Types of User and User Personas

Open Referral recognizes a small set of ways that resource directory data is used – each such type of use is associated with diverse types of users. These constitute our primary groups of stakeholders – and this array of perspectives establishes the critical framework through which we conceive, design, and evaluate the products created by our initiative.

Seeking Help

e.g., help-seeker, clients, patients, end-users, consumers

Providing help

e.g., referrers, service providers, case managers, social workers, librarians, call operators, etc

Administering data

e.g., resource specialist, database manager, IT staff, the intern who updates an Excel spreadsheet, etc

Research and Analysis

e.g., researcher, analyst, wonk, community planner, community leader, decision-maker, etc

The following sections include our User Personas for each of these types of use. A user persona describes a broad category that encompasses many possible ‘subtypes’ of users. The persona articulates general attributes shared by all, including: relevant personal context, what information is needed and why, points of pain in the current system, and description of their behavior. A user story describes a desired action and its resulting benefit.

Seeking Help (i.e. help-seeker, clients, patients, end-users, consumers)

Help-seekers (i.e. patients, clients, consumers, victims, survivors, etc.) have some pressing need (or more likely, multiple needs) which might be addressed by services in their community. To realize this possibility, help-seekers must receive accurate, relevant, and easily understandable information about services which they can access and for which they are eligible. Heightened emotional reactions, illness or injury may diminish their capacity for uncertainty and decision-making.

Help-seekers may not be fully capable of articulating the addressable aspect of their needs. They may have limited media literacy, and limited access to technology. They may not know about the existence of relevant services, let alone the ‘correct’ language to describe those services. They may have difficulty processing and/or trusting information. They may not be able to articulate their needs and may not feel safe. They may struggle with anticipated or actual stigmatization for seeking help. Incorrect information can cost help-seekers time, money, or even conceivably lives.

Help-seekers might currently look for help by searching the web, or turning to a trusted community anchor like a library, school, or religious institution. They might interface with a service provider (“referrer”) who might help identify addressable needs (through some screening process) and provide them with actionable information about services.

As a help-seeker, I want to…

  • know that technology is supporting humans who are providing help, rather than replacing them, so that I can still talk to a person in this process.

  • have fewer places to contact and so that the experience of seeking help is not traumatic.

  • have privacy so that friends and relatives don’t find out about my problems.

  • receive simple, step-by-step instructions because when I’m stressed out I give up more readily.

  • quickly find reliable and easy-to-understand information about services through Google and other search engines

  • get consistent information among agencies so that I can trust it (or I won’t use it).

Providing help (i.e. referrer, service providers)

The key point in a referral process is often a person who engages directly with a help-seeker (often in person) and helps them find information about relevant and accessible services. A ‘referrer’ is usually (but not always) a professional or a volunteer who is working for some organization that itself provides a service to its community. They are likely to be poorly paid and poorly trained. Referrers are typically the primary users of resource directory information systems.

Referrers want to trust the information they provide to help-seekers — trust regarding a) the information’s accuracy, b) the service’s relevance (is the client eligible), and c) the quality of the service. They may rely as much if not more on ‘tacit’ knowledge about services, drawn from their own experience, rather than an information system. They may use printed resources. Or they may use Google or other web searches. They may need to be able to deliver information in multiple languages.

Referrers often interact with help-seekers in the course of some kind of structured workflow. They likely conduct a screening process which identifies important attributes of the help-seeker’s situation. Referrers then match what information they have about a help-seeker to information about accessible and relevant services. Referrers are not necessarily the penultimate stop in the referrals process. A thorough referrer will call the organization before handing off the referral, and may also call to follow up.

As a referrer (aka service provider, etc), I want to…

  • Specify the type of help needed in a detailed way so that help-seekers receive the specific type of help they need.

  • To describe client’s needs just once, so that I don’t waste time.

  • Track success so that over time our clients’ lives will improve.

  • Track my cases along with where they received service so that I can respond quickly to funding researchers from the city.

  • To know that a change in my process will help me deliver service better than I currently do.

Data Administration (i.e. resource data specialist, IT staff)

Data administration is typically an “internally facing” role, involving someone who has responsibility of some kind for an information system. This refers to the work done by system administrators, data producers, vendors, volunteer civic technologists, people who compile directories of all kinds.

Data admins are responsible for information production and maintenance — such as updating records, maintaining naming conventions, running reports, designing mechanisms for retrieval and delivery, etc. They may be responsible for reporting directly to funders and government agencies. These responsibilities are sometimes shared among several roles in an organization.

Updating data may entail email updates, verbal updates (often over the phone), screen scrape, unvalidated free-form notes, vetting user-submitted input.

Administering data entails some level of technical skill, though these skills may have been gained in an ad hoc way, as a data administrator’s job may not technically be in “IT.” Thus, the data admin’s ability to use a system may depend to a great extent on the available documentation and training. They may be working with ambiguous instructions, with important context that might not be explicitly conveyed.

Data admin may be trying to share the burden of data maintenance with low-level, high-turnover human resources – which means they need simple instructions that are easy to convey to newcomers and yield predictable output.

Generally, they want more people to be able to make better use of the data that they are administering.

As a data administrator, I want:

  • a clear repeatable process flow, so that I can help people help me

  • a simple and easy to use interface, so that I can update data quickly and efficiently

  • an automatic and continuous data feed, so that I can speed data updates and validation

  • to receive feedback from users, so we can constantly improve the quality of information

  • to track who did what updates so that we can quickly assess the freshness and accuracy of the data

Research (i.e. analyst or researcher)

Researcher: This type of user includes anyone who wants to use service directory data in synthesis with other kinds of data for the purpose of understanding community health, predicting future needs, identifying funding gaps, and other kinds of analysis. Such a role is often played by funders, policymakers, planners, or community leaders.

Researchers are seeking accountability for the performance of the health, human, and social service system overall. They want their work to make this data useful for system-level decision-making.

They currently get data “wherever they can find it,” often having to extract from Excel spreadsheets or other formats that aren’t designed to be used in this way.

Researchers are often looking to understand the effectiveness of programs, which aren’t necessarily specific services but rather may include a set of services that are bundled through a particular funding stream and around a common mission.

Researchers need reliably-structured data from across institutional and jurisdictional boundaries that can be readily ‘mashed up’ with other kinds of data (census, funding, etc).

As a researcher, I want to…

  • See meaningful context for service information so that I can perform population-level analysis.

  • Know who is responsible for a service so that when it’s working well (or isn’t) we know who to contact to learn more… and replicate those successes or propose improvements.

  • Download data in raw formats over a specific time period so I can analyze program utilization and outcomes.