CReating a SUCCessful service directory

Service directories can hold the key to the effective provision of services to new arrivals in an area.

overview of a directory

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  • Easy to set up
  • Typically low cost
  • Good overview of services in an area
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  • Can be difficult to update information
  • Some organisations may not want to be listed
  • Requires internet access and a device

Suitable for

  • Areas where a directory may not exist
  • Areas with someone who can dedicate time to maintaining the directory

What is a service directory?

Public directories can help asylum seekers, refugees and vulnerable migrants, and the organisations helping them to find services that meet their needs. They can also help with signposting and strengthen referrals to organisations and map the sector to understand duplication and gaps in provision.

Establish if a directory is needed

In a lot of areas, a directory of services already exists. To understand what is already out there, Refugee Action has compiled a list of all the main service directories in the UK.
If you are aware of one that isn't listed here - please send it to us!

Consult with clients at each step

The most important step when creating a directory is to consult with your clients about what they need. You can read about how to consult with your clients in this section.

If you determine a need exists, some important factors to consider when making a decision to create a directory are:

  • How populated the area you operate in is. The lower the population (particularly of clients), the more word-of-mouth is reduced, which is a key referral pathway. A service directory can help those in sparsely populated find services they wouldn’t otherwise know about.
  • The number of dispersals to your area. Are your existing referral pathways working, or are new arrivals or people along the asylum journey falling through the gaps?
  • Your relationship with accommodation providers. Are they able to share data (with consent) with you about new arrivals to an area? Do you have an influence about the information included in asylum accommodation welcome packs? The more restrictive that accommodation providers are, the more a service directory may help you communicate information to new arrivals.
  • Marketing the directory. The directory won’t succeed if people don’t know about it, Help in Leeds offered incentives such as a free bus/train pass to individuals who helped promote it and advertise with business cards & leaflets at drop-in's, community venues and the bus station, which provides a significant increase in visitors to the directory.
  • Likely participation in the directory. Engagement from your local/regional partners is crucial to the success of the directory. You should be prepared to persuade your partners in the area about the benefits of having one and suggest working collaboratively to design it. Are there any service providers who might not want to share their information? Consider the impact this might have on the directory.

Pick the right platform

Choosing the right tools to create an easy to use directory is important for both the end-user and those who maintain and update it. A variety of different tools you can use to create the directory exist.

Google Maps
This is the simplest and quickest way to create a service directory. This platform creates a directory using Google Maps, which is available to view on nearly all smartphones, tablets and computers. You can read a step by step guide for using Maps to create a directory here.

Glide Apps
This creates a web-based app for your clients’ smartphones. A small amount of technical experience is required, but you don’t need to be a web developer to make a directory with Glide. An example is a directory developed for the Liverpool area. 

WordPress themes
Using a WordPress theme. It will need the help of a Web Developer, but provides more customisation than Google Maps or Glide. If you already have a WordPress site, you can speak to your web developer about using a ‘Plugin’ to create the directory.

Solidaritech used a WordPress theme to help create the Help in Leeds site.

Consult with your users often

Basing the creation and design of a directory on the needs of those who you want to use it is the biggest thing you can do to make it successful. 

To identify (or test the assumptions you have) about the needs of people seeking asylum, refugees and vulnerable migrants, you should consult with them regularly. If you have the opportunity to, work with local community organisations to run informal research sessions with their clients. 

During the research sessions you can ask people about: 

  • Websites they like and don't like
  • What features they already use on similar sites
  • What information is most important to them in a directory

To understand whether you’re meeting people's needs, you should aim to consult with them before deciding whether to create a service directory, during the creation and after creating it. 

To avoid wasted effort and money spent developing certain features, be wary of asking people purely what they want, ask about problems they face finding out about services and how they use technology.

Make it accessible & inclusive

Accessibility is making your directory as usable by as many people as possible. Inclusion is about diversity and ensuring the involvement of everyone to the greatest extent possible.

Whilst your directory is unlikely to be classed as a ‘public service’ website, the benchmark you should aim for is to comply with the legal obligation to have an accessible public service website. 

English may not be the first language to many of your users. Look into translation services for the directory. The most commonly used one is Google Translate, which you can embed in the directory (the translation is good, but not perfect).

The directory should work well on phones with a slow internet connection (3G or less), and will need to be usable on old smartphones. It will also need to work across a range of browsers, the most common being Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge.

Your users may have better data speeds than 3G or faster smartphones - but making the directory quick to load uses less data and improves the experience for everyone. 

Some of your users may have disabilities that alter how they interact with a website. It’s important to recognise that not all disabilities are permanent. Disabilities can exist on a spectrum.

Assistive technology
Your users may use assistive technology to enhance their experience. Common examples of assistive technologies are: 

  • On-screen magnification (zoomed-in text)
  • Text-to-speech (voiceover)
  • Colour adjustments (for example, colour inversion)
  • Speech-to-text

Respect privacy and security

When creating a directory of services, make sure you contact each service provider in the area and ask for their consent to display their information. Be clear about the information you’re looking to capture and present, and be ready to offer alternatives if the provider does not want their information shared.

In the event that a service provider may not want their information shared, you can set up a ‘proxy’ address and telephone number, and have contact enquires come through these proxies, so they can be assessed as safe requests or not.