Case Study: Minnesota Council on Foundations

Maximizing Census Impact: A Story of Community Engagement

Assessing impact and equipping individuals and organizations with actionable insights.

Services: Creative Communications, Research

Every decade, the U.S. conducts a comprehensive population count known as the U.S. Census. This vital undertaking shapes the allocation of federal funds to local communities and determines how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) led an innovative program called the Minnesota Census Mobilization Partnership (MCMP) to ensure historically undercounted communities were seen, included, and engaged.

In 2021, MCF partnered with Seiche to assess MCMP’s impact and equip individuals and organizations with actionable insights for future census mobilization efforts.

What We Did

Recognizing the need for a thorough understanding of community perspectives, Seiche collaborated with Dr. Cirien Saadeh, executive director of The Uptake, a local nonprofit news organization. Together, we used a journalistic approach to capture MCMP’s impact, setting the stage for future successes in the 2030 census.

Research that Strengthens Relationships

Seiche approached this project with an understanding that any evaluation of MCF’s 2020 census engagement must be rooted in listening and learning from the people that led the work.

  • Recognizing the power of storytelling, we employed a Journalism of Color approach to amplify the voices of MCMP participants. This methodology is a resilient, transformative, community-based journalism methodology and form of resistance writing that is framed by the values, narratives and historical contexts of historically marginalized communities – the very communities engaged in MCMP.
  • Seiche and Ms. Saadeh conducted 30 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders involved in MCMP. These interviews surfaced invaluable insights into individual experiences and expectations, spanning community organizations, state officials, and foundation representatives.
  • After understanding the personal perspectives of the people most closely involved with this work, Seiche facilitated four group discussions to allow space for shared reflection and information sharing.
  • By embracing a collaborative and inclusive approach to research, we not only captured the essence of MCMP’s impact, but paved the way for a more informed and empowered future in census mobilization.

Merging Data and Narrative

After creating a foundation of qualitative data, Seiche layered in quantitative data.

  • Leaning into the relational organizing approach of MCMP, Seiche worked closely with MCMP participants to identify and collect quantitative impact data.
  • To tell a cohesive story of impact, we developed a framework to standardize and analyze quantitative data which was often in different formats and timelines, and worked with organization-specific definitions.
  • Together, the data and stories painted a full picture of the impact the partnership had on the census count in Minnesota.

Engaging the Future

Through listening and collaborative learning, we distilled valuable lessons that will inform and inspire future census mobilization initiatives.

  • To ensure widespread access to our findings, Seiche developed a dedicated website with downloadable resources such as the full report, an infographic, a relational organizing and social media toolkits, the original MCMP communications plan, and more. We also printed materials for distribution in communities lacking reliable internet access.
  • One key takeaway from our research was the importance of early and continuous engagement. Recognizing this, we made a bold move and scheduled an email to reconnect 2020 MCMP participants five years into the future, inviting them to contribute to the groundwork for the 2030 census.

A Long-Term Relationship

Seiche also partnered with MCF to evaluate two innovative programs, the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund and the Integrated Capital Recovery Program, and to visualize hard to pin down data and impact, and to conduct an internal equity audit.

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