Research Project Makes Long Journey

Once finished, research projects often do little more than collect dust. Not so for Melanie Lowery Bayne.

The sociology professor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, began to research a project in 1997 that has since turned into an Internet-based information and referral database used by human and community service groups throughout northwest Arkansas.

Known as the Arkansas Resource Information CyberCenter, or ARIC (www.state.ar.us/aric), the searchable database provides an extensive list of human and community service organizations. Normally, social service information is scattered, making it hard for those in need to find help.

There are more than 15,000 human and community service organizations listed on ARIC. It hosts agencies that provide services such as adult day care and aging services, transportation, financial assistance, AIDS/HIV support services, work training and health care.

"The reason I started all of this was because I wanted to deliver information into the hands of people who needed it — both service providers and people who needed the services," Bayne said.

After talking with individuals across northwestern Arkansas, the research group found that the system had holes. There was no central place where people could go to find the community services they needed. ARIC was developed to provide a private way to find those services.

ARIC enables social service agencies to input their information into an online database. Organizations are given a log-in and password to enter new information or update information about their agency.

"Service providers could take control of the information. They could log in, enter and change it as frequently as they needed to. And then anyone in the world could access it without having to go through some central clearinghouse or other agency," Bayne said.

An added benefit to ARIC was that people with problems were more comfortable browsing an Internet database than telling their troubles to strangers at an agency.

The database's search engine makes it easier to find programs, such as financial assistance programs. It takes a few seconds to search by keyword for organizations. Each listing provides a contact name, address, phone number, fax number, hours of operation, cost of service, eligibility requirements as and a brief description of services.

By 1999, ARIC was available statewide despite being a purely volunteer effort with no financial assistance. Because of the increased interest in the database, Bayne continued to volunteer as project coordinator, and ARIC continued to grow. Eventually, ARIC followed Bayne to the Department of Information Systems for Arkansas Computing and Information Agency.

The state is using Java-based technologies to develop a new ARIC database under the Arkansas Repository and Information Exchange Server (ARIES). Under the new technology, the ARIC database will be more secure with faster response time and better search capability.

The ARIES Infrastructure that will support ARIC is about a $3 million investment, according to John Moccabee, ARIES project director. The ARIES project is expected to come online this quarter. However, the ARIC portion is still awaiting sponsorship from one of the state agencies.

As part of ARIES, the ARIC database will be connected to other resource databases throughout the state's site. Moccabee said he expects the database to be fully developed and integrated into the state's infrastructure by July.

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