What is Information and Referral?

Information and Referral (I&R) is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together. I&R is an integral part of the overall health and human services sector.

  • I&R organizations create and maintain databases of programs and services, and then disseminate that information through a variety of channels to individuals and communities. People in search of critical services such as financial assistance, food, shelter, child care, jobs, or mental health support often do not know where to begin.
  • Without I&R, looking for help means scanning dozens of phone numbers and contacting a maze of agencies and services in the hope of making the right connection. With I&R, looking for help means a single phone call.
  • I&R resource databases contain detailed descriptions of the programs and services provided by community, social, health and government organizations. The information is searchable using a variety of criteria and the programs are indexed according to a hierarchical classification system. The databases are maintained by trained Resource Specialists and may be published in directories and/or made available over the Internet.
  • Most people receive I&R assistance via the telephone. Their needs may span the spectrum of human experience from prenatal planning to financial assistance for a funeral and all life moments, both major and minor, in between. People talk with trained, empathetic I&R Specialists who assess their needs in a non-threatening, non-judgmental and confidential manner, to help them understand their situations and make informed decisions about possible solutions. The I&R Specialist can, when necessary, assist people who are in crisis and emergency situations. I&R Specialists can also advocate on behalf of individuals who need additional support.
  • I&R agencies may be independent nonprofits, libraries, faith-based organizations, or government agencies at every level. I&R may be the main service of an agency or a separate program within a multi-service organization. Some I&R agencies are comprehensive in nature, providing information about all human services within a geographic area; while other I&R agencies are specialized, providing in-depth information about resources for specific population groups such as older adults, children, victims of violence or people with mental health issues.
  • Some comprehensive I&R agencies may also operate specialized I&R services and/or crisis intervention programs. Over the past few years, I&R is acquiring an increasingly visible role through its involvement with the three-digit 2-1-1 dialing code that has transformed access to human services. This easy-to-remember, universal number connects individuals with community resources. 2-1-1 provides an easy way for everyone to access services.

When individuals and families don't know where to turn, I&R is there for them.