Persistence pays off with outreach app development

REACH Edmonton brought together outreach workers from inner city agencies, Homeward Trust and privacy experts to develop the app.

The 24/7 Edmonton app aims to identify hot-spots for high-needs clients in vulnerable neighbourhoods and helps agencies use their resources efficiently, began development in 2013.

The app came out of a rapid-prototyping process with the University of Alberta MARS Lab to find out it this kind of mobile technology was technically feasible. REACH and its partners then teamed up with local startup developer Atmist to build an app that would follow the workflow of outreach workers in the field while remaining compatible with case management software currently in use.

This process faced a number of challenges, but by far the largest hurdle to clear was the issue of privacy protection.

“When you’re prototyping, the most difficult issues need to be addressed up-front,” said Lindsay Daniller, Director of Community Initiatives and Development at REACH Edmonton. “We heard concerns about protecting the privacy of the clients from the beginning, so we worked with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to find out what it would take to ensure that these concerns were adequately addressed.”

By working with the Privacy Commissioner, the app was developed to share information between workers at within their agencies while ensuring that data is encrypted and all personal client data is not permanently stored on the outreach worker’s device.

“This process has demonstrated REACH Edmonton’s role when it comes to these kinds of collaborative projects,” said Daniller. “Our partner agencies are busy running their programs, serving vulnerable Edmontonians, and don’t necessarily have the time and resources to find solutions to these kinds of complex challenges.”

Positive feedback has already been received from the organizations testing the app in the field.

“This app allows us to keep more accurate and comprehensive data on our interactions with clients, especially regarding time and location, which our previous system didn’t do,” said Aidan Inglis, Team Lead of Street Outreach at Boyle Street Community Services. “It saves us time, avoids overlaps and helps us spend less time in the office. It also helps us identify trends and issues among our clients, which we can then come up with a plan to overcome. Overall, the app has been great.”

The app is currently being tested by outreach workers with Bissell Centre, Boyle Street Community Services and the WrapED collaborative team (Africa Centre, Edmonton John Howard Society, Edmonton Police Service, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, REACH Edmonton, YOUCAN Youth Services).