Benetech Service Net Begins First of Its Kind Nonprofit Data Collaboration Pilot

By Clotilde Vasconi, posted on

Next Steps for Benetech Service Net

Benetech has been hard at work on a big problem: 1 in 7 people in the US live in poverty (UC Davis, Center for Poverty Research, 2018), and while services such as food assistance, health care, and temporary shelter, can help people living in poverty meet their basic needs, finding accurate information on these services can be very difficult and time-consuming.  We built Service Net so that referral agencies and service providers can work together to ensure better data is available for everyone.

Today, we are announcing the implementation of a first of its kind data-collaboration, making it easier for people to get connected to the services that they need. Over the next six months, six Bay Area organizations will use Benetech Service Net to share and maintain their records on local social and human services. The participants, Eden I&R (211 Alameda County), Health Leads, Legal Aid Association of California, San Mateo County, ShelterTech, and United Way Bay Area (211 Program), represent a wide range of referral organizations. They are both national and local, government, and nonprofit, comprehensive, and agencies specializing in specific impact areas such as homelessness or legal services.

A man in an office using a desktop computer.

Edwin Chan, Senior Executive Analyst at San Mateo County Human Services Agency, using Benetech Service Net during implementation training.

Breaking Down Data Silos

Referral organizations such as our pilot participants play a pivotal role in connecting people with the services that they need. The stakes are high. Refer a person to a shelter that is full, and they may not be able to find a place to sleep that night. Fail to mention that a food pantry is only open in the mornings, and a family may not get anything to eat that day. And every time a referral is not useful to a person in need, it negatively impacts their likelihood to seek out other services or referrals.

To be effective, organizations need to build and maintain up-to-date directories of local service providers, which can be a huge strain on employee time allocation and budget. When we began this project in 2017, our initial analysis of nonprofits in Sacramento and the Bay Area showed that 74% of records about services are being maintained redundantly in siloed resource directories that organizations expend significant resources to update manually. Additionally, these records can vary in depth, accuracy, or timeliness, making it that much harder to match a person to the appropriate service.

By providing these organizations with a platform to share their information on services, our goal is to increase the quality and accuracy of each organization’s referral database while also reducing the cost and duplication of efforts that go into maintaining these records separately.

The Platform

Service Net enables participants to push the data that they have collected in their own proprietary database into a central data hub. Our algorithm matches each organization’s entries with the records from other Service Net users on the same service provider. If two records show different information on the same service provider, The Service Net platform will surface the record, recommending that they compare their own records to the records of others. Service Net users will greatly benefit from having access to partners’ recent updates and the complementary information that the partners may have collected.

Benetech will collect usage data and user feedback in order to improve Service Net throughout the duration of the pilot. For example, how often do pilot participants choose to sync their entry with that of another nonprofit? Is there additional information that the pilot partners would like to know in order to trust another organization’s records? By regularly surveying the pilot partners in addition to analyzing the features that they are using and the flow of data, we can improve the platform and push out new updates to make it easier for them to use.

We will also measure the impact that Service Net drives for the participating organizations. Did they have better information to provide referrals than they had previously? Because of this, were they able to make better referrals? Were they able to cut down on the resources spent sourcing referral information?

All of this data will inform the development of the platform, particularly as we continue to introduce new functionalities. Ultimately all of this input will drive the development of a platform that can be used at scale in the Bay Area and beyond.

Benetech Service Net comparison of two entries on California State School for the Blind

Users can compare the information that they have about a service provider alongside entries from other organizations who have complementary or conflicting information.

A Profound Thank You to the Entire Service Net Ecosystem

Developing software for social impact means that the technology cannot be built in a vacuum. We have arrived at this stage thanks to the collaboration of so many people who power the social safety net ecosystem in the Bay Area and Sacramento. This pilot launch is the culmination significant, collaborative work by the entire Service Net community, and we are profoundly grateful for the support that we have received. Stay tuned for more updates on the results of this Bay Area pilot, as well as updates on our Service Net initiatives in Sacramento.

By sharing data and increasing access to information, together, we can make the social safety net stronger, ensuring that people can gain easy access to the services they need when they need them most.

Learn More about the Service Net design process and stakeholder convenings: Empowering Access to Social Services through Data Sharing: Benetech Service Net

Learn more about Benetech Service Net