The Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative is winding down. The demonstration communities are taking time to reflect on what has happened in their community as a result of added focus on broadband and broadband projects in the area. Each community will go through this process looking at what’s happened, lessons learned and plans for the future. One of the public benefits of federal funding for a project link this is the opportunity each community has to share what they have learned and the opportunity that other communities have to glean from their lessons. With that in mind, I’d like to share notes from the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Center’s latest meeting (and hope to share other communities’ in the upcoming weeks). Thanks to Jacki Anderson for sharing her coordinator’s notes; they aren’t an exhaustive list of projects but a reflective list.
1. UMVRDC -Building websites for rural communities: Bellingham and Echo
- Two of the region’s smallest communities (pop: 205 & 278 respectively) are now on the worldwide web
- Best Practice: Both communities have all their local businesses listed on their website with contact information for each. This is definitely a best practice for small communities (not practical for larger communities). You would never know how many or what types of businesses are located in these small communities without these web pages
- Not surprisingly the businesses listings pages have received the most views since launching the websites
- Lesson Learned: Must have dedicated community members or staff to make the project successful, those with a little more “skin in the game” ended up being more involved in the process (free domain vs paid for domain/set-up)
- Staff felt that Word Press might be the more user and budget friendly site for smaller towns versus a GovOffice site which is slightly more complicated and expensive but comes more support.
2. LqP County Computer Commuter- Providing increased access and training to residents
- Best Practice: Developed partnerships with schools, businesses and workforce to offer special trainings
- Were able to visit more community groups and provide even more awareness about its resources (Kiwanis, Chambers, Social Clubs, Community Ed, Schools, Parades, Fairs, Radio Spots)
- Established an Advisory Board
- Lesson Learned: Follow a schedule already in place for cancellations, the Computer Commuter follows school cancellations for inclement weather.
- 162 users – 84% are 50yrs and older
- Avg user spends 1.5 hours on the bus
- Need to keep getting the word out that this is a “free” service
3. BS County -Public Access to County Information Online
- Four years of tax statements have been placed online and are available to the public. This has significantly reduced phone calls and inquiries in the assessor’s office.
- In the last 13-14 months there have been 64,000 non-county hits and 11,000 unique hits. The GIS site has generated over 3500 non subscription hits and has 1,750 paid subscription hits. For a county with a population of approximately 5,000 these are impressive numbers.
- Best practice: All GIS info (even paid subscription information) is available at a kiosk in the county building, the assessor’s office staffs are available to help customers and train them in finding and using the data.
- Subscriptions to the data have full access at the convenience of their own office, while the public has limited information available to them by just accessing the site. So technically all the information is available for free but you have to go there to get it. This has saved so much staff time in processing requests and billing minimal charges to individuals and businesses for printing and researching.
- It is anticipated that once the upgrades are complete the subscriptions (if they can maintain current subscription levels) will cover the cost of maintenance for the site.
- There are 7 annual subscriptions and 10 one-time shape files that have been purchased. 3 annual subscriptions have expired and all 3 businesses renewed indicating that they find value in the site!
- Lesson Learned: if they would have known then what they know now they would have included a request for more funds to develop an online payment system in conjunction with this project, it seems to be the missing piece right now.
4. Johnson Memorial Health Services- Home Stream Tele-Medicine Project
Great concept poor execution. This project did not work for the following reasons:
- Poor communication from technology company – no updates on where software testing was at so it always felt like it wasn’t working due to this there was only 1 family that remained committed until the end
- Were too far from the technology company (located in the metro) and lack of willingness/presence from technology company to come out to the community to talk about issues and resolve them
- Lesson Learned: when promised two-way communication but the demonstration includes only screen shots, this is a red flag
- Incurred overruns in cost and time with no results
- Pictures were blurry (Skype was better) – no two way communication
- Best Practice: Hospital could not/would not connect to bad technology & associate the hospital’s name/reputation with it. Proceeded with caution knowing this was beta testing
The hospital feels that there is still potential for this concept and would do it again but only with a company who is further along with their technology and committed to working with a community 3 hours outside of the metro.
5. Pioneer TV- Broadband in Rural Areas Documentary
- Best Practice: Brought national awareness to rural broadband issues by leveraging other funds and working with Need to Know programming.
- Hope to expand it by several more minutes so that other stations can run a 30 min segment
- Could lead into Brain Gain awareness/research/promotion
- Lesson Learned: try to plan projects around state shutdowns
- Could potential update this segment in the future
- Kept costs down by keeping interviews local
- Anticipated to air in September 2012
6. Ortonville Schools- Getting the business community online
- Developed open wi-fi network – used all the time by not only students but general public
- Lesson Learned: At first it was challenging to get businesses to sign up to do a website, now we wish would have had a plan to handle the demand for new website requests – have a plan for when demand picks up!
- Business pages and/or websites have been completed for over 100 businesses
- Xoom was best for working with businesses, schools felt IPAD was better for student usage
- Started by doing business websites in Ortonville, due to high demand expanding to county-wide assistance
- Best Practice: Have determined a website does fit everyone. Changing focus for some businesses from website creation to starting with claiming their business on Google (in some cases it’s a much better fit if a business has no intention of doing updates or providing new info)
- Average visits per day on business websites is approximately 60 – it’s a start.
7. Dawson Boyd School- New media center, student tech team and student to community training Academy
- Computer Savvy Specialists (CSS) learned how to refurbish computers – 5 of 12 are now planning to pursue college education related to computers where prior to this experience had not
- Best Practice: New Computer Savvy Specialists will continue to refurbish and work with the EDA to distribute computers from community businesses and old computer labs in the school
- Lesson Learned: CSS students will continue to work with businesses in the surrounding communities on websites and social media. During the project they found students were best able to help businesses with “updates” and new content after the websites were created rather than having the students create the initial websites
- Recycling of schools computes with students refurbishing and County EDA distributing to families – the need is great they always seem to have twice as many families interested as computers available
- Teachers teaching others with online classes through community education – this still needs some tweaking, they learned that although online classes are great they want to integrate one or two in-person meetings, new classes will also be looked into
- All aspects of this project have gone over so well that they plan to continue all of it for the next school year