MAVEN—which stands for Mapping to Amplify the Vitality of Engaged Neighborhoods (and, happily, also means “expert” in Yiddish)—had launched at UCSF as an early effort to work with community-based organizations (CBOs) to help connect people in underserved communities with resources. The new effort sought not only to update MAVEN, but also to integrate it with Service Match, a project from the nonprofit arm of San Francisco software giant Salesforce. The goal was to provide people with accurate, targeted and frequently updated resources that could help them with the thorniest problems in their lives, particularly but not solely related to their health.


Courtney Lyles, PhD, an Associate Professor in the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, and the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She also serves as co-Director of the Innovation in Research and Informatics core for the UCSF CTSI, and co-directs the UCSF Population Health Data Initiative.

Kim Nguyen, MPH, ScD, an epidemiologist and health services research scientist, was the lead research scientist on the strategy and execution of research studies on technology innovations and informatics solutions for health equity at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations; Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital; and the UCSF Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Streetwyze, a Bay Area nonprofit that produces technology connecting people with resources in their communities.

Numerous community-based organizations also participated in the project.


In a study published in 2021, Lyles, Nguyen and others examined how the social determinants of health contribute to disparities in chronic disease in vulnerable populations. These determinants include the availability of clean water and healthy food, access to quality education and health care, economic stability and the strength of the community.

While they found that those determinants do play a significant role in people’s health, particularly in chronic disease, they also found hopeful signs that people could access a “large array of neighborhood resources such as food pantries, parks/green spaces, and financial assistance services.”

“Health service providers leveraged these resources to address patients' social needs but suggested a clear need for expanding this work,” the researchers wrote.

Enter MAVEN.

MAVEN sprang from the idea that people may have fantastic resources in their neighborhoods that they often are not aware of. Searching for something a person needs is often challenging. So UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations (CVP) enlisted SOM Tech’s help to build a tool in which someone could search for something based on their location, age, gender, language or other identifier, and receive recommendations from other people like them.

The team worked closely with community-based organizations, or CBOs, because they’d be the people who would use MAVEN. If a person in their neighborhood came to the organization seeking help, leaders at the CBO would ideally be able to use the tool to find just the right resource for that person.

In addition, the team wanted to enable leaders at CBOs to build their own collections of resources and share them with a wide range of participants.

“We wanted to lift and honor neighborhoods, and share what’s positive in the neighborhoods, not just point to problems,” said SOM Tech designer Cynthia Milionis. “And we wanted to strengthen people’s ties to health resources.”


While the early iteration of MAVEN represented a step in the right direction, the team found that a new resource—Service Match, developed by—offered “a catalog of people who are providing services and an algorithm that will match individuals needs to what services are available,” according to SOM Tech project manager Tom Manley.

Service Match was built so that others could connect their own software to it—in tech lingo, an “open API”—but no one had, until SOM Tech and MAVEN came along. SOM Tech found a few bugs in the system, and the typical challenges that come with integrating two different types of software, but the Service Match team was willing to work with them and ultimately the hurdles were surmounted.

As the team started to work, another hurdle arose: COVID. Because of the pandemic, the team was not able to conduct one-on-one in person interviews with community residents, as they had planned.

“So we pivoted,” said Ana Buenaventura, a SOM Tech UX/UI designer, meaning user experience and user interface. “We made this a tool for the community-based organizations. They know so much about their community members already. If we can find a tool that will display the information that’s been in their brains for years, they can disseminate that information to the community members in their neighborhood.”


One of the key pieces of the finished product is that it can be updated. Organizations and resources are constantly shifting, and no one wants to refer someone to a service provider that has moved or gone out of business.

Many of the people who the CBOs serve don’t have access to computers, Manley said. So SOM Tech built MAVEN so that a CBO, when it finds the resource, can press a button and send it to the person via text message.

Team members gave examples of how MAVEN works. “Say we’re working with someone who is a trans male, is homeless and hungry. Where can they get food, a place to shower, a place to stay?” said Manley. “Resources are out there but they can be hard to find.”

Or, Buenaventura said, a CBO may have “a 65-year-old male who only speaks Mandarin. What are the recommended resources for him based on where he lives?”

Lyles has received a grant from the National Library of Medicine to conduct a four-year study of MAVEN that concluded this year, and plans to publish the results.

“The MAVEN tool provides access to a database of hundreds of San Francisco health and social resources (including organization names, contact information, and details about what types of services are available), which will be available to [CBOs] for the entire duration of this study. We also are making plans to make it available after the study ends as well,” Lyles wrote in a presentation for CBOs.

Use of MAVEN is free for CBOs. If they participate in the study, they will be compensated for their time, as they’ll need to keep records of how the tool helped them, and participate in interviews with researchers explaining how the tool worked.

The study also gave the team helpful feedback. They were able to tweak the product as they heard what the organizations found useful and what didn’t work.

In a paper published in April 2022, Nguyen, Lyles and others told how the people MAVEN aims to help have many challenges in their lives, including chronic disease, physical disabilities, a lack of supportive family or social relationships, high stress, life in neighborhoods beset by drugs or violence, and economic challenges. Yet, they said, many of the people demonstrated resiliency, and the tool showed promise that it could help with some aspects of their lives.

Most critically, health systems and others need to look holistically at the situations afflicting many people in order to address their problems, rather than taking the problems one at a time. And yet the paper ended on a hopeful note: “The digital health and informatics landscape is poised to combine multiple methodological approaches to address [the social determinants of health] in meaningful ways to prevent and mitigate health and healthcare disparities within our field.”

Written by Dan Fost for SOM Tech (2022)