Community Innovation Incubator

Community Innovation Incubator

Advancing West Charlotte’s Pursuit of a Food Retail Solution

Phase 1: Laying the Foundation


Project description
To help Mecklenburg County find an innovative solution to the challenges of food insecurity and the lack of food retail in West Charlotte, the University of North Carolina Charlotte has developed a Community Innovation Incubator model using action research, a practice that engages local residents and community leaders as peers with researchers and subject matter experts to co-design data-driven solutions to systemic community problems. Since January, UNC Charlotte has been facilitating a group of community representatives, faculty researchers and local experts to identify an economically viable and sustainable innovation that is endorsed by residents and community stakeholders.

What we’ve done so far
In the first phase, a UNC Charlotte graduate assistant examined case studies of food retail initiatives from across the country. We held five planning sessions with community partners, faculty and other participants. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing community needs and how existing community efforts around food retail would integrate with the innovation process, and heard from Omar Jorge, CEO of Compare Foods. He provided insights into the business conditions the initiative would require for success. In the end, we settled on six areas of investigation to discover everything from what the scope and location of a food retail enterprise might be in west Charlotte to how it would operate and how we’ll educate the community and earn buy-in.

Ground rules
One of the most important things we accomplished in Phase 1 was agreeing to a set of “ground rules” that set the parameters for our collaboration. These standards, developed with community partners, include never compromising the impact on the residents even as we aspire for stature and prominence; honesty, transparency, candor and authenticity in all exchanges with one another; not wasting time pursuing avenues that aren’t fruitful; basing an innovation on true economic empowerment and community wealth building; and building the relationship among the community, universities and county on power sharing to ensure community voice is heard. These guidelines have been captured in a formal memorandum of understanding, crafted by community and faculty representatives, to establish a mutually beneficial arrangement to build trust.

Next steps
For the next phase, we’ve divided into work teams to flesh out the areas we’re investigating. We’ll finish that by the end of April. By mid-May, we plan to hold two design sessions to outline a potential innovation, present it to the community, gather feedback and start working on an implementation plan.
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