Thursday, November 12, 2015

This mental map of community resources for the homeless lends a new perspective...

Many years ago, I created a database of community resources, made in Microsoft Access.  It was a simple set of menus, and the idea behind it was speed... I was an outreach worker, and I wanted to find contact info in a couple of clicks.  It was before Google became the first research destination.  At some point, I started longing for a resource database that was as good as Google maps.  See, only with google maps can you be looking at the planet, and by simply rolling the mouse wheel and shifting a bit, you can sift through every street on the globe and find your house.  It is the fastest filter for information I have ever used.
Armed with this inspiration, I stumbled on a mind map program that offered the promise of "zooming in" with the mouse wheel to filter out data.  I started to use it, and found a number of benefits:

1) This resource database is easy to use.  I put some instructions at the top of the map, and anybody could use it with a few clicks

2) It allows you to look at the whole picture of resources, but also allows you to narrow down your parameters in a second.

3) As you navigate it, you learn about resources.  For example, when navigating "mental health supports" users will see there is a large list of peer support groups, which may encourage them to pursue that option. 

4) I could develop links to exactly the right website, and save the researcher the time it takes to sift through a government or non profit website.  For example, if you look for birth certificate applications, the mind map takes you directly to the pdf that you can fill out with a tablet and send to a printer.

5) It was set up as a network, so I could add collaborators and work with teams to keep the information up to date, one of the largest challenges to a resource guide.

6) It was readily available for anybody with a smart phone, tablet, PC, Mac, etc because it is hosted online, and the company has supported apps.

The themes from the main menu were chosen by considering the various challenges that lead to homelessness, which are many.  It is set up this way to help outreach workers get to the right area based on the circumstances their clients are facing.  I have been updating and linking the data for more than 4 years now, and it is much larger, but it is still easy to get to where you want in seconds.
I realized with time though, that it looks a bit harder to use than it is.  People perhaps think of a huge complicated multicoloured flowchart and they shudder.  It really is easy to use though, I swear.
I am going to develop a tutorial to help new users I think, because once you have this tool in your toolbox, you become infinitely more valuable to your clients.  I would like to some day make this an open source tool, in which service providers can update their own information.
For now, its worth going over to have a look.  Let me know your thought, and share as needed.  I think any community could benefit from this type of tool, and mind maps can be created quite quickly and easily.  Follow the link, and think "Google Maps" as you are using it.


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