Across the spectrum of human services care, the challenge is overwhelmingly common – institutional knowledge is what guides resource and referral interactions with the public. Eligibility requirements, intake procedures, program legitimacy, and information about hours and locations are often kept in spreadsheets, stacks of papers, or even deep in the minds of those who connect people in need with programs that can help them.
Many in the human services industry realized the challenge and have sought out ways to better connect people with the resources they need to keep them safe and healthy. Several tools and platforms have come to fruition to bridge these gaps in unique ways.
Named with the idea of a strong, steadfast family member who supports you through difficult times, Aunt Bertha is a search and referrals platform where people can type in any zip code and discover free and reduced cost social service programs in their area. Aunt Bertha powers the website auntbertha.com, and also has free apps.
Aunt Bertha’s biggest investment is in keeping up-to-date, clear data about social service programs. They have a data team that combines technology with direct service provider outreach to identify relevant programs and services. With resource and referral information always changing, keeping the information up to date is an ever-evolving challenge. Team members scour websites and build relationships with community based organizations in order to piece together information about what programs are currently in place, eligibility requirements, best ways to reach out, and more. They also offer free referrals management and analytics to social service providers who claim their program listings and help keep that information up to date.
The team at Aunt Bertha is thinking far beyond just creating a living resource directory of social services. They are actively creating tools and processes to help discover the most relevant services, and then to take the next steps to reach out.
“Our mission is to connect people in need and the programs that serve them with dignity and ease.”, shares Margo Johnson, Director of Community Product and Partnerships. “We have more of a responsibility than just providing information. We want people to have the dignity of a response when they reach out for help, and to remove as many barriers as possible to accessing needed support. Ultimately we are working with partners in this space to fundamentally improve the experience of finding help and reaching self-sufficiency.”
With a vision centered around creating a well connected and collaborative nonprofit sector, GoodMap sets out to build up a structure that more effectively and efficiently meets the needs of the community it serves. GoodMap used to be synonymous with “directory platform.” They scoured through binders, notes, and PDFs full of resource and referral information and migrated it into a digital format, free of duplicates, only to discover that technology wasn’t the only solution needed to better connect people like case managers and their clients.
They began to explore how information could be better collected, shared, and delivered to the community and are moving toward a process in which they can leverage technology to share information. The 2017 version of GoodMap believes in the power of technology to make information sharing better, but that the nonprofit information sharing problem will require more than just technology. Their mission is to show the collective impact of information sharing for the greater good.
GoodMap focuses on what happens beyond calling the front desk number listed with a provider. Who are you talking to? What documents do you need? How do you qualify for assistance? What does the process look like? Oftentimes, that essential information does not exist in a useable format — it’s in someone’s head.
“After getting basic information, there are a ton of dots to connect, “ Paul Sorenson, founder and CEO, said. “No one organization can do this on their own. We have to build trust and focus on long-term nonprofit collaboration and collective impact. We have to be intentional about how we gather information and make it easier for people on the ground to use and submit more helpful information over time.”
The diverse team at Purple Binder work together to bridge the gap between health care and social services in order to connect people with the services they need within their community to keep them healthier – everything from local parks to food pantries, from homeless shelters to mental health. Purple Binder refers people into community services such as these and then tracks whether or not the referral actually went through as planned.
They provide two types of applications in their toolkit – one designed for public access from any device connected to the internet and the other for clinical and professional staff who are charged with making referrals to community resources.
In an interview, Founder, Joseph Flesh explained Purple Binder’s role in connecting the existing health care system with the human services organizations that address social factors in people’s lives. “Whether you belong to a strong community will be a healthcare issue; whether you are food-secure will be a healthcare issue. Because those are unequivocally factors that impact your health.”
Purple Binder’s API is the first to use the Open Referral standard to transmit social services data between two applications. Through Open Referral, organizations like Purple Binder are working together to demonstrate that social service directory information can and should be made available through open platforms. Their technology is used by social workers, case managers, and providers in health plans, clinics and hospitals, and community agencies.