If you were asked to name a hotbed for technology startups and app developers, Hannibal, Missouri might not come to mind as readily as, say, Silicon Valley.
And yet, the Mississippi River town of just under 18,000 has served as the launch pad for Johego- a smartphone app that brings contact information for thousands of health and social service agencies to its users’ fingertips. Its development was catalyzed by Health Literacy Media’s community project, which brought together leaders from Hannibal and Northeast Missouri’s healthcare, government, education, and social service sectors to discuss barriers to health in the community- and ways to overcome them.
Built on the reality that social workers, police officers, nurses, and other professionals often make social service referrals on the spot and in the field, Johego ensures that information for service agencies is up-to-date in a user-friendly mobile app.
Lately, the app has attracted financial support from heavy hitters in the tech world, but Johego’s beginning as a community-led and supported project still plays prominently in its story.
Rewind back to late 2016, when HLM organized a series of meetings and interviews to kick off the community project.
As home to a regional hospital, strong education infrastructure, and numerous established agencies, many of whom were meeting regularly, Hannibal’s strengths as a community with strong partnerships emerged quickly.
At the same time, a lack of information about these assets also emerged as a barrier to their best utilization. Professionals who make referrals told us they were relying on homegrown resource directories which became outdated quickly.
Connecting the dots
Listening to our partners in Hannibal, thinking about health literacy’s role in ensuring the community’s awareness of–and access to–health resources, a question began to take shape:
What if making a social service referral were as easy as finding movie showtimes?
Enter Michael Kehoe, a social entrepreneur with a passion for improving coordination of efforts for the public good.
We needed to dig deeper, and Kehoe began to join our Hannibal community project meetings to discuss questions like:
Could a technology platform make referral information available quickly and easily?
What service sectors should be prioritized in the pilot version of an app?
How will we make sure the app is health-literate, and reflects the needs of its users?
To inform this last question, we discussed with our partners the ways they characterize and categorize social services, and how to reflect their thinking to make finding a referral seamless.
“These discussions and feedback allowed Johego to prioritize data collection efforts, and provided invaluable insights for the way our software ultimately would be designed,” said Kehoe.
In late 2017, Johego was released, and listed health and social service agency information for Hannibal and 6 counties in the surrounding region.
Johego was promoted in a series of trainings that HLM organized, through the media, and at community events such as Project Community Connect, a biannual gathering of community members and area providers.
The app has been downloaded more than 500 times, and professionals are using it every day to find information they need.
Holly Griffen, Director of School-Based Services at Preferred Family Healthcare, a Hannibal-area Community Mental Health Center, says her team uses Johego to find resources for clients. Griffen’s Transitional Age Youth program serves people who often lack the resources to navigate programs self-sufficiently.
Parent educators are also using Johego during their home visits through Parents as Teachers (PAT), says Whitney Holliday, who directs PAT services through the Hannibal Public School District.
In our continued community project meetings, the theme of transportation emerged; if a person can’t get to an appointment, are we truly serving them by providing a referral?
“One of the obstacles to treatment, especially for those in rural areas, is transportation,” says Griffen.
Our Hannibal partners responded, bringing representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation, public and private-sector transportation organizations, and city government to the table. While the discussion underscored the challenges of providing public transportation in rural areas, Johego is working towards integrating ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.
Johego is launching version 2.0 of its software, which expands the app’s service area into Central and Southwest Missouri. It also includes a desktop version- another community request.
The app has attracted attention in the tech and social enterprise worlds. This summer, Kehoe spent a few weeks in the heart of Silicon Valley at StartX, a highly-competitive technology incubator program. There, he garnered financial support from Google and Amazon.
Yet, Hannibal remains a priority for Johego, and the app’s network of users and supporters there were among the first to be introduced to the latest version at a training in early October of this year.
Johego’s success is testament to people power- using a process that ensures the community takes the lead, and trusting that they know what they need.
“We could not have asked for better partners than those in Northeast Missouri,” Kehoe says. “Johego would not be where it is today without their support.”