MIRC Community Update: Cook County

As the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative winds down, 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. And so today I’m pleased to share notes from Cook County. (Actually I have notes to share all week. I’ll add this preamble to each for historical context – but each day will be a new community.)

MIRC project coordinator Danna MacKenzie welcomed an excellent group to the meeting and gave her thanks to the great work done by the committee and project teams.


Sawtooth Mountain Clinic – Rita Plourde, clinic director, provided an overview of the work to date.  Their initial idea was much bigger and different than the project that was funded.  The project morphed from the concept of a big portal to something more manageable.  Rita admitted that she loves the approach NOW, but it required a big mindset change.   Rita loves the inter-generational interaction of their project team.  Video education for patients is the primary activity that is now occurring.  The videos feature local health care professionals dealing with local residents; this brings huge credibility to their video efforts.    Bringing health care professionals into the change of practice has been a challenge – Some are resistant to change.

The project has enabled better patient communication with the clinic; having a small staff makes one-to-one communication difficult.

RN Amy Marie Schmidt picked up the project reporting with the opening phrase –

“Blandin Foundation to the rescue!”  Cook County Challenges – We are in the middle of nowhere, at the end of the road.  Technology helps us solve these problems.

The clinic formed a Community Relations Committee as a first step to plan electronic outreach.  Step one – fix the current web site which was described as a black hole.  So they now have a snazzy new website.  Jack created the web site at Boreal.  They have a new electronic newsletter, the web site has an “ask a nurse” function, making the clinic an accessible home for Cook County residents.

“Move it in May!” is a highly interactive social media campaign around health.  People measure their steps or biking and plot it as a virtual tour around Lake Superior. This tool is hosted on the clinic web site.  The tool provided fun, oriented people to the web site, and helped them learn to use the technology.  People needed help!  About 250 registrants.  Marketing through FACEBOOK, signs up around town and web site.

They have created 12 patient education videos.  They are rotating on web site and archived for anytime viewing.

They also purchased two IPADs as pilot for patients to enter data and patient education videos.  They have three online forms.   There is also the “ask a nurse function” too.  They have committed a lot of effort around HIPPA.

“The Blandin Funds helped us think outside the box, it made us stretch!  This has opened the flood gates of ideas.”

PCs for People.

25 computers were provided to each demo community.  While the target was individual residents, the group decided that it would be better to put these in the community centers due to the lack of broadband in the community.  Higher ed center, Grand Portage received computers.


They wanted to expand the capacity of the library to support those wanting to go online.  They also wanted to make the library a place where residents could touch and use new devices.  So they purchased e-readers and IPADS available at the Library.  Kick off is set for an August 27 event.  A bit of training will also be available.  The project exposed concerns of library staff – tech issues around filtering, etc.    Locking them down or not – that is the question.

They are considering the possible use of high school students to help train people to use equipment.

The Senior Center now had three computers with small monitors.  They are moving towards a peer training system.    They are investigating the purchase of touch screen technology computers.


They are moving towards an Online Museum catalog.  They are partnering with MN Historical Society on training.  They have been collecting since 1924 when the Cook Co. Historical Society was formed.  5 years ago, they began to archive using the Past Perfect Archive system.  The goal is to help the researchers help themselves.  Initially this was on the in-house computer only, but turned out that the tool was too complex for amateur users.  So they moved to different system.

They have 3200 objects, 450 library items, 3500 photos, all of which are moving online.    They already have 8000 archived items now online.  One key is using good search terms and categories.

You can digitize anything!! Photos, videos, audio clips.  It all takes time, they have a long way to go.  Time to ready the data, digitize and enter.

Higher Ed Center

The Higher Ed Center is an excellent training facility and training location.   The PCs for People computers stretched their budget nicely.  There is tremendous collaboration around training with many engaged parties.  Knowledge workers, Digital Literacy and business training was completed.  21 training events with 185 different individuals attended.  Google Map classes was a success; they went from 5 places to 25 places overnight.  Bad broadband is still a barrier.  Now businesses don’t have it, but the visitors do at home.  We need to know our customers’ expectations.

Collaboration around accessibility – tech squad made up of youth had mix of issues, but still was productive.

Explored using the tech center as a telework center – both residents and visitors.  Discovered system constraints.  With the new network, there is a question as to whether such a telework center will still be an asset.

They are now offering certificate and degree opportunities.  GPS for loggers was a very interesting mix of people with widely varying computer skills.

They were able to leverage other foundation funding opportunities to support goals.

They provide public access on evenings, with an overlay of training aspects.  They are finding that there are still folks learning to use the mouse!

Digital Literacy – ABE – Issues.  The requirement that ABE class takers be job seekers is a real barrier.


The goal was to convert existing five visitors sites to mobile compatibility.

Tourism is 70% of local economy with over 1,000,000 visitors.  Mobility is critical.

In 2009 – 9%  used mobile phones for tourism web serving, in 2011, this grew to 27% .

Converting to mobile required lots of learning.  WordPress sites are great for conversion; others not so great.  Tourists want to avoid talking on the phone; they want to investigate and book online.

People are staying online longer on the web sites.

IPADS and IPHONES are the top mobile devices.  700 IPAD hits in one weekend.

The conversion requires the right back end.  There are cross platform challenges of content, pictures, databases.  Photos need to be selected carefully for the small screen.

The project opened our minds to the possibilities that we can do!  It is now impacting the viewpoints and practices of the entire tourism industry and Cook County.  Extreme use of google analytics!


The school district started doing web streaming sporting events………Lessons learned… do a good job in researching the right equipment.  Be creative – had to wire the gym for computer for electric and Ethernet.  Collaboration was huge – so Boreal, WTIP and the county have been an effective partnership.  Boreal.tv is the result . We now stream graduation, band concerts, sports, .  We share a videographer, tech support through Boreal.   Now we have a non-profit to continue these activities.

WTIP Video – shooting and streaming video that supports the aura of Cook County.

Boreal supports the growth of video production through training and promotion.  Boreal also works on the back end – all of the equipment, servers, streaming software.  Great team.  Do all the county government web sites.  55 videos archived.

The group then brainstormed ideas for future priority…

  • Grow Boreal TV
  • ISD 156 YOUtube channel
  • More IPADS in schools
  • Snazzy e-government use
  • Mapping historic sites
  • Health education and intergenerational activities
  • Creating a culture of use promoting use by users
  • Workforce readiness w. volunteers
  • 3D mapping
  • Telework initiative

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