At the recent Great Rivers conference in Madison, Wisconsin, we were having a discussion over breakfast about the possibility of using 2-1-1 data as a surrogate for the data found in a needs assessment. This may be closer to reality with the release of 2-1-1 Counts, which is a web-based tool that provides real-time, searchable information about the needs of a community.
2-1-1 Counts is developed, distributed, and maintained by the Health Communication Research Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, with funding from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.
This Web site is currently available for Florida and North Carolina 2-1-1 call centers. It uses data from these call centers to track and summarize callers’ needs. The data is available by percentage of requests in each category, or can be displayed as a count of the number of requests in each category. You can also click on a category and it will display subcategories. For example, when you click on food, you will see subcategories like help buying food, food pantries, soup kitchens, home delivered meals, and holiday meals.
According to 2-1-1 Counts, the data tracked is only the top requests, which are the most important basic needs of callers, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Although 2-1-1 centers track every call and request, 2-1-1 Counts focuses on these most important needs.
2-1-1 Counts also provides the ability to drill down into the data by region, with the Triad region of North Carolina shown below:
You will note the map with the different colors of green in the lower right. You can click on any of the ZIP codes in the map and see how many calls came from that ZIP code.
The data may not be perfect, as it only tracks requests for assistance through 2-1-1, and not requests made directly to service providers. It is also limited by awareness and usage of 2-1-1, which may vary from area to area, making comparisons more difficult. But, 2-1-1 Counts provides a great opportunity for Florida and North Carolina United Ways to have current data about the number of 2-1-1 requests for help and services in their service area.