Human Services has been really, really great for us. So many community services, and the city, again, has been a wonderful partner and United Way Greater Toronto as well. Just supporting us to get our message, our message out that we’re here to help people connect to those services. But But yeah, also to, you know, it’s meant that we have so much more rich information that we can help decision makers use to inform investment and policy and programming. You know, I think that’s hugely important for the way that we respond to the immediate to the pandemic, but also how we learn going forward. So if there’s a phase two, we’ll have a lot of information on what people’s needs were and what wasn’t what we didn’t do as effectively as we wanted to.

Marco Campana 19:31
Right. And I’m curious about some of the content of those interactions, too, because I think a lot of people assume that an information referral service like two on one is I call I say what I want, they give it to me or they give me a couple of options and I move on and and there’s much more to it than that. And a lot of cases because even that first I know what I want, is sometimes not even not even on the table. They know what their situation is. So what is it? So talk a little bit about that experience of almost like it’s not just like I call the operator, they gave me the number I call the number It’s there’s more to it than that.

Carrie Moody 20:02
So one of the great things just as an example that we’ve we’ve seen over the last little while as mental health related calls. So you can see from the snapshot that you’re probably looking at that I’m not sure what the date on it is, but but probably food is one of the top up until this week, food was the top need for pretty much everybody in every community. But because we also have these service navigators who are hugely experienced in digging a little bit deeper and probing into other needs that a caller might have, because there’s always another need, there’s always a context in a number of different circumstances that lead to the primary VI. Because we have this, this experience in our service navigators, were also able to dig a little deeper into some of the anxiety and the depression and and the mental health needs. They’re resulting from food insecurity. So we’ve been able to provide that data to the Toronto mental health strategy, which has been hugely important in informing some of their decisions, in collaboration with some of the other organizations that are part of that strategy.

Marco Campana 21:12
What about the experience of the person calling in as well? It’s not just getting a number, there’s a lot yeah,

Carrie Moody 21:18
yeah, we get a lot of so over the last little while, we’ve had a lot of seniors calls I’m looking for. And when I go back, and I look at some of that data, I can find that some of the referrals, they’re all they’ll all have food, food outlets, or food banks or meal programs as part of the referral. But oftentimes, they’ll also have, you know, something like the trauma senior helpline, because the seniors clearly dealing with anxiety and fear and some of the impacts of social isolation that they’re that they’re experiencing, as well. And so our service navigators are able to see that primary need, but also support them and validate them in terms of their experience, and then connect them to other kinds of services that will support them through the entire, you know, their entire experience.

Marco Campana 22:05
So service contact isn’t just I get a quick referral. But there’s a there’s a it’s almost like I mean, it’s not there’s almost like a mini counseling session. And so in a lot of ways, when I when I looked at it, right, you’re, you’re you have to dig a bit to figure out what the actual situation is before you can move someone along. Yeah, yeah. One of the things I’m curious about is the importance of 211. In kind of in a world of misinformation, we’ve got a lot of people suddenly setting up information databases, the whole care mongering people are setting up community information, local referrals, and that’s all incredibly useful. But it also has issues with currency, reliability, and accuracy, who’s maintaining that? What’s their bias? What aren’t they including? What is where does this database go in three months kind of thing, if people start to end up relying on it, so what can people learn from I mean, you’ve said a lot already about like the infrastructure required just to keep information up to date, it’s, you know, it’s full time staff, it’s very well trained staff, it’s partnerships and ongoing relationship with other organizations is there if someone is in a neighborhood, like you’re talking about day, for example, and they’re there, you know, there’s lots of in our sector, local, local immigration partnerships, that tend to set up their own kind of databases of service information. And they have some infrastructure, but they’re also more formal organization. So forgetting for a moment, the neighborhood level, kind of the, you know, the guy down the street, who sets up a really interesting Facebook page with with a spreadsheet kind of thing. What What should the lips in other organizations who are thinking about creating their neighborhood mapping system or service navigation system? Think about one one coming 22211?

Dave Montague 23:36
Well, I mean, I think they think they, you know, what can they do? That’s like, what’s the extra value that they’ll be able to bring, like, they can come to us and we can provide the data that they may spend hours and hours and hours trying to collect. And we can give it to them in real time, so that they never have to do a thing. Or we can provide it like we can provide it in a format that we can work with. So the idea being that the lips and whoever they need to just understand that, you know, you can Empire build all you want, but the fact that is the foundation doesn’t have to be wrong, right? There’s certain areas that you can just go to the experts on. But so like I said earlier, a lot of them just don’t notice even an option. Yeah. So during this pandemic, we’ve had a number of groups go out to try to create, literally, I our databases, like you know, nobody’s collecting information about social services across the country. Yeah, they are and the call to one one in there. And then once you start to show them this whole thing, they’re like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. And so then they start to go, Okay, well, what else can I do? You guys did this hard part. Now I’ve got all this extra headspace. So as I always say to everybody else’s, what could you do with that extra headspace if you didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of data collection? Because that’s what our people do. So yeah, during the pandemic, we’ve had a number of groups, I compound 10 that have no Eliezer data in varying degrees and a couple that were these sort of neighborhood types or you know, Students types, a lot of those groups that are trying to create a project. But then it’s a cool project. So now they want to turn it into a nonprofit. So, and yeah, I just introduced them to the stuff that they can get. And they’re always blown away, because they don’t have an idea. And they don’t like the one person who tried to do Canada wide COVID resources, like Canada wide and one person one day a week. And I should say, This is madness. And, you know, she was I understand now, because we have a bunch of volunteers like those, we weren’t going to be there in a month. You know, this is not a sustainable thing you working. And so I was able to show what we could, and cars, and it’s, sometimes it’s not that person’s decision, what happens next, but the fact that she understood that, it would make no sense to try to replicate what we had done, because that’s what they were trying to do. And it was amazing. So but there, I would say there’s been more successes that I know about than people trying to go off on their own, for sure. But often, I don’t know what one’s going off on their own, because I never

Marco Campana 26:00
know for sure. So I mean, awareness is half the battle here. And I mean, it sounds like it’s useful for formal institutions who are, you know, working with United Way’s and things like that, because, you know, the way is a big player in 211, across the country, particularly in Ontario, so I mean, at least they’re, it’s filtering down, though, they can talk to their own agencies, but but for people who, who aren’t even aware of anything other than a phone line, perhaps it’s it, half of it is just them understanding that, well, a that is difficult to do this kind of work. It’s it’s, it’s it, there’s more to it under the surface than just, you know, throwing up a bunch of pages with links to organizations, for example,

Dave Montague 26:33
well, and I would say to we don’t do a great job of, we’re just talking about this this morning. But we don’t really do a great job of saying, here’s all the things you can do with our data.

Marco Campana 26:41
Oh, no, you’re terrible at it. It’s true. I mean, it’s buried on your site, right? I know, Carrie is unhappy now. But when you go on the find help site and we’ll talk about find help in a minute, because that’s slightly different than two on one, it’s difficult to see what those relationships could look like, you know, and and even on your Toronto COVID sites on two on one, what’s amazing is that you’re releasing some of the data in spreadsheet form. So if you can take that, and they can, they can just readily, you know, suck it into an app or into their own database or something like that. And I think even that is an incredible leap forward for for making that kind of information accessible. But yeah, it’s a big question of like, well, what, when I go to my colleagues in the sector and say, Well, you know, before you do that talk, to talk to find help talk to 211. You know, you’ve got to make it so simple for them. To be able to know what Oh, you want to do X, Y, or Zed. Okay, just, here’s how you can connect with us in our data kind of thing.

Dave Montague 27:36
Yeah, no, I agree. There’s a whole sort of process that has been totally informal and not. Yeah, if you’re googling, I want to use one one data. guy, you know what I mean, that you’ll just get from page,

Carrie Moody 27:48
think that was one of the great things that happened as a result of COVID. I mean, we’re gonna find when all this is over that there’s so many organizations who’ve done new innovative things that we want to keep, when we, you know, when we return to whatever this new world is gonna look like. But I think for us, it’s, you know, we talked so much about open data in the past, and you know, we’d be telling our stakeholders, we’ve got all this information, we’ve got all this data, use it, use it, but not telling them how to use it, and not saying, you know, not doing a little bit of pre analysis so that they knew how to how to use it, and what to take forward. So, you know, the snapshots just as an example, they’re so easy to do, but they allow people to see what’s possible, and to make just sort of quick, lower level decisions on on what we know right now. So it’s, you know, it’s not not, we’re not worried about being perfect, we’re looking for rapid response right now, for sure.

Marco Campana 28:46
I mean, there’s, there’s that whole technical data sharing, which can be really overwhelming for an organization that thinks it just needs to create, you know, some sort of a database or a listing service. But you’ve also done that really well, on the two on one site where you have, you know, the ability to drill down, I can click on newcomers, and there’s like 10, different sub saved searches, basically, it says, oh, employment programs for newcomers interpretation, translation programs. You know, if I’m an agency, I need to even know that this page kind of exists so that I don’t have to try to recreate it in any meaningful way. So even if we don’t end up having a data relationship, there’s you’ve already started to chunk out your views of the information for for people based on their, their specific needs. And I think that’s something that that itself is really useful. That’s sort of fine services by topic. You know, where to start? Well, here’s, you know, here’s your safe service. And it’s easy, easy for me as an agency to just link to that page for right clients for my staff. And then at least we’re starting from the authoritative source, right. It’s like the replacement of the old blue book in my hand, it’s right here on my on my screen now kind of thing. So I think, I think even even helping people understand that this is available that they may not ever be able to, you know, unless they get some funding, suck it into an app or into a database in their agency, but they they don’t even need to It’s here. It’s it’s already filled. For them, based on their their specific type of work, for example. So let’s talk a little bit about to about find help, because find help is more than 211 in some ways, or it’s got different elements to it. And, and one of the things that that, that I, having done some work with you guys I find is really important is agencies themselves understanding information and referral as training as a competency. And, and as something that they need to be able to do in social service and community work. So what are the kinds of other things that find help works on that people that will be worth other people knowing about?

Carrie Moody 30:38
So I think some of the, I guess, you know, the big thing that that jumps out is our training and outreach program. So through our training program, we train service, we transfer for service navigation across the the nonprofit sectors. So, you know, our hope is that not only will people call two on one for for service navigation, but also you know, settlement workers will be able to do their own kind of service navigation and, you know, different kinds of social service workers will have that skill set to support their client base. Marco, you worked with us on on a module last year, I think it was like the first 10 years ago now, two years ago, the time time does fly, you know, to help to help support better service navigation across the sector. And that’s a really, really important piece of work that we do. And, you know, we also have different kinds of lines that we that we do that sort of supplement to one one. And we have a victim support line, male survivors of sexual assault, we have a line called central access, that is the front door into detox services for the City of Toronto, and lots of different things like that, that that really helped to support a kind of a wide range of needs across across social services. You know, we also have, we’ve been actually putting quite a bit of effort into our social media program recently as part of our outreach program. And, you know, the purpose of that, obviously, is to promote our service, but also to, to connect people to the other kinds of services that are available to them. So one of the things another program that we’ve worked on a lot in the last couple of years is anti human trafficking work, particularly in in the GTA. And we’ve done a lot of just letting people know that this is an issue that actually does happen in Toronto, and lots of people aren’t aware of that, as well as connecting a collaborative network that that makes sure that the way that we understand our data related to human trafficking is sort of similar. It’s sort of standardized across those organizations and, and then promoting and sharing that information across a network like Ontario is a great service. It’s a, it’s a volunteer portal that we’ve done with the province, and we’re really, really excited about it. spark is a volunteer aggregation site. So it’s a bilingual Porter portal that pulls together volunteer opportunities across the province. And it celebrates, motivates and inspires volunteering. So it’s a legacy project of the Pan Am Games. And recently, the province, the Ministry of seniors and accessibility has funded us to, to enhance the site around COVID, around COVID-19. So we’ve been really, really happy to work with them doing lots of webinars and really promoting that site. We’ve got so many volunteers who are interested in, in volunteering and get and we’re just trying to get them mobilized to get to work, which is, which is a really, really cool thing to watch.

Dave Montague 33:53
The level of interest was amazing, like I was doing this, today, a year, two years, like some 6000 or 6,000% more signups on the labor force.

Marco Campana 34:02
It’s incredible. So yeah, I mean, I think that’s really important for people to understand around around what the work that find help does, in particular around the training and the work that fayed does, I think that’s something that is is is again, it’s one of those it’s just like sort of the the idea of the database Oh, I can just refer people to information. But once you start to go below the surface of what an information and referral interaction looks like, and a service navigation interaction, there’s so much that people need to know so many skills they need to have, that really they they probably have or have developed or should have anyway in their work, but I in are really kind of helps to helps them to realize, Oh, this is a core skill across my interactions with people. And I know that those training modules in particular just really reinforce, sometimes even new approaches and new skills, but to work people are already doing it. It’s like a great refresher for them, plus the service navigation. Plus the understanding just the complexity of managing community information, which is again, the more people understand that the more they’ll they’ll have a sense of of why they shouldn’t do it themselves, for example,

Carrie Moody 35:03
yeah, yeah, it’s interesting when I first started frontline work when I was younger and coming into this world, I actually took a training with fayed way before I ever started with with find help, and it was on how to support newcomers better and what the interactions with government services should be in order to improve the settlement experience. And I remember walking away from that going, Wow, there’s so much more to this than I ever could have figured out on my own. And so it’s a really great way to inform that experience to make, you know, frontline workers just so much better at their jobs.

Marco Campana 35:43
Yeah, I totally agree. When I’ve taken the training, it’s been the same thing. It’s just such an education and an eye opening moment. And he will say as well that I’ve been paying attention to the the self directed modules that we ended up leaving up on the the ocassion network site from the INR training for settlement workers. And early days in COVID. In particular, there was a huge spike in people taking the course. Oh, so they were taking the time to learn when work may have sort of dwindled a little bit initially for some people, but they went in there, and we got a lot of, you know, dozens of people have, have kind of rekindled the interest in that. So I think that’s, there’s again, that’s more people who have a better understanding now of INR of 211. And just a service navigation in general. And that, that that’s really useful. So yeah, that’s good. Yeah. So what does the future of 211 and community information look like now that you’re sort of looking at the crystal ball of like, this has been a really interesting experience during the pandemic in a lot of ways. And I think Dave, you alluded some of this better, better sort of technical connections to be able to share data more seamlessly. But are there other things that you’re that you’re looking at or that the sector not just find help into on one Toronto, but like, the conversation you’re having with peers from, from across the country, and even into the United States? Because I know, it’s a very, it’s a very connected community? What are people thinking about, like the opportunities for raising awareness for for the role to on one can play in the community Information Systems, navigation, misinformation, things like that?

Dave Montague 37:08
Well, I mean, the big topic is a some funding around national, a 201 National type of platform. Because right now, there are, there’s a few pockets across the country that don’t have a two on one access. A few are still that don’t have sort of a database coverage, or a data coverage website that would help you find stuff. So United Way’s and the federal government have put forward funding to allow sort of two on one national to be born something that, you know, we can also say this is an organization or this is a platform that will adhere to the membership kind of thing. And so what we’ll do is fill gaps, you know, it may take different forms, like we may take, you know, Skype phone calls in the middle of the night kind of thing, but there’s going to be different ways that we fill those gaps. So and but the coming out of that the things we’ve talked about the national data repository, and there’s two sides of that is the side that Carrie could talk a bit more about. But this idea of like, being able to share and consolidate needs data from across the country. So when people call, they tell us what the document of what they need, we can track that, you know, anonymous, but we can track what are the trends of different parts of the countries at any given time based on what people are calling about. And what we want to do is be able to aggregate that and then be able to say to a funder or to a research team or to anybody. So it goes on, here’s a nationwide scope. This you know, and certainly you can drill down on topics, but also something like the pandemic right would have been amazing to see, you know, it’s almost like a precursor. It’s the people at that moment. And it’s it can be quite detailed information before it becomes something bigger. And then on the other side of that other side of that is data, like actual agency data, all the addresses and all the services that they provide is more or less merging all of them. And it’s big data base, and being able to share that. So if somebody wants to create a national app of all the COVID applications, or an app of all the mentorship programs across the Canada, they don’t have to go to 30 different organizations to get that information. They can go to this one system, like all in the background is all a nightmare data transfers and data sharing. But the output is seamless, hopefully. And that’s so those are the big ones as well, on my side of things is the National is national data repository, trying to bring 12 different groups really together. And luckily, we’re mostly using the same platforms. But being able to we’re using 12 different versions of that same platform. Now the idea is to merge them all. And then you still have be off doing your own thing, but I know it would be seamless for other people. I know there’s also a big promotion part that’s part of this money, and I don’t know much about that, but I suspect Kerry has an eye to that side of things because really the COVID site The code pandemic have shown is that we can be valuable and we are valuable. And the more people use us, the more valuable we’ll be. Because there’s more data and more needs data created. So volume, is this a cycle and a circle, we need the volume to be able to show people what’s happening and a neighbor. So yeah, hopefully at the other national level, though, there is money for promotion.

Carrie Moody 40:24
I think from my perspective, there’s, there’s a couple of things. There’s sort of the the COVID, specific going forward, and then there’s the big the bigger picture. So yeah, you know, within within COVID, I think in the next couple of years, we’re looking at recovery, we’re thinking about things like, you know, what are the opportunities to save what’s working? How do we sort of continue some of the best practices that we’ve learned over the last little while, but then I think when we’re looking more broadly and further down the horizon, I think, things like closed loop referrals. So working with our partners to make sure that our information referral service is more outcomes focused to make sure that people are getting to the services they need, that they need, and that they tell their story over and over and over again, in order to access the next service that we can support them through that process. So that’s going to be lots of technology changes, lots of, you know, thinking about, you know, ensuring an anti oppressive, you know, framework to do the work that we do, which we already do, of course, but we’re really making sure that that, that we have a group of partners who are all working to sort of the same end with a really client focused framework to deliver service. And I think the other thing would be looking at demographic data collection. So really making sure that we know who we’re serving and who we’re not serving, and why that is, and then improving our reach to two demographics that we’re not, we’re not reaching.

Marco Campana 42:01
That’s great. That sounds like some really great future direction. So thank you both very much for sharing all of this. Hopefully, we we can raise a little more awareness to some folks who listen about the work that you’re doing. And I think you’re I think you you called it an essential service one of your earlier on and I think that’s something that’s really important for people to understand that you’re as essential as 911411, all these other kind of numbers, but so much more than that. And so thank you for sharing all of this as well as some ideas about what what might be to come. Thanks. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you in your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site@markopoulos.org I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or marco@markopolos.org Thanks again.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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