Industry Standards

The Workings of an Information and Referral Service/Centre

The following industry standards comprise and support an information and referral service (also referred to as a community information centre):
A. Inquiry
B. Database
C. Publications
D. Social Reporting, Consultation and Community Development
E. Community Education
F. Professional Development
G. Administration

Inquiry services provide information on the full range of human services from all levels of Government, the non-profit sector, the private voluntary sector, by individuals in the community and selectively from the business sector.

Individualized information is FREE, CONFIDENTIAL and AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE. It is provided by telephone, in person, through correspondence or on the Internet and is available in appropriate languages as required by a particular community.

Users include the general public, especially people who have trouble accessing services because of language, age, culture, poverty, lack of education, illiteracy, fear of violence or unemployment.

Human service providers such as social and constituency workers, health care professionals, business people, government officials and students are also major users.

Information need not be free to end users seeking to make a profit from the work of the service. Information (publications) sought by or targeted to business, professionals and agencies need not be free of charge at the discretion of the service.

Information counselling activities include:

  • information provision
  • needs assessment
  • problem-solving
  • facilitating access
  • linking people to services
  • educating people to be effective users of human services
  • clarification of rights and options
  • emotional support
  • listening
  • follow-up
  • crisis intervention
  • coordination of services to meet client's needs
  • consultation with other service providers 

A database is the foundation of an information and referral service and all other activities of a Community Information Centre depend on the quality and comprehensiveness of this resource. Database components include the collection, organization and maintenance of information on the full range of human services in a geographically defined community.

Wherever possible Community Information Centres should develop local networks of information through "data sharing agreements" with other Centres and/or partners in order to provide the best possible data to meet the client's needs.

Specific development and maintenance activities include:

  • creation of a collection development policy
  • establishment of record formats
  • data collection and verification
  • indexing
  • data entry or updating 

Database maintenance could involve the management of manual or automated systems internally or on the Internet.

There are two main objectives to the service function:

  • to provide the general public with accurate and easy-to-use non-personalized information about human services
  • to provide information in a variety of formats to human service professional and other service providers 

Specific products may include detailed print directories, pamphlets, mailing lists, labels, training materials, websites, online databases and information in audio or visual formats.

Activities over and above the maintenance of a database, which are necessary to produce these products, include:

  • research
  • design
  • editing & indexing
  • printing & production
  • marketing & promotion
  • distribution

Social Reporting is the identification and communication of gaps in service and social trends. Methods in the identification process include:
1. analysis of inquiry and other service statistics
2. anecdotal reporting
3. board member, staff, volunteer and community input
4. information sharing through community networks
5. client feedback
6. interpersonal contacts
7. community needs assessments
Community Information Centres are in a unique position to heighten public awareness of social issues because of their direct contact with a wide range of people. Information is shared with appropriate organizations in informal and formal ways.  
Consultation regarding the trends and gaps in services and the enhancement of service delivery in the community is provided by community information centres.

Community Development can be initiated, organized, led by community information centres, and centres actively assist in developing new services to meet community needs.

Community Information Centres provide community education on the range and effective use of human services through public speaking and education sessions.

Community Information Centres provide training to human service professionals and other information providers through:

  • courses and workshops on information skills and information management
  • consultation regarding information and referral skills, database management and organization development skills. 

The administration of a community information centre involves a number of core functions which include:

  • Personnel management, recruitment, and training of staff and volunteers
  • Clerical and bookkeeping services
  • Long-term and operational planning
  • Financial monitoring and reporting
  • Fundraising
  • Support to boards and committees