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Our blog isn’t about us. It’s about you. We discuss business challenges and real issues human service agencies and caseworkers face everyday. You’ll find traditional human services software articles about things like document management for human services and social work technology. But you’ll also find inspirational stories to boost caseworkers’ spirits and tools to help agencies find and gain support for technology in human services.

Posted Thursday, September 28, 2017 by Rich Bowlen

What Causes Dark Data in Adult Services and Why Do You Need It?

As the population ages, more older adults are accessing services at an alarming rate. Increased demand for services leads to collecting more content in the form of notes, forms, and documents. Every piece of content has the potential to contain critical information about a case, but it gets buried deeper and deeper in the file as new information gets added.

No Adult Protective Services, Mental Health, or Long-Term Care social worker realistically has time to digest and apply the amount of both current and past information available to them, and “dark data”—critical, but hidden information—gets created as a result.

What is Dark Data in Adult Services?

The term “dark data” might sound new, but the concept is most likely familiar.Dark Data in Adult Services

Dark data is typically in the form of documents—paper files, electronic images, or photos—but also includes case notes and other unstructured text. In the simplest terms, dark data is information collected by multiple workers from numerous sources over a long period of time that becomes hidden and cannot be applied to each decision-making point.

Think about working with a mentally ill adult. What if a medical report included a one-sentence reference to a behavioral health hospital, which the agency didn’t know? If the worker has that information, readily available, she can request medical records from the behavioral health hospital to get a better picture of previous medical care to help determine future care—what’s worked, and what hasn’t.

How Can Dark Data Help Your Organization?

By effectively using all the information available, anyone in Adult Services could make critical decisions without delay. Even as caseloads continue to grow, agencies can simultaneously improve quantity and quality by having the right tools to find the right information at the right time.

Here are our recommendations to get started:

Identify your dark data. Make a list of all the people and organizations that send you information. Think outside the box. Don’t forget emails, hospital discharge papers, social workers’ notes, or social media posts.

Eliminate paper. Agencies have to have an electronic document management system to capture and store the documents and data they collect every day.

Be able to scan in real time. Agencies need to have a system in place that enables real-time document collection and data gathering from internal and external sources, such as law enforcement or hospitals.

Find the right tools to surface dark data. The right tools to surface hidden information can help agencies turn dark data into structured information that can be used to make more confident decisions.

If you want to learn more about the impact and opportunities of dark data, download our eBook, “Shining Light on Dark Data in Adult Services,” for answers to more common questions around dark data.

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Rich Bowlen-3.jpg Rich Bowlen is Director, Protective Services at Northwoods, where he is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers. Rich has 25 years serving in child protective services and is known for his passion for improving the lives of children.

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