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Crow Wing County goes mobile

A new mobile app available from Crow Wing County puts access to trail and land maps, online permits, highway maintenance requests and several other features in one place.

The free app, available for download in the iTunes and Google Play stores, provides direct links to 25 separate areas of the county's website and social media sites. Jay Sikkink, county IT director, said the app features both the most visited and other mobile-ready portions of the website. The app is a natural extension of a newly revamped county website that went live the beginning of 2015, Sikkink said, built for a better mobile presence.

The app includes icons to access information from numerous areas, including county board meetings, the county jail in-custody list, active warrants, criminal case data, property documents, a government calendar, election results and general county news. A county staff directory is also available, along with information on employment opportunities and resources for employees. A sign-up for notifications for anything from emergency alerts to construction projects to Master Gardener news is another feature.

Beyond access to information, the app offers users the ability to conduct business with and provide feedback to the county. Links to pay taxes, apply for numerous permits, find forms or applications for community services and even to bid on highway projects are among the offerings, along with a place to submit general questions or concerns.

An array of maps are available through the app, including those of recreation trails, public water accesses, recycling drop-off locations and county highways. Information on lakes is among the offerings, including water quality maps and those showing aquatic invasive species infestations. Cindy Benedett, project leader for developing the app, said maps are one area the team will likely expand upon in future versions.

One feature Benedett is excited to offer is a way for residents to request highway maintenance. The app allows users to submit a description of the requested maintenance, a photo and an exact location on a map.

"It's to help us get that communication with the public," Benedett said. "So maybe if they see something on the road ... maybe something they normally wouldn't call about by the time they got to their destination, they can just pick up their phone and do it quick."

The goals for the app, developed in conjunction with website vendor Civic Plus and local advertising agency Red House Media, are to provide easier access to the most common ways residents interact with county government and to streamline communication, Benedett said.

"We're really striving for a more user-friendly (app)," Benedett said. "We didn't want to put an app out there that only had a couple options on it."

Benedett was unsure of a number, but said just a few other counties are utilizing a mobile app and most of those are more limited in scale.

The more information is accessible through the app, the less time residents will have to spend making phone calls or stopping by the courthouse, county officials hope. It's a more user-friendly approach, Sikkink said, that has the potential to benefit the county as well by freeing up staff time once used for assisting people in these areas. For those who prefer calling or doing business in person, the option remains.

Social services app increases family interaction

The new app for residents and visitors is not the only way the county is using mobile technology. An app introduced last September for Crow Wing County Community Services social workers is improving communication with the families they serve, according to a new study released by Northwoods, the app developer.

The app, called Compass CoPilot, is a document management program for iPads allowing social workers to update documents while in the field, a process once marked by time spent on paperwork. The app also offers social workers the opportunity to record audio of interviews, take date- and time-stamped photos, access documents while in court and email documents to community partners, according to a news release.

County social workers are saving four to six hours a week on paperwork as a result, the study reported, allowing more time to spend with the individuals and families they are working with. Because paperwork is submitted electronically from the field, supervisors have access to case documents as they come rather than in one batch at the end, the study reported, saving 15-30 minutes per case.

"You have more time at the onset of a case to build a rapport with the families so that in subsequent visits they are more receptive to talking with you," said Jason Ost, a children's mental health social worker, in the study report.

Social workers using the app reported feeling less stressed and more able to complete work central to their mission. Reduced staffing and workload increases have contributed to increasing stress in recent years, the study reported, noting county officials sought the app as part of a solution to strain on workers.

"We are not unique in that we face budget constraints and hiring restrictions," said Kara Terry, community services director, in the study report. "We came to the point where we needed to figure out how best to give our folks the tools they needed to do really great work without hiring more staff."

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.
(218) 855-5874
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