Speaking for Ourselves: A Study with Immigrant and Refugee Communities in the Twin Cities 

Minnesota is home to more than 400,000 people born outside the United States, most of them residents of the Twin Cities. But there’s little population-based data about issues that are important to these immigrants’ and refugees’ cultural communities.

Through “Speaking for Ourselves,” up-to-date data has become available about experiences of immigrants and refugees who live here. Results of the Wilder Research-led study are now being released to members of immigrant communities, policymakers and others with an interest in the data.

“If we want to have policies and programs that are attuned as much as possible to the people being served, it’s important to hear what they have to say,” says Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research.

Community-Driven Process

In 2000, Wilder Research conducted a similar study, “Speaking for Themselves,” which became one of Wilder’s most requested studies. While the interest in this type of research is clear, obtaining accurate and relevant data about distinct communities requires a specially tailored approach.

From the start, Wilder Research focused on identifying the needs of the immigrant communities and the most culturally appropriate methods of obtaining information.

“This has been a community-driven process from beginning to end,” says Nicole MartinRogers, senior research manager.

An advisory board of members of immigrant communities, nonprofit organizations and other agencies offered insights about the kind of information that would be most helpful and the types of questions to ask.

Danushka Wanduragala, a committee member with the Refugee and International Health unit of the Minnesota Department of Health, was impressed by how seriously Wilder Research took the advisory committee’s recommendations—and how early in the process the group became involved.

“They gave us the opportunity to have a real impact on how the survey would be done,” he says. “Too often, community input is obtained far too late in the process to make any real difference or impact.”

Using feedback from the advisory committee, researchers used an innovative research method called respondent- driven sampling. Rather than cold-calling potential survey respondents, researchers relied on referrals from people who had completed the survey. For example, after a Hmong person completed the survey, he or she could refer up to three other Hmong people who were unrelated and did not share the same address. Participants were interviewed in their preferred language.

“It’s very hard to randomly select small subgroups within a community,” MartinRogers says. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. That’s why respondent-driven sampling can be so effective.”

“If we want to have policies and programs that are attuned as much as possible to the people being served, it’s important to hear what they have to say.”

In all, more than 450 immigrants and refugees participated in the study. Researchers collected enough data from Hmong, Karen, Latino, Liberian and Somali cultural communities to present separate results for each community. Participants from the Lao, Oromo and Vietnamese communities are included in combined results.

Sharing Results

Data analysis took place over the winter of 2014–2015, and in the summer, researchers began sharing preliminary results with the communities included in the study. Wilder Research is now working to share the findings and recommendations with advocates, policymakers, government agencies and others.

On April 8, 2016, we hosted a half-day action summit for people invested in immigrant and refugee communities in the Twin Cities to hear about the study results, hear ideas from a cross-sector panel of organizations serving immigrants and refugees, and discuss next steps.
Download the event slides.
See the Facebook album from the event.

Advisory Board

Sunny Chanthanouvong, Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota
Angelique Cooper-Liberty, Angel Eyes Foundation
Kim Dettmer, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
Hsajune Dyan, Saint Paul Public Schools
MayKao Fredericks, Wells Fargo Foundation
Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights
Rodolfo Gutierrez, HACER
Roda Hassan, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview
Thang Le, Minnesota Chapter, Vietnamese Science & Cultural Center
Kristine Martin, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
MyLou Moua, Minneapolis Public Schools
Ahmed Muhumud, City of Minneapolis (former)
Mimi Oo, African & American Friendship Association for Cooperation and Development
Chanida Phaengdara Potter, The SEAD Project
Francisco Segovia, Pillsbury United Community – Waite House
Pablo Tapia, La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles
Danushka Wanduragala, ECHO (former)
Pahoua Yang, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation 
Tony Yang, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation (former)
Ladan Yusuf, CrossingBarriers

 Reports & Fact Sheets


​Fact sheets on topics like education, employment, and health, plus a summary of key findings. Read all the Speaking for Ourselves reports.


 Blog Posts


 Key Findings


 In the Media


 Contact Us


For more information, contact Nicole MartinRogers at  nicole.martinrogers@wilder.org or 651-280-2682.