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Centering Community Voices

Centering Community Voices

Centering Community Voices

Why do qualitative research?

The first of our team’s guiding principles for community engagement is that we prioritize end users. This means that we prioritize the perspectives of those who will eventually be impacted by our work. They help us understand what the problem is, help us identify solutions that will work for them, and give feedback as projects are implemented so that they can be adapted to better fix the problem.


Small businesses on commercial corridor

Our work takes us out and about in the communities our work will affect


Numbers only tell one part of the story, especially when talking about racial disparities. Our systems for quantifying what is happening in our communities have been developed from a dominant cultural perspective, and consistently leave out, under-count, or otherwise misrepresent communities of color. Even if this weren’t true, talking directly to people about their perspectives and life experiences provides a different kind and depth of information than Census statistics or numerical trends.

Because our team is committed to using data to drive action, we want to be sure we’re taking into account all the insights that both quantitative and qualitative data can give us. To learn more about our quantitative research for this priority, see our “State of Minority Business Ownership” post.

End User Interviews

Our main method of collecting qualitative data has been through one-on-one interviews. Over the course of several months, we talked with many different stakeholders: entrepreneurs of color across a variety of cultural backgrounds, business technical assistance organizational staff, and City staff involved in business development. All in all, we conducted more than 100 interviews, including 33 with minority and immigrant entrepreneurs representing 11 different industries and 8 neighborhoods.

i-team with store owner

Nick with Ousman, one of our interviewees, in his store, K’s Dollar and Grocery

Developing Personas

Our next step was to find a way to share what we had learned with our stakeholders. We knew it would be overwhelming to give anyone transcripts from 100 interviews, so we needed a different way. We decided to create personas – fictional-but-realistic “people” that are composites of stories from our community interviews.

We identified themes from our interviews, and used those themes to create personas representing eight different kinds of experiences. Final personas included “Kevin Harris,” an African American man in North Minneapolis struggling to expand his landscaping business; “Amal Yasin,” a Somali-American woman seeking new customers for her Cedar-Riverside café; and Niimi Wilson, a Native American artist who doesn’t see her dream for her business reflected in how the City approaches business development.

These personas then became the “spokespeople” for direct quotes from our interviews, voicing the insights and struggles people shared with us from their experiences. These quotes powerfully communicate entrepreneurs’ stories in ways a bar chart or line graph simply can’t.


For a PDF document summarizing both our quantitative research and our personas, click here. To learn more about the Community Engagement Principles that guide how we interact with the community in our work, click here.