Rick Borovoy, Susan (our new UROP), and I had a productive two days in Wisconsin Rapids last week rolling out the first phase of Sameboat. In partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater South Wood County (CFGSWC), a Knight Foundation two time Community Information Challenge grantee, we’re piloting solutions to correct the difficulty clients have in accessing timely and accurate information about relevant social services available in their communities.
The Phase 1 deployment grew out of feedback Rick and I received during our visit to the area earlier in the year when we met with service recipients at several area non-profits:
- North Central Community Action Program – Family Resource Center
- Mid-State Technical College
- St. John’s Episcopal Church – Neighborhood Table
- St. John’s Episcopal Church – Personal Essentials Pantry
- Wood County Health Department’s Women Infant and Children’s Program
- Wood County Human Services
- Wisconsin Rapids Job Center
The take-aways from the focus group visits were clear. Information needed to:
- Be Ready to Hand – There is very low tolerance for anything that may be a waste of time, money, or energy
- Offer Everyday Support – Broadcast opportunities from both formal and informal support networks
- Strengthen Weak Ties – Provide opportunities for new information from weak ties to enter the support networks
In short, service recipients wanted a system that would share information about available services in real time and real places.
In Phase One, we decided to focus on pushing community service information into the “offline” channels and places that recipients access everyday. We decided to install an inexpensive digital signage network in several spots where service users already gather. These signs will show timely information about social service and other related events. Five SameBoat digital signs were installed at the Job Center, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Essentials Pantry and Wal-Mart showing information about community events such as a free student summer breakfast at 9am at Lincoln High, a basic email skills workshop at 10am at the Jobs Center, and a food pantry screening at 1pm at the North Central Community Action Program.
The CFGSWC team and their community connections played a significant role in the deployment. Dawn secured the sign locations and Bridget collected and curated the community calendar information on a Google Calendar, the content that feeds the signs. Through web-based monitoring tools we’ve designed, Bridget can monitor the network and keep it running. Together we put an assessment and promotion plan in place, and are looking forward to beginning data collection next week. The assessment efforts will tell us how these signs are being used, how valuable they are, and how we can improve them. The enthusiasm and dedication that the CFGSWC staff brought to this project to get it off the ground is invaluable and a crucial first step toward sustaining the project on a local level.
The first phase will run through July and August. We are already seeding the plans for Phase 2 to be launched this fall. Phase 2 will aim to push social service information into hyper-local print publications such as the Buyer’s Guide, a free circular, and “Backpack Mail” distributed through elementary and middle schools. Insights into the value of these informal communications channels were gained in part through the Community Information Needs Assessment Knight Community Information Challenge Focus Group Report.