St. Paul’s East Side Making Change with UMN CURA Community-Based Research

by Yer Yang, Minnesota Campus Compact Career Ready Intern, St. Catherine University ’18

Earlier this spring, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) published a story featuring community-based research about the City of St. Paul’s Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process and its unequal distribution to St. Paul districts, specifically East Side St. Paul. John Vaughn, a community organizer at East Side Neighborhood Development Center (ESNDC), proposed the project in collaboration with Dayton’s Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services and the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, which has resulted in significant media coverage and a St. Paul City Council resolution to reshape the CIB fund allocation process.  Read more in Jono Cowgill’s original CURA story below.

This research partnership shows the potential social impact of collaboration between community and academic institutions. John Vaughn at the ESNDC understood the importance of research and data to substantiate his anecdotal experience suggesting that the City of St. Paul had been disproportionately allocating funds away from the East Side. Through CURA’s Kris Nelson Community-Based Research program, his community amassed the data it needed to be heard at the highest levels and bring about change. The City of St. Paul is now re-designing their CIB process, and their research is being used in a range of contexts, including Hmong High School students on the East Side advocating for safer street crossings and issue polling for the mayoral race. Most recently, CURA and ESNDC won the inaugural national Urban Institute Thomas Kingsley Impact Award in May.

Some of the key takeaways from the success of this partnership are the role of collaboration, mutual understanding, and a commitment between partners to a shared goal in creating community impact. Using the lens of Community-Campus Partnerships for Health’s Principles of Partnership, below are some of the ways this collaboration went right – and some ways other partnerships can do the same:

The partnership agrees upon mission, values, goals, measurable outcomes and processes for accountability.

CURA’s community-based research takes place in response to community requests, rather than originating from institutional or researcher interest. Mutual purpose is then built into the collaboration from the start.

The partnership builds upon identified strengths and assets, but also works to address needs and increase capacity of all partners.

This project started with a foundation of community-based knowledge and experience. While some communities tire of researchers arriving, collecting data, and telling the community something they already know about their neighborhood, CURA and ESNDC together acknowledged the neighborhood’s past experience and strategically developed a research plan that would augment their existing efforts.

The partnership balances power among partners and enables resources among partners to be shared. 

This partnership emphasizes the assets and power of community, which took CURA’s academic research product and leveraged it to advocate for a new CIB process and greater investment in an under-resourced neighborhood. When community drives the process, research can become more than knowledge – it can become change.

Academic institutions can be allies to community members when they utilize their resources to help communities and organizations tell their own stories, and there are more opportunities for other community groups to propose CURA research projects. The next round of applications are due October 30. Learn more below.