Incorporating Cultural Elements into Research

Researcher Muneer Karcher-Ramos talks about his work with Ujamaa Place, made possible by a Kingston Fellowship. 

Muneer Karcher-RamosCreated in honor of former Wilder President Tom Kingston, Kingston Fellowships are awarded to Wilder employees “to provide the opportunity to develop a highly effective, culturally competent set of leaders and promote ongoing improvement of human services in the entire community.”

In 2012, Muneer Karcher-Ramos was awarded a Kingston Fellowship and chose to augment his work with a current client, Ujamaa Place, a Saint Paul nonprofit that assists young African American men who are disadvantaged and have experienced failure to turn their lives around. 

Q: What led you to work with Ujamaa Place for your Kingston Fellowship project?
A: I had been contracted by Ujamaa Place to help them create an evaluation plan. At the time I applied for the fellowship, I was about six months into my client relationship with them, and was still learning about their organization. Between my application and selection, I realized that I could integrate cultural adaptations and innovative approaches into the evaluation plan.
Q: How did the Kingston Fellowship change what you were doing with Ujamaa Place?
A: I’ve created many evaluation plans for organizations, but the Kingston Fellowship encouraged me to think differently about how I developed products for this evaluation plan. I thought more about what it would mean to be culturally responsive and innovative. I co-developed a life history storytelling approach with Ujamaa Place staff as a way to re-imagine the intake process. The process for entering into a program is often cold, bureaucratic, and impersonal. We converted the intake process into one in which relationships and individual experiences are prioritized. It really pushed Ujamaa Place coaches to use their listening skills and give participants the space to tell their life story.
Q: Why do you think storytelling is important?
A: The term “storytelling” might trick us into thinking that stories are not part of serious communication or that we can’t solicit the information that would be needed for intake. However, stories are a transformative force in people’s lives, provoking self-reflection and change. Transformation begins as soon as a man enters Ujamaa Place with the telling of his own story to his coach through the entry process. We are currently in the pilot phase of testing whether this storytelling methodology will also increase retention at Ujamaa Place.
Q: Is there potential use for the storytelling approach beyond this project?
A: Yes, I have been working with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) Navigators on their entry process. The SPPN Navigators are in the pilot phase of using the storytelling approach when conducting entry with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood families. The formation of the storytelling approach at entry was equally informed by the work that was going on with the SPPN Navigators from Hmong American Partnership and the Cultural Wellness Center as it was by Ujamaa Place. The SPPN Navigators engage families while Ujamaa Place engages young men so it has been important to make adaptations to the storytelling model to fit the realities of these two different groups.
Q: What did you learn from your work through the Kingston Fellowship?
A: I learned that typical ways of doing intake can be ineffective and that a committed group of program managers, researchers, and participants can take risks to do the unconventional to create something that shows promise for greater effectiveness.

 Meet the 2013 Kingston Fellows

​The new Kingston Fellows were introduced at Wilder Center on March 28. Meet the Fellows

Watch Muneer unveil the results of his Kingston Fellowship work with Ujamaa Place.