A 211 service, like 911 and 411, provides quick and easy access to specific information. In the case of 211, this is community service information, such as counseling, job training, or substance abuse help. While implementation of 211 has grown steadily in the United States and parts of Canada in the past ten years, Saskatchewan has not yet set up this public service. As a means of gauging interest in this system, as well as to get a better sense of what potential problems would need to be addressed, the United Ways of Saskatoon and Regina co-sponsored a research project to assess the current state of information and referral services in Saskatchewan, with an eye toward creating a centralized database necessary for a 211 service. An examination of a survey sent out to potential partners in a 211 service is the focus of Amanda Lisoway’s 211 Saskatchewan Situational Analysis.
Lisoway’s study seeks to answer several questions related to information providers and referral services: Who are the major providers of such services in Saskatoon and Regina? What, specifically, do they provide and how? How are they funded? What is the current capacity of these services? What training, education, and interest do these providers have in implementing a 211 service? To amass the necessary information, a survey of 44 questions was developed and distributed to selected information and referral organizations in Saskatchewan (e.g. police services, public libraries).
Most survey respondents agreed that a centralized information and referral service would be beneficial to their organization, citing more appropriate referrals, better information sharing among organizations, and greater community awareness of the services. Likewise, the general public was seen as benefiting from a 211 service through easier access, faster and better referrals, and better collaboration between service organizations. However, respondents also emphasized certain challenges, including: philosophical and territorial issues between similar organizations with regards to 211 referrals; greater effort would be needed to keep information up-to-date; user confidentiality must be maintained; funding for both the service and the participating organizations’ might be strained; training qualified staff; creation of a single database to encompass diverse organizations and information; and making the service accessible for non-English speakers, children, or those without telephones.
Even though knowledge of the 211 system is not especially widespread in Saskatchewan, the organizations that would benefit most from its implementation see its merits and appear ready to embrace the concept. The next step, Lisoway suggests, is to begin community meetings to both educate the general public and get a better sense of their concerns. Following this, the service’s backers should continue with the feasibility study, choose a provider, and develop a business plan. The results of the initial survey are promising, which suggests that the momentum established thus far should be encouraged further.