James Thalman

James Thalman

Best Practices

By James Thalman

Behind every great call center lurks a good amount of data that can provide an unseen yet revealing profile of who you are. Data about your center flows constantly and in sizeable streams that, for the most part, go untapped.

In other words, every center’s got data. It’s a matter of just reaching down and scooping it up, and it’s not nearly as hard as you might think.

Some are already putting calltaker case review scores by the dozens into quality assurance/quality improvement plans. Others are tracking shift and other center operations data to get the most out of funding and other resources spent on emergency services in their catchment areas to ensure they are providing the best in public safety programs, at least as far as dispatching services.

Do supervisors tend to share a mistaken belief that conducting research is too daunting, immediately envisioning scads of measurable data that only adds to their already full schedules?

Turns out using data to find out how your center looks is easier than it looks.

Do you need a Ph.D. in order to do dispatch research right? “No, absolutely not,” says Isabel Gardett, an IAED instructional designer who just earned a Ph.D.

There are some guidelines for getting into peer-reviewed scientific research journals such as the new IAED Annals of Emergency Dispatch & Response (AEDR), Gardett explained, “But that’s what we’re here for; we’ll even help people come up with research questions, develop hypotheses and study designs, and write Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposals. Anybody can do research.”

When we investigate a problem and find solutions for our daily routines, we are doing research. Researching is actually a basic human activity. And finding out about how a center ticks is so easy that even an aging Journal editor, i.e., me, could take it on. Truth be told I had already gathered some data I was interested in through a short, completely random though thoroughly statistically insignificant survey of 43 dispatchers and center supervisors who attended the most recent U.S. NAVIGATOR conference this past April. I decided to plunge myself into the subject by jumping into various conversations with attendees, most in after-dinner chats in the hotel, at the Gala Reception, and during the Big Adventure, as well as buttonholing folks after the Closing Lunch.

The question was multiple choice.

Choose from the terms below. Police, fire, medical, and nurse-triage emergency dispatching is …

  1. a science

  2. an art

  3. a craft

  4. an academic discipline

  5. a profession

  6. an occupation

  7. a preoccupation

  8. a vocation

  9. an avocation

  10. a way to never take vacation

  11. none of the above

  12. a few of the above

  13. most of the above

  14. so varied it defies description

  15. all of the above

  16. all of the above and then some

I would have bet my clipboard that the inherent bias in the above roster of answers would drive even the most quiz-phobic responder to select P. However, choice J—a way to never take vacation—was decidedly (73%) No. 1.

There was a major flaw, however, even I could recognize. I talked to dispatchers at times of day in places and occasions when they’re relaxed and sensing a chance to have a joke. It’s a consideration to take into account next time I take a foray into whelms of research.

Among those other results was the rather startling discovery that a grand total of five people said emergency dispatch is a science, and none labeled it an art. When the group was asked to broaden their choices to two or more selections, more than half (53%) selected “most of the above.”

My mini-sojourn into the data stream, flawed though it was, emphasized how not to do a survey, Chris Olola, Ph.D. and AEDR Editor-in-Chief told me, trying his best to find encouraging words. (He got the joke about dispatch being a way to never take vacation, by the way. “Very interesting, and perhaps even more telling than we think,” he said.)

He hastened to point out that the goal is to find reasons to make every center a laboratory. They are already; the data stream is just flowing by every day—we just have to reach down and scoop some up.

Greg Scott, a veteran dispatch center supervisor and operations research analyst for the IAED, said the topics are endless, “and they can be as simple or as complex and as focused as a center wants them to be.”

Some of the topics can be arcane and have a sense of closed vocabulary for some folks, such as certain Journal writers he didn’t name. “But that’s why we’re here,” Scott said. “That’s what we do, and it’s not putting too fine a point on things to say research is the hinge to the protocols. The better we do it, the more we do it, and the more people who are involved, the more professional the profession becomes and the better we serve public health and public safety—the daily goal of everyone in dispatch.”

And here’s another reason to get involved.

“The one big excuse for not conducting research—no one-stop peer-reviewed journal to publish research work in—has now been eliminated; the AEDR journal has been born,” Dr. Olola said. “Just like the protocols made dispatching the vital link in the course of an emergency, research has been the link to the protocols.”