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Reflections on CRA recruitment

Two of the three Pilot groups have struggled to appoint and/or retain their community research assistant (CRA). Without going into the details of each candidate or appointment, we can say that only one of the three groups’ CRAs will complete the role as we initially envisioned (i.e. someone who would fulfil the role for the project’s full term, while undertaking training and building individual and organisational capacity to spearhead the delivery of the local MER program). This has resulted in significant disruption to the project and might limit its outcomes. 

While we recognise that this sample size of the Pilot is far too small to make concrete generalisations, two factors might have contributed to this and might be learned from (as is the purpose of this Pilot). These factors are:

  • Lack of a rigid definition of the CRA role and their responsibilities. This slight ‘openness’ and malleability for the position was deliberate and done with good intentions – in that it would enable groups to select a candidate to fit their own organisational needs while also meeting the projects’ requirements. However, it seems to have led to a lack of clarity around what would be expected of the CRAs and the type of candidate that would best fit the role.
  • Hands-off approach to CRA recruitment from GBRF and ESS – which was more-or-less left entirely up to the Pilot groups. This was done for similar reasons as above, in that the Pilot groups autonomy in selecting CRAs was paramount. However, casual feedback from the groups indicates that this passive approach led to confusion about who was eligible to be appointed - instead interpreted that it could be filled by anyone of the group’s choosing (with suitability for the role a secondary consideration). While there was a clear picture among ESS and GBRF about the characteristics of an ideal CRA, neither asserted this to Pilot groups so as not to co-opt the recruitment decisions of the Pilot group in any way. Of course, it is a fine line between providing autonomy and providing guidance, however we now feel that being a part of the recruitment and sharing the key characteristics of a strong candidate would have relieved groups by helping them to provide a a better foundation for their decision making.

Learning note(s):

The two points above are closely related and both suggest that the expectations of the CRA role, as well as the characteristics (and possibly capacity, qualifications or experience) of suitable candidates should be presented more clearly and that GBRF and ESS should be more involved in the recruitment process. In future programs this will be easier, because we will be able to put together a much tighter picture of what that role involves, its key duties, and the type of candidate that groups should look for - we will also be much more active during the recruitment phase.

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