Ways to Implement UWSF: 2-1-1

Steps for Training 2-1-1 Operators in UWSF

  1. Introduce and Propose. Establish contact with the 2-1-1 director and introduce UWSF prior to offering training (see “Introduction to SF and 2-1-1”). Explain Strengthening Families in general, and then offer it as a framework for processing calls and for operator self-care. One pilot site followed this up with a brief face-to-face proposal to directors (see “Proposal to 2-1-1 directors”). Communicate the general requirements and expectations for the training, including time, materials, and space commitments, along with approximate costs to the call center.

    Keys to Success

    • Sell this as free/low-cost professional development. Trainings should be targeted and focused on how Strengthening Families can enhance 2-1-1, not add responsibilities to their already heavy workload.
    • Strengthening Families and protective factors must be presented as a means to better address the needs of the caller, and even of the operator.

  2. Assess the 2-1-1 System. Prior to presenting Strengthening Families and protective factors to call centers review the current operation of your 2-1-1 system, assess available resources, and identify how the center might already be addressing the protective factors. Steps for Ensuring 2-1-1 Functionality and Compatibility.

    Keys to Success

    • Engage your key partners early on in this process.
    • Use a strengths-based approach. By using what the center is doing well as the foundation of your training you can suggest small, but significant, changes that are more palatable and easier to visualize.
    • The Brownsville site chose to develop a matrix in order to demonstrate overlap of the protective factors and current resources and programs in the area.

  3. Establish a Training Model. The United Way of Washington Association (UWWA) spent considerable resources developing and piloting a 2-1-1 call center operator training module around UWSF, including hiring a former 2-1-1 director to help develop the training. We recommend you tailor the UWWA training model to your needs—it spells out the details of the training including preparation, materials, and activities. If you do not plan to use the UWWA training model we still recommend that you read their materials and adapt one of the proposed SF trainings available in the Trainings section of the toolkit to ensure maximum fidelity to the UWSF initiative. UWWA Training Model.

    Keys to Success

    • Your training should use plain language and follow an easily accessible format.
    • Build in self-care techniques to help minimize the effects of this highly stressful line of work. A calm and deliberate operator is more effective in relaying information in a helpful manner than one that is stressed.

  4. Prepare for Training. After you schedule a training session, get a firm headcount, secure adequate space, and reconfirm that the call center can provide what is expected of them. Get to know the operators you will be training. Ideally this knowledge comes both from directors and operators. If possible, visit the call center prior to your training. Operators come from diverse backgrounds and have different personality types, resulting in different approaches to calls. Knowing your audience allows you to personalize your training and increase your credibility as a collaborator and partner, not as just an outside expert. Prepare your training materials including handouts, pens, pads, nametags, and other supplies. Follow up one week prior to the training and again on the day before.

    Keys to Success

    • Try to obtain a sufficient amount of time for training in order to give everyone a chance to talk and for activities to run at a reasonable pace.
    • Hold your training at the call center. On-site training requires less staff time and maximizes attendance.
    • The supervisor effect. Set up in advance when supervisors will be present at the training and when they will not. Their presence can make staff feel recognized and listened to, as well as reassured that discussion is encouraged. On the other hand, for some centers or staff, having a supervisor present can be an inhibitor to the frank exchange of information.
    • Offer your training at a time of year that traditionally has a lower call volume.

  5. Conduct the Training. Arrive early and set up the training space. Begin the session by conducting introductions and ice breakers as well as a brief overview of the training. Follow your training protocol—pause for questions and review information frequently. Recognize that given the nature of 2-1-1 work, the training can become an intense experience for some participants. Allow time at the end for decompressing and reviewing the training in a positive light—if someone becomes particularly distraught ensure that a co-worker or supervisor can help. Thank everyone for participating. If guidance and support is available for participants down the road, say so.

    Keys to Success

    • High pressure work. Because 2-1-1 operators are generally under a lot of pressure; keep your trainings highly interactive, lively, and fun.
    • Group dynamics. Larger groups require more training time. A group of operators who are all from the same center will necessarily behave differently than if you have staff from multiple centers. People coming off a shift will probably be more tense and tired. A good facilitator should be able to respond to the group dynamics and adjust accordingly. When working out scenarios in trainings, make sure all positive approaches are valued and recognized.
    • Fast-paced work. Facilitators might need to acknowledge that 2-1-1 work is fast paced, but encourage participants to take the time to reflect on scenarios, even if having extra time for reflection doesn’t represent their real-time work environment.
    • Hands-on activity. Sometimes when people are involved in difficult conversations it’s helpful for them to be doing something physical. To this end, the Washington training integrated a hands-on, lighthearted activity using beads.
    • Respect. Establish a respectful training environment, people should feel free to speak and share without fear of reprimand or ridicule.


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