Washington State 2-1-1 Benefit-Cost Study
Information and referral (I&R) helplines have a long history of serving American communities. However, the I&R helpine phone numbers were never as widely known and accessible as the 911 and 411 dialing codes. In 1997, the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta was the first to use the 2-1-1 dialing code for their information and referral hotline. Atlanta’s approach to improving I&R service via a 2-1-1 line was very successful resulting in the Atlanta 2-1-1 helpline currently serving 25,000 callers a month (www.unitedwayatlanta.org ).
As of early 2005, 2-1-1 is accessible by over 107 million people in 30 states, the District of Columbia and parts of Canada (www.2-1-1.org). By the end of 2005, 2-1-1 service is expected to be available to roughly half the population of the United States. Current efforts in congress would provide funds to extend 2-1-1 services throughout the country. The Calling for 2-1-1 Act will be reintroduced which would authorize $150 million to assist states with implementing and sustaining 2-1-1 service statewide.
Washington state’s 2-1-1 service was spearheaded by a group of I&R programs, local United Ways, human service providers and interested citizens beginning in 1998. In 2001, these groups formed a nonprofit organization called Washington Information Network 2-1-1 (WIN 2-1-1) to carry forth efforts to establishing 2-1-1 services in the state of Washington. On April 15, 2003, the Washington state legislature passed ESHB 1787 in support of the creation of a 2-1-1 system for the state and gave specific leadership responsibilities to WIN 2-1-1.
In 2004, WIN 2-1-1 contracted with IBEC to investigate ways measuring the benefits and costs of implementing 2-1-1 services. IBEC built upon several statewide and national studies to investigate dimensions of service performance, cost-benefit analysis, and user outcomes of 2-1-1 services, and further identify potential measures and protocols for developing a holistic assessment program that go beyond the mere reporting of quantitative inputs and outputs associated with 2-1-1 agencies.
The centerpiece of this study is the creation of the IBEC logic model that identifies benefits and costs at three different levels: the individual, organizational, and societal. In addition, the model incorporates the dimension of time in order to distinguish between short, medium, and long term benefits. The power of this model is to provide a basis for incremental and flexible assessment of service performance that will lead to the creation of a culture of continuous improvement and ongoing evaluation within WIN 2-1-1.