Recruiting Peer and Community Researchers

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In our Refugee Integration Yorkshire and Humber (RIYH) project (funded by AMIF) we were lucky to have a research budget that allowed for recruiting more staff, so we used  this to employ Peer and Community researchers. We strongly believe that research has greater potential to produce deeper understanding when it’s co-produced with people who have lived experience of the topic being studied. In this case we required candidates to have lived experience of migration to the UK. The Peer Researcher role was aimed at people with an interest in research, while for the Community Researcher role we asked for previous experience of qualitative research.

On the left hand side of this page you will find links to some recruitment tips based on our experience. You will also find some examples of recruitment tools which you may wish to draw on or adapt to your own context.

How Peer and Community Researchers heard about the jobs – the importance of advertising widely

Candidates were asked to state how they heard about these opportunities. Well over half had seen the advertisement on the Leeds City Council website. A couple had seen the jobs on social media. There were several ‘other’ responses, including: case worker, Refugee Council newsletter, chair of a local City of Sanctuary, local council, the Migration Yorkshire website, an email forwarded from Migration Yorkshire, and through a friend.

Offering a set number of hours – an alternative approach

For an earlier project we worked somewhat differently. Migration Yorkshire’s limited experience of working with peer researchers, as well as various complex employment procedures and limited funds, shaped the recruitment process, the practice, and the expectations (on both sides). The way the project was initially designed, we were able to offer only 50 working hours per person over a period of a few months. Also, the payrate we had funding for was at the entry level. This meant several things:

  • While peer researchers' work was managed by Migration Yorkshire, formally they were employed by our research partners. This meant when there were issues (for example around payment) we could not resolve them directly.  
  • There was much more flexibility in terms of recruitment procedures. If all we could offer was 50 hours over a longer period, we felt we could not have long demanding lists with person specifications. Instead, we kept our call for applications rather informal and had two main criteria: for a person to be interested in social research and have personal experience of migrating to the UK. By using this approach, we hoped we could benefit from skills (for example language) and knowledge (for example of values and practices) of individuals who were not necessarily very skilled researchers, but nevertheless were interested in social research.
  • We asked all those interested to get in touch, and we had an initial phone chat with each of them. They also had an option of sharing a short video with us. This was in case they did not feel confident writing in English or just preferred different means of communicating.
  • Our budget and limited number of expected working hours meant that we were able to offer this role to everyone that expressed interest and we felt was suitable in relation to the two main criteria.
  • The limited number of hours we were able to offer meant no employment security, not even short term. This played a role in who expressed interest in our post. The initial offer of work was only 50 hours with differing hours each week. This may have deterred potentially interested individuals due to the possibility of reaching the threshold of hours worked that would affect benefits payments but without having a guaranteed weekly income, and therefore the risk of being temporarily left without income.
  • Finally, this post seemed to have appealed also to people who were already employed and hoped to do this job in addition to what they were doing. This was because they were already highly skilled in social research, and saw this as an opportunity to practise those skills in the UK context. From our perspective this meant that individuals we employed had very different sets of skills and knowledge in relation to social research which proved to be challenging both in term of designing training but also in terms of management.  

In sum, we have learned much about what works best for our organisation, our projects and for the people we recruit, but continue to reflect with our team and adjust our practices.

There is some useful literature available relating to the recruitment and employment of refugees more generally, not specifically in a research context, for example: 

• UNHCR (2019) ‘Guidelines to Help British Businesses Employ Refugees.’

• OECD and UNHCR (2018) ‘Engaging with Employers in the Hiring of Refugees: a 10-point multi-stakeholder action plan for employers, refugees, governments and civil society.’
Last updated: 20th January 2023

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