Robots Can’t Do Everything: Why Humans Maintain One Degree’s Data

Emma Craig
Jul 13, 2018 · 5 min read

It’s time consuming, frustrating and often impossible to find up-to-date info on community resources on the web.

Last month, one of our data-entry specialists, Alexis, waited on hold while she was transferred seven times before she reached someone that could verify a service still existed at a popular, nationwide nonprofit. Nonprofit and government websites are not always user-friendly or modern. Their sites are often missing critical information, such as cost and eligibility requirements to receive services. We have found that even when you can navigate a website to find the information you need, that information may be so out of date, it’s no longer relevant. Many social service websites are not optimized for search engines, so even if the information is there, it doesn’t readily appear in Google searches.

These challenges of accessing basic information about resources leaves families and individuals few good options. They must rely on word of mouth, make phone calls to organizations, spend hours googling, or even take the time to trek to an organization’s office. Once there, they may ultimately find the organization’s services are a mismatch for their needs.

A member of the One Degree team meets one of our neighbors in San Francisco (Lava Mae event, April 2018)

The social services sector is so difficult to navigate that applying for benefits and getting services during a moment of crisis or simply to make ends meet is equivalent to a part-time job.

While some other organizations that maintain resource databases rely on data scraping or ‘robots’ to automatically update their databases, we find these approaches have limitations because the resulting information is of poor quality. It’s not adequate for families and individuals looking for help. One Degree believes humans still play a crucial role, strengthening our community in the process.

How We Keep Data Correct and Up-to-Date on One Degree

One Degree provides a website and mobile apps where anyone can search, save, access, add, and update over 20,000 community resources in the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County. But we’ve found that it’s not enough to have a large database. If our information is out of date, it means someone in need won’t actually find the help they were searching for. This means we would not be fulfilling our mission, and that our members would likely not turn to us in the future. We are living our values and doing our job right only when we provide a robust, comprehensive, and easy-to-use platform containing the best, most updated information possible. That’s why we are committed to making sure every resource in our database is updated at least once a year, and all of our most popular resources are updated every 6 months.

To achieve this goal, we have a two-pronged approach. First, we ask people who visit and use our platform to add and update the services and programs they use and know. One Degree makes this easy with our “Suggest Edits” tool. People using One Degree added and updated over 1,300 resources last year, accounting for 6.7% of our database. To supplement these efforts, we have a small yet mighty data-entry team we call Resource Contributors — both paid contractors and volunteers. They spend thousands of hours thoughtfully researching each remaining organization, program and service listed on One Degree.

One Degree’s commitment to high-quality, frequently-updated data is not a nice-to-have, but absolutely essential to actually connecting low-income families and individuals with the resources they need to elevate themselves out of poverty.

By having a readily updated database of community resources that doesn’t require people to leave the One Degree platform, families and individuals can take the many hours they would spend looking for resources, and allocate that time towards taking care of their families and themselves, whether that’s childcare, going to school or work.

Our team takes on the hours of googling, navigating nonprofit websites, and waiting on hold so our members can focus on taking care of themselves and their families.

With training and consistent improvements, our team has been able to streamline this process to be thorough while still cost effective. At One Degree our average cost to add or update a resource is $4.20, whereas Benetech estimates that the average referral agency spends $140 to add or update a single resource to their database. In other words, having human beings do this work does not necessarily mean spending more money.

One of our Resource Contributors, Julie, shares her experience with this process:

“Every time I review or create a [resource], I am so happy that families out there have this resource because it was not around when I was growing up in a low-income family with little knowledge of the English language or connections to get by, let alone knowing where to look to apply for internships or scholarships to pay for school. This work truly impacts me.”

Furthermore, it’s important that the community can rely on us. So we show you when each resource on our platform was last updated. You can see this information by hovering over the “Verified Information” badge for any resource on One Degree.

This builds trust with our community. One of our partners says it best:

“I really admire and appreciate how well One Degree keeps resource information up-to-date on the site. The verified resources feature is impressive to staff and really shows how much One Degree is ahead of everyone else.”
— Jordyn Irwin, Health Assistant, The Primary School (East Palo Alto)

Next Steps

At One Degree, we are always experimenting with new ways to improve the way we work. Our database is not static, and neither is our data updating process. We’re looking forward to seeing more families, individuals and social service professionals add and edit resources on One Degree using our new, improved “Suggest Edits” feature. Want to give it a try? Join us in creating a comprehensive and thoughtful database of community resources here.

One Degree

Putting technology to work for low-income families.