Stearns County recently earned national honors for efforts to improve services and experiences for its residents.
It earned the Gold Award (first place) in the CivicPlus Civic Experience competition. CivicPlus is a web development business that specializes in building city and county e-government communication systems. The award recognizes local leaders who improve government services to make them more attainable for residents. Specifically, the county was praised for providing information and services to people during the pandemic and for developing practices with maximum efficiency.
The honors were for the following:
• A new secure website with dynamic content, mobile-friendly design and navigational hubs for high-profile departments and in-demand services. Last year that site had more than two million views.
• Its website dubbed chatbot, a new and easier way to access information. People can find information they need much quicker online, reducing county staff time and saving annually about $27,000.
• Online appointment scheduling to accommodate social distancing and other restrictions. An average of 1,733 appointment notifications were sent monthly last year to people who used the service.
• Implementation of Audio-Eye to help the county meet website accessibility standards. It helps all visitors access what they need, even those with handicaps, such as sight problems.
• Digital forms that allow residents to submit information and requests to various departments. The forms allow people to do hundreds of transactions with county offices, even when the buildings are closed.
• Hybrid board meetings so that residents who want to attend a Board of Commissioners meeting can now attend in person or virtually, online.
• E-recording of real-estate documents. About 52 percent of those documents are now processed via electronic submission.
• Hybrid courtrooms for most criminal, child protection and mental-health hearings can now be done online, remotely.
• Video jail visits allow visits to happen virtually, online, from anywhere.
• Online county auctions were also praised in the award citation.
• Virtual job interviews by the Human Resources Department were praised.
• The addition of alternative service methods, such as drop boxes and drive-thrus were honored.
“This award highlights how collaboration, teamwork and technology have come together in Stearns County to improve the experiences and lives of its residents,” said Jenny Burger, Digital Services manager. “Stearns County always tries to be innovative and forward-thinking, doing its best to make conducting county business easy, actions transparent and everything accessible.”