Maximizing Collaboration Among 2-1-1 Systems in the Greater Washington Region

December 01, 2002

Funding:  Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington

Summary:  The three-part research project was pegged to the imminent petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by separate information and referral (I &R) agencies in the District of Columbia, Suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia for use of the official FCC’s 2-1-1 designation in their own geographic areas, a three-digit dialing code reserved in 2000 by the FCC for community information and referral services.

The three National Capital Region jurisdictional areas were making decisions that could confer incompatible technologies, standards, data protocols, financing mechanisms, and the like, foreclosing the option of a single seamless 2-1-1 system for the Greater Washington region.  The events of September 11, 2001 at the site of the Pentagon attacks resolved among some members of the National Capital Region that a regional I & R was essential to public safety and well-being.  These three reports were borne of that resolve and the reports initiated the process which created that regional I & R 2-1-1 system.

The first report was a snapshot of information and referral (I & R) agency processes in the Greater Washington Region, and practices in other parts of the country as a counterpoint of comparison.  The primary function of I & R agencies is to connect people who need urgent or longer-term social services assistance, rather than emergency intervention or assistance (for which 9-1-1 is reserved), with those who can provide it.  The report identified many details on the characteristics of the I & R agencies, including details on their databases, the counseling staff, their geographic scope, their services provision, their legal status, the frequency of data replacement, and their user counts, among other features.  The second report surveyed sixteen of the larger nonprofit comprehensive I & R agencies in the Greater Washington region, selected for the survey based upon their common and unique set of characteristics.  Survey results showed differences in training, marketing, methods of staffing, call routing, operating hours, funding, taxonomy usage, tracking of calls, and telephone equipment, among in extensive review of features.  The third report recommended the organizational and political landscape that would need to be in place so that seamless regional 2-1-1 cooperation could move forward; and presented a detailed process that would enable policymakers to assist in that movement.  The regional organizational and political landscape would need a common vision, an administrative mechanism, a network for capacity-building, and a means for institution-building.  Twelve specific policy options related to these four broad needs were included in the third report.