By Mae Israel
The Community Innovation Incubator represents a new partnership between university researchers and Charlotte neighborhood residents to study a local issue and develop recommendations with an action plan. In this approach, residents are equals and full participants, not research subjects.
Mecklenburg County officials, who have designated dealing with food insecurity as a top priority, approved a $272,000 grant to fund the project and asked for solutions-oriented recommendations that could result in a viable, new food retail business in West Charlotte.
University researchers changed their traditional approach to research projects. Researchers and community members created a memorandum of understanding, with guidelines for the collaboration that focused on power-sharing, transparency, honesty and candor.
Over nine months, participants reached out to engage business leaders, nonprofits and more neighborhood residents. They reviewed previous studies and conducted new research. The whole time, community members maintained equal status with university researchers.
UNC Charlotte researchers hope the Community Innovation Incubator will serve as a model for future partnerships to address challenges throughout Charlotte.
Representatives of the following neighborhood organizations participated: West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, Historic West End Partners, Renaissance West Community Initiative, Three Sisters Market, Reeder Memorial Presbyterian Church;
Research participants included: Faculty and staff from UNC Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University;
Facilitators included: UNC Charlotte’s Charlotte Action Research Project, an initiative involved for years with neighborhood projects; Lee Institute, a non-profit that promotes civic engagement and leadership; UNC Charlotte’s Office of Urban Research and Community Engagement.