The social safety net is inefficient and ineffective, in part, due to solvable data problems.

The United States spends more than $100 billion every year just in the time it takes to connect people in need with social and medical services.

  • Because there is no sufficiently comprehensive and reliable directory of social and medical services, more than 20 million social workers, police officers, and other public service professionals must rely primarily on word of mouth recommendations (88%), online search engines (75%), and paper directories (58%) for information.
  • Using these methods, it takes 43 minutes on average to connect just one person with just one service, leading to inefficient and, in some cases, ineffective care.
  • Furthermore, based on one estimate, “66% of individuals need more than one type of resource and 28% need 5 or more.”

This creates a significant strain on public and private resources that could be more effectively allocated elsewhere.

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It’s actually worse than that.

  • Such inefficacy is harmful to those in need and those who serve them: a feeling of professional inefficacy is one of three primary dimensions of burnout, a widespread occurrence among nurses and social workers.
  • Moreover, one study found that “data updates and outreach for information is being performed multiple times by multiple partners” yet “20-30% of an individual partner’s database is not contained in any other database.”


  • A wide variety of organizations collect and share information about social and medical services, and a challenge they all experience is keeping their information up to date.

    • Maintaining large or detailed directories is logistically challenging and expensive: fundamentally, the only way to reliably verify information about a service provider is by asking them directly, typically via a phone call.
    • Benetech, a MacArthur Genius-led nonprofit technology company, estimates that it costs as much as $140 to collect and verify information about just one social or medical service provider, such as an overnight shelter or mental health treatment facility.
    • Freely shared information experiences free-rider pressures, and paywalled information competes with “free” resources previously mentioned: word-of-mouth recommendations, online search engines, and paper directories.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

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