Ontario 211 caller data enhances the way in which human services are funded and delivered in Ottawa

A new partnership between Ontario 211’s Ottawa call centre and a group of local researchers will make a significant difference in the way in which human services are funded and delivered in the capital.

Starting this spring, Ontario 211’s Ottawa-based call centre will feed basic, anonymous caller-profile data—gender, approximate age, the first three digits of callers’ postal codes, and the nature of the services requested—to a team of academics that has compiled a detailed demographic and socio-economic profile of Ottawa’s 97 neighbourhoods.

For the researchers, the data-sharing exercise will further enhance an already-detailed picture of Ottawa’s discrete communities. Others will benefit too. For ordinary citizens, the arrangement will yield better access to essential community resources. For funding agencies, the additional intelligence will make program-investment decisions easier, and for policy makers and community organizations, the data will create a more complete picture of service gaps and overlaps.

“The data we collect from 211 will enable us to further refine our study and identify holes in the delivery of human services throughout Ottawa’s neighbourhoods,” says David Hole, project coordinator with the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS). “From there, we can create an even more complete picture of our community that decision-makers in government and service-delivery organizations can use to make informed choices about program planning, community engagement and service delivery.”

United Way Ottawa is particularly interested in the results of the 211/ONS agreement. Every year, the organization faces tough decisions about how to best allocate the tens of millions of dollars it receives in community donations. Comprehensive and detailed neighbourhood profiles, such as those developed by ONS, enable United Way’s planners to target areas of the city where service-delivery gaps exist and where efficiencies could be created.

“The capacity to match human-services supply data with demand is tremendously valuable for us,” says Karen Milligan, director of communications with United Way Ottawa. “When 211 caller data is incorporated into the ONS, organizations like ours will be able to use our valuable donor funds in even more effective ways—and in parts of the city in which they are needed most.”

United Way Ottawa isn’t the only community-based organization that will benefit from the 211/ONS agreement. The service-delivery groups funded by United Way Ottawa also use ONS data to improve the way in which they meet community needs, and to make applications for further grants from the funding agency.

“Two years ago, United Way Ottawa issued its first-ever open call for proposals,” says Milligan. “It invited human-service agencies to submit proposals for programs to be funded by community dollars. Because applying agencies have relied on ONS data to inform their submissions, the quality of funding proposals we have received has been exceptional. We expect that quality to increase again once 211’s data is mapped onto the ONS.”

Helping Ottawans in need

211 has been a revelation in Ottawa. Not only has the service helped thousands of area residents connect with community-based resources at any time of the day or night and in any of 150 languages, but by sharing basic caller-profile data with groups such as those that run the ONS, it will also facilitate the more efficient delivery of high-quality, essential human services.