The Path—Next Generation


The Scope of Work: Create an online resource (an app) for CLIENTS in difficult circumstances—people in trouble and needing to survive on limited resources. People like:

The app will also be a resource for any AIDES to these clients...

First Generation: The Path in its current rendition consists of a pair of web pages (The Directory and The Library) located on my personal website.

The Library is working fine for now as a web page. Eventually I'd like to make it more appealing and accessible.

The Directory is a problem. It has become more and more cumbersome as I've added entries to it;  it's difficult to narrow a search to just the most appropriate services. The challenge with a dense, one-dimension list is pulling out the right information and only the most appropriate information. Clearly I need a more intelligent and searchable alternative. I've stopped adding to the online list in order to focus on this next generation, even though I've identified hundreds more providers to be included in the database.

The technical concept: The Path will be a multi-platform application that queries a set of cloud-based databases in response to an array of criteria. The app will employ a well-designed and esthetically pleasing interface that will make it easy to find the kind of help that anyone in the above categories might need in a hurry. The solution will work on any platform, any device, have a great deal of intelligence behind it, and be comprehensive in scope.

A few challenges:
  1. Design a resource that's cost-free, easy to use, rapid, comprehensive and accurate.
  2. Make it available on desktops, laptops, pads, smart phones, etc.
  3. Populate the database with information on providers in the greater Portland area to begin with, then cover every county in Oregon, then cover neighboring states, then national.... (This will involve organization and paid staff as it grows.  Regardless, the app must be widely available at no cost.)
  4. Ensure that the database is secure and at the same time editable with input from service providers.
  5. Use GPS and other available technologies to determine the most appropriate local resources to display.
  6. Find a way for this to go universally viral.

The basic idea: This is how the app might be used by a typical client or aide, starting with a very rough sketch of what the user might see when she brings up the app (navigation buttons and slides are in gray):

The progression of input screens would be similar on any type of device:


Here's the overall schema of the project:

An example.  A client lives near Ventura Park in northeast Portland and needs nutritional support for her child through the federally sponsored Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. She doesn't know how to go about signing up for the program and wants to visit a WIC office.

If she selects "WIC benefits" from the Search list, immediately the database is searched for all providers supporting the WIC program in the vicinity of her GPS-designated local ZIP Code.

This is a preliminary schema of the provider table structure...

Field Class Datatype
ProviderID provider NEWID (primary key)
ShortName .shortName CHAR(50)
FullName .fullName CHAR(100)
Street .street CHAR(100)
City .city CHAR(100)
State .state CHAR(2)
ZIP .zip CHAR(10)
Longitude .lon CHAR(15)
Latitude .lat CHAR(15)
Phone1 .phone1 CHAR(30)
Phone2 .phone2 CHAR(30)
EmergencyPhone .phone3 CHAR(30)
URL .url CHAR(150)
email .email CHAR(100)
Hours .hours CHAR(100)
HiddenLoc .hidden BIT
Description .descr TEXT
Services .services CHAR(200)
(The Services field will contain a comma-separated list of codes for service categories.)

In this example, the query might be instructed to search for all records with the code 'WIC' in the Services field. Ideally, responses would be ordered by proximity to the client's location. One of several responses might show up on the return screen as...
Provider: Northeast Portland WIC Office
Address: 5329 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97211 [1.6 mi.] (go there now)
Phone: 503-988-3503 (call now)
Hours: Today 9 AM to 5 PM. OPEN NOW
Note: see the OHA and USDA websites for instructions and more locations.

The 'call now' feature might only be operable on mobile devices, but 'go there now' might work on all devices given the user's current location address. The app might be able to tap into mapping databases (Google Maps maybe?) to determine best routes for walking, driving, using public transport, etc.

Next Steps: This is where I'm currently focused:
  1. Become proficient enough at Python to create an all-platform (iOS, Android, Windows) mobile app by Spring of 2021.
  2. Learn how to write to and query a cloud-based database, maintain security and allow appropriate access.
  3. Become proficient enough at Python/JavaScript to create a database maintenance process that will accept updates from SurveyMonkey responses.
  4. Identify providers and solicit information to populate the database.
  5. Use JavaScript to create a full-feature desktop app by Fall of 2021.
  6. Design common interfaces for other devices and services: pads, watches, streaming.
  7. (?).

When a working prototype is available I'll be asking for testers to verify the app on a variety of devices and on various operating systems.  At the same time I'll need help filling the database and assuring quality and currency of data.

When the app is ready and the database is large enough, the app must go viral. I'm determined to make that happen.

Updated 3/1/21. This webpage will document progress and next phases of this project.