Section 4: Compensation and payment

Paying co-researchers and participants for their involvement in research should be a key consideration when designing the research, writing research grants and negotiating facilitators and barriers to participation with participants (Flicker et al., 2007; MacKinnon, et al., 2021; Vaccaro, 2020). Ensuring appropriate payment is in place has significant implications for the ethical validity of the research, as well as the legacy of the project with the communities involved.

Key Considerations

  • Make sure any remuneration is time-sensitive, respectful of all those involved, and responds to the wishes and needs of participants.
  • Negotiation and shared decision-making on preferred method of payment is key.
  • Be transparent about the implications and time-frames of the different options.
  • Minimise the administrative burden for participants and provide accessible and non-judgmental support for the administrative elements; ensure there is shared understanding and dialogue throughout, and pay for individuals’ time of doing any administration or forms involved.
  • It is important to be mindful that in some cases, gift cards/vouchers could be perceived as condescending (MacKinnon et al., 2021).
  • If vouchers/gift cards are the individual’s preferred option, ensure you allow people to pick specifically what voucher would be valuable and useful to them (e.g., which shops do they have easy access to, would they prefer vouchers to somewhere they can get hot food, gym/shower access, bedding, new clothes, technology devices, etc.).
  • Ensure that individuals have all they need for payments to be used, e.g., if participants choose online vouchers, ensure that person will have access to devices, the internet, an address for delivery, and follow up to ensure that payments have come through.

 "The practice of paying peers who are often economically marginalised is complex and must be done with attention to context, population-specific needs, equity and justice." (MacKinnon et al., 2021, p.900; see also, Roche et al., 2010)

Key Insights

Practical Guidance

An important report has been issued by the Scottish Human Rights Commission in 2021 ‘Paying people with lived experience for their participation: A review of legislation, literature, and practice’. This includes helpful detail relating to HMRC Taxcodes, writing letters to job centres, and gives examples of what kind of payments are legal and respectful. It is advisable to read the full report, with particular attention on:

  • Tax implications for paying participants (Pages 13-15)
  • Benefits implications for paying participants (Pages 15-16)
  • Calculating payment amounts (Page 52)
  • Case study 5 (Page 36)

The report highlights guidelines from Citizens’ Assemblies have established a day rate of £75 as good practice, although in current circumstances and with the increased minimum wage, higher may be more appropriate,  again this will depend of the topic and the expertise of those involved, see for example the criteria from public participation charity ‘Involve’ . It is also important to ensure that no financial barriers prevent participation in the research.

Researcher Insight:
Researcher 5 discussed the importance of finding ways to ensure that no economic or practical barriers prevent meaningful participation:
‘We were actively fundraising to put more money in to pay for indigenous delegates to come to the workshop, because we want to remove any barriers to entry for those delegates who might, historically, have been excluded from these sorts of processes. Yes, the Indigenous *[name of region]* Council states that it's important for indigenous people to be involved in determining research priorities, and we fully subscribe to that idea, and would like to do our best to make sure that they can come and be very welcome, and that there aren't any barriers to that’. (Researcher 5)

University of Oxford Ethical Guidance

The University’s Central University Research Ethics Committee have issued helpful advice:

Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) Best Practice Guidance 05_Version 1.3 Title: Payments and incentives in research

This gives examples of appropriate and inappropriate practices on pages 4 and 5 (NB this was published in 2020 and in current circumstances payments and vouchers should have a significantly higher value to recognise the serious economic pressures individuals are currently experiencing).

Researcher Insight:
Researcher 8 reflected on the importance of meaningful payment in a project involving a marginalised community, and also the importance of setting up funds to ensure participants could attend and speak at conferences.
‘One of the main reasons this project was successful in participatory engagement was because there was funding from a few different areas for different aspects. Early on [name of research advocacy experts] said to us that having enough money to get people to these conferences, and to pay people to be peer guides, and to come to the focus groups, is what's going to make sure this project is successful, not having £5 vouchers. These are participants who are giving over their expertise just like someone talking on any other topic. So I think that for funders, it's recognising that doing this sort of work is expensive, and for the project to be seen as successful (and to leave a lasting legacy with that community), you need to have the money in place to be able to accommodate things like going to conferences. I think it's really important for funders to understand that, because otherwise the research isn't done in a meaningful way, and you could actually harm the community by going in and basically just extracting all of this knowledge, and all of this really rich data, without giving anything back’.(Researcher 8)

 Key Literature


  • Flicker, S., Travers, R., Guta, A. et al. (2007) Ethical Dilemmas in Community-Based Participatory Research: Recommendations for Institutional Review Boards. J Urban Health 84, 478–493.
  • MacKinnon, K. R., Guta, A., Voronka, J., Pilling, M., Williams, C. C., Strike, C., & Ross, L. E. (2021). The political economy of peer research: mapping the possibilities and precarities of paying people for lived experience. The British Journal of Social Work, 51(3), 888-906.
  • Roche, B., Guta, A. and Flicker, S. A. (2010) Peer research in action I: Models of practice, Toronto, The Wellesley Institute
  • Vaccaro, M. E. (2020). Reflections on ‘doing’ participatory data analysis with women experiencing long-term homelessness. Action Research, 1476750320974429.

 Key Links 

Online resources

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Cite as: Scott-Barrett*, J., Marshall-Brown*, A., Livingstone-Banks, M., Chrisinger, B., Scher, B., Hickman, M. (2023) Participatory Research: Researcher Insights. University of Oxford *(joint first authorship)