Bring your Voice to the World Café! A Bottom-up Approach to Identifying Research Priorities

In this blog post, Raphaela Berding-Barwick and Maria Fernandes-Jesus reflect on a World Café event they held with other researchers and students from YSJ in collaboration with Our City Hub at York Explore Library.

One pillar of social justice research is that knowledge is built from the lived experiences of people (Johnson and Parry, 2022). Although researchers take this very seriously, many often enter communities with a research question in mind, that they have determined after reading books and peer-reviewed journal articles which point towards ‘gaps in the literature’ that need addressing, or through their own observations and experiences. Through this rigorous process, it seems, researchers do their due diligence to develop aims and objectives of research projects. However, communities themselves often have their own perspectives of research priorities, and what they think should be addressed through academic research.

This idea was at the heart of the World Café study we undertook in collaboration with Our City Hub, a migrant-led support hub for migrants living in York. Our City Hub is the first of its kind, and has been developed as a pilot scheme to assist and upskill migrant communities in York, and develop community resources. Since it has been established, it has developed into a supportive group that gets together every Saturday from 9.30am to 3.30pm at York Explore library.

Among other types of support, this migrant-led hub offers support to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including basic advice, translation and interpreting services, social and cultural events, an English club and a children’s club.

The World Café

The idea for the World Café originated in the group resisting the fact that researchers determined research agendas in identifying what topics to research with migrants in York, rather than conducting research on issues which the group sees as important. We took this concern very seriously and at a meeting between colleagues at York St John University and Our City Hub last year, we developed ideas about how we can collaborate and develop community engagement projects in a manner which breaks down barriers between researchers and community members, and puts migrants’ voices centre-stage.

To achieve this, we used the World Café as a participatory research method (Löhr et al., 2020), through which we sought to engage migrants in the research, starting with determining research priorities. When we conducted the café, the group discussed questions about the main challenges migrants face in York; what kind of support and services are missing for migrants; what research on the topic of migration should be prioritised; and how migrants can be involved in research. This approach allowed us to uphold key principles of social justice research, as we worked with communities taking a bottom-up approach and listened to their experiences and perspectives on research priorities.

The World Café took place in May 2023, with 19 migrants talking about their needs and views on research over coffee and biscuits. Every migrant who attended the World Café had something to share and wanted to have their voices heard.

Several challenges faced by migrant communities living in York were identified, including issues related to language barriers, cultural awareness and lack of diverse and inclusive policies (e.g. in schools). Overall, migrants suggested a lack of informational support and tailored services in several areas including medicine and healthcare, transport, childcare, support for the elderly, and personal development workshops.

In terms of research priorities, it was argued that research should consider the diversity within the migrant community and ‘evaluate per community and per age groups.’ In addition, it was suggested that research should look at issues related to the everyday challenges faced by migrants in terms of language, cultural barriers, access to mental health services, integration processes, discrimination experiences, etc. Besides offering practical suggestions on possible research questions to explore, participants in the World Café were enthusiastic in sharing their ideas about how they should be involved in research.

Developing a long-term research partnership

Based on the data collected in the World Café, we will develop a research plan that reflects the perspectives of those that participated in the café. Ultimately, the aim is to develop a long-term research partnership with the migrant community in York and develop further research activities. A Memorandum of understanding was recently signed with Our City Hub which forms the basis for this.

For further information, please contact Maria Fernandes-Jesus.



Löhr, K., Weinhardt, M., & Sieber, S. (2020). The “World Café” as a participatory method for collecting qualitative data. International journal of qualitative methods, 19, 1609406920916976.

Johnson, C. W., & Parry, D. C. (Eds.). (2022). Fostering social justice through qualitative inquiry: A methodological guide. Taylor & Francis Group.