County Manager Column from June 9, 2020

This column was originally published as a "From the County Manager" column on our employee intranet

Taking the next step toward more integrated service delivery

Today, our board of commissioners held a workshop on the topic of Residents First: Effective, Efficient and Accessible Operations. You may recall that this is one of our strategic priorities which seeks to meet our residents, businesses and visitors where they’re at by expanding the ways in which we provide county services. The first workshop I led as County Manager dealt with moving Residents First from words into action, and that topic is again taking center stage as we think of managing through and recovering from the COVID-19 emergency.

Watch the video of the workshop

Since the start of the emergency period, we’ve been focused on ensuring residents can access county services from one location, by making a call into a central place or dropping off forms in one spot. Through our service redesign process during COVID-19 we’ve been able to move some of this work forward. We’ve created document drop boxes at several sites and created a back-end system to process most types of documents. We’ve also expanded our Customer Contact Center to provide additional help over the phone and email. We’ve maintained "last resort" walk-up services at two Saint Paul locations and provided curbside materials pickup at our three regional libraries. We’ve also expanded online options through the library and elsewhere significantly - from programming at Tamarack Nature Center to online Town Halls hosted by our Racial Equity & Community Engagement team.

Following our “One County. One Mission. One Door” mantra, we are now looking at making the unified service options a part of Ramsey County’s ongoing service delivery plan. It will replace the old model of department- and building-specific access. We will move to a new model where access, equity, efficiency and effectiveness come to life in ways that haven’t happened before.

We are now focused on establishing five Service Centers within key locations with the long-term goal of helping our residents and other guests with nearly any service they may need that we offer throughout the county. Although many of our services are now available online or over the phone, many interactions must still be in person and it’s also critically important that we continue to meet residents who need or prefer in-person help where they are. And, also that we can provide assistance through translation resources in multiple languages so that no one is left behind.  

For example, today a person needs to travel to the East Building specifically in order to receive many Social Services or Financial Assistance services. Similarly, one needs to travel to the Plato Building to do any in-person transactions around property. When fully functional, Service Centers will prevent the need for people to make multiple trips to get everything they need completed. The new Service Centers will ultimately have the ability to provide assistance to help connect and direct people to a large percentage of county services at:

  • Government Center East.
  • Plato Building.
  • Ramsey County Library – Maplewood.
  • Ramsey County Library – Roseville.
  • Ramsey County Library – Shoreview.

Last week, I had the pleasure of touring each of the five sites to see our latest planning around how we are going to convert our building spaces into Service Centers that comply with Public Health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The physical environments of the five sites all differ, of course, but each has been thoughtfully laid out to provide easy and accessible access to each of the functional areas within the centers. These are:

  • Career and training labs for those who wish to use online resources by themselves or with the assistance of a career counselor.
  • General resource centers to provide technology and internet access for those who don’t otherwise have it.
  • A service counter staffed by employees in a new Navigator role.
  • In addition to the sites listed above, workforce training labs and computer resource centers will be offered at Saint Paul library locations located directly in communities most in need.

When Service Centers come online, each will initially have a primary focus on providing resources and help in four areas: help for job seekers, financial assistance, social services and property services. As I’ve written before, workforce assistance and financial assistance are two key focus areas we are dedicating our federal CARES funding toward. We will be expanding into additional service areas in the months ahead as we learn more from our guests about where there is the most demand. 

During our site visits, we also discussed the importance of the Navigator role in ensuring that our residents have the support they need. To be clear, we’re not expecting that our Navigators will be able to solve or work through every issue – but they will be trained and knowledgeable about how to find information and which staff to refer visitors to. The long-term vision is that our Customer Contact staff and Navigators will all be working from the same knowledge base and training and will be able to direct our residents to the appropriate form, webpage, event or other resource. This will not be a "switchboard" type role though – Navigators will have basic knowledge of many areas and the training and ability to quickly answer questions or escalate them to experts if necessary.  

Let’s say a person is looking for information on how to register to vote by mail. Where staff at the customer contact center would be able to email a link or read a web address over the phone, on-site navigators would be able to help a person fill out an online form right on site or to print and help the person fill out and process a paper form if they prefer that process. Staff could also use the Language Line phone resource or provide translated materials to work with speakers of various languages. Navigators would never be able to have the expertise of, say, our financial assistance workers, tax clerks, librarians or workforce counselors, but they would be able to effectively provide basic information that ultimately will support all of those staff.    

We aim to begin opening our Service Centers in July. I hope you’re as excited as I am about this new model that will help us better meet our residents and others who use our services where they are at. I know these new changes will challenge our culture of “how we’ve always done things” and, frankly, that is part of the point. None of this will be easy, but creating a better experience for every resident coming in our doors is one of the most important things we can do.

Thanks to all of the staff who have been working hard to advance this aspect of our Residents First Strategic Priority!