Senior Research Officer
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Apply before 11:55 pm on Sunday 24th September 2023
Type of role
Number of jobs available
We are looking to fill three Senior Research Officer posts in Defra. One post is based in the Food Chain Analysis Team (in the Agri-Food Chain directorate), and two posts are based in the Farming and Environmental Land Management Evidence Teams (in the Farming and Countryside Programme directorate).
As a Senior Research Officer you will design, manage, and/or conduct complex or high-profile research projects (which may be commissioned externally, or conducted in-house). Additionally, you may analyse and interpret existing data and provide guidance to policy colleagues on current research evidence. Other examples of projects include policy evaluations, literature reviews, public consultations, interviews and surveys. The role is expected to include mentoring or line managing junior research colleagues.
Background to Defra
Defra is the UK government department responsible for safeguarding our natural environment, supporting our world-leading food & farming industry, and sustaining a thriving rural economy. Our broad remit means we play a major role in people's day-to-day life, from the food we eat, and the air we breathe, to the water we drink. We are responsible for England’s environment, our countryside and rural economy, the food and farming sectors and have lead responsibility for protection from a wide range of natural threats and hazards. Your role will be critically important to achieving our vision of ‘creating a great place for living.
The Social Research Group in Defra
Social researchers in the Defra group play an essential role in helping Defra understand the context in which policy is delivered and its likely impact. We help by framing and contextualizing the policy challenge, identifying “what works”, developing policy solutions, and measuring and understanding the impact of government action. We work in all the policy directorates in Defra and are involved in the challenges which are important to the Defra group. These include securing food supply sustainability, reducing air pollution, improving the environmental contribution of farming, and addressing marine pollution.
Social researchers are embedded in policy and evidence teams across the directorates or work in a central research team. Coming together as the Defra Social Research Group means we have strong working links to our profession. We are also full members of the Government Social Research profession.
As we work daily with policy, implementation and analytical colleagues, we value the support of our vibrant and active Social Research Group. The Group enables us to share our knowledge and skills, solve common challenges, and develop our careers.
Senior Research Officer – Agri-Food Chain directorate (1 x permanent post)
This role is based in the Food Chain Analysis team (FCAT). FCAT is a vibrant and friendly team multidisciplinary team of economists, statisticians and social researchers in Defra’s Agri-food Chain directorate. The team provides analytical support to all aspects of food policy in the post farm gate food chain – from manufacturing to wholesale to retail to catering. In recent times this has included analysing consumer behaviour, from pre-Brexit stockpiling to coronavirus panic buying, modelling the effects of economic shocks on retail prices, building up our market intelligence capacity and developing a deep understanding of the food supply chain (food is part of our Critical National Infrastructure).
Working in a flexible analytical team and directly with policy means this role is ideal for anyone looking to develop their research skills and influence policy. It is particularly suited to people with some experience of working on issues relating to the agri-food chain and/or can demonstrate an interest in agri-food issues.
You will lead work across the Agri food Chain portfolio on high profile areas. Examples of the team’s work include:
- Leading research activity connected to precision breeding / gene editing
- Leading research activity on food information, labelling and composition
- Evaluating the flagship Food Data Transparency Partnership and its impact on sustainability
- Understanding consumer food practices, purchasing behaviours and preferences
- Supporting a national programme of food system trials, working with an academic research team and government partners
- Understanding labour shortages in the food supply chain and the impact of measures put into place to address these
- Provision of advice on consultation questions and consultation analysis
Senior Research Officer – Farming and Countryside Programme (2 x permanent posts)
We are looking to fill two Senior Research Officer Posts in Defra’s Farming and Environmental Land Management Evidence teams. You will support work across the Farming and Countryside Programme, principally providing social research advice in support of the Government’s approach to agricultural policy delivery. These are policy-focussed posts within an interdisciplinary evidence team and will enable social science input to inform a range of policy and delivery activities to support key outcomes for net zero ambitions, biodiversity recovery, water quality and food production.
Working in a flexible analytical team and directly with policy means these roles are ideal for anyone looking to use a range of existing research skills to influence policy to deliver ambitious public benefit outcomes.
The postholder will be responsible for leading qualitative and quantitative work covering both an understanding of the current issues affecting farming and also evaluation of the impacts of policies, most notably Environmental Land Management and economic support schemes aimed at farm businesses in England. Some work is commissioned but most is undertaken in-house, using existing evidence as well as being responsible for new survey data and qualitative data from interviews and group discussions. There will be opportunities for primary research including designing and undertaking surveys and interviews.
A key part of the role is ensuring policy teams supporting the various farming sectors are supported for evidence and analysis – this means being both reactive to requests and proactive in terms of promoting evidence to influence decisions. This role will need close working with policy teams and other analytical professions to ensure evidence is timely and impactful. Some work on leading input on consultation design and analysis is expected as new policies are introduced or existing ones reviewed.
An interest in farming, the environment and evaluation welcomed but experience in these areas is not essential.
The successful candidate will:
- Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of research methodology, method, and the latest techniques, including main quantitative, qualitative and evaluation methods (at e.g. post graduate level) with around two years of applied experience. Is up to date with methodological developments.
- Hold a track record of designing medium scale or more complex projects, applying best practice guidance, identifying new areas for work, translating policy requirements into robust specifications that will meet customer needs.
- Have experience of accurately evaluate competing data sources and identify salient points and trends to draw sound, logical inferences.
- Have experience of managing research projects of significant scale, working with other analysts and ensuring relevant legal, ethical, procurement, and quality assurance practice followed, ensuring quality of results and methodological rigour.
- Communicate analysis of complex information clearly, helping others make good use of social research evidence, even where this is not perfect.
- Understand policy context and timescales, explaining different angles critically and analytically, works with other analysts to best meet customer needs
- Provide expertise and shapes expectations and needs through educating others on social research
The Defra group is dedicated to having a diverse workforce which represents people in our communities and an inclusive culture where everyone feels they can be their authentic self at work, belong in the organisation and can speak up to challenge others when needed. We want everyone to be able to contribute to the success of our organisation, regardless of your background.
The following criteria are essential to these posts:
1) Excellent analytical skills – with the ability to identify, champion, and use both qualitative and quantitative social research approaches to explore and answer research questions.
2) The ability to collaborate effectively with others across boundaries, to deliver results and engaging multiple stakeholder groups with differing priorities and perspectives to agree consensus-based solutions.
3) The ability to take personal responsibility for shaping, planning and driving forward work, delivering at pace and managing deadlines across a broad portfolio of work.
4) An ability to keep in touch with new research findings and methods in your field and accessibly interpreting and sharing these with colleagues.
We'll assess you against these behaviours during the selection process:
- Working Together
- Delivering at Pace
- Making Effective Decisions
We'll assess you against these technical skills during the selection process:
- Government Social Research technical skills
- Learning and development tailored to your role
- An environment with flexible working options
- A culture encouraging inclusion and diversity
- A Civil Service pension with an average employer contribution of 27%
- You will have 25 days leave, increasing by 1 day every year to a maximum of 30 days after five years’ service. In addition, all staff receive the King’s Birthday privilege holiday and 8 days’ bank and public holidays.
- Time off to volunteer
- Discounts and savings on shopping, fun days out and more
- Interest-free loans to buy a bike or a season ticket
Defra operates a blended working policy subject to business need, giving people the flexibility to choose when and where they work and collaborate with others.
Individuals are expected to work from one of the office locations stated in the advert to connect with their colleagues, as required by their role and business team needs. There is flexibility to split the working week, spending minimum of 40-60% in the workplace, unless exceptional circumstances apply and/or you are a contractual home worker.
Selection process details
As part of the application process you will be asked to complete a CV, personal statement, behaviour and technical statements. Further details around what this will entail are listed on the application form.
Please tailor your application to evidence your experience and skills according to those stated in this job advert. Your personal statement should show, in no more than 500 words, how you meet the essential criteria of the post.
All applicants will follow the same selection process for interview.
Candidates will be selected for interview based on (1) successful completion of an online Government Social Research knowledge test (not required for existing GSR members), and (2) the assessment criteria outlined above.
Should a large number of applications be received, an initial sift may be conducted using the personal statement. Candidates who pass the initial sift may be progressed to a full sift, or progressed straight to assessment/interview.
Sift and Interview dates to be confirmed.
Interviews will primarily assess candidates against the essential professional criteria listed and will include the Government Social Research presentation or scenarios (unless candidates hold the necessary GSR membership).
A presentation or additional exercise may also be assessed.
Interviews will last approximately one hour. Further details will be provided to shortlisted candidates in advance of the interview.
You will be able to express a preference for one of the posts. We will endeavour to adhere to your preferences but we cannot guarantee you will be allocated to your chosen post. Please note you will be given the opportunity to specify your preference at interview.
You will need, or be expecting to have, a 2:1 degree or higher in any social science degree subject with a substantial social research methods component, or a relevant post-graduate degree.
You will be asked whether you hold the required Government Social Research (GSR) profession membership as part of your application. If you are not a member, you will need to complete and pass the GSR assessment during the application process. The assessment includes two parts, firstly an online knowledge test (conducted prior to interview), and secondly an oral briefing (conducted at interview). Further details will be provided. See here for GSR membership eligibility details.
To be invited to interview you must demonstrate satisfactory evidence of the essential behaviours listed (three Civil Service behaviours and one Government Social Research behaviour). At interview you will be assessed against these same behaviours (RO level).
Please be aware that this role(s) will be contractually based in a Defra group workplace/office. The successful candidate is required to carry out all their duties from a UK location, and cannot do so from an overseas location at any time.
Candidates applying for these roles will be based at one of the Defra hubs as advertised.
For information, our core Defra hub locations are:
- York – the Kings Pool;
- Newcastle – Lancaster House;
- Bristol – Horizon House (Please note that space at this office is limited and it may not be possible for all Policy roles to be recruited to this location);
- London – 2 Marsham Street.
Internal (core Defra) employees can apply for this role and choose to remain in their current location or to be based in one of the advertised Defra hub locations. All other applicants will be based in one of the advertised Defra hub locations. Defra continues to support a blended working model and candidates are currently expected to attend their office base for 40-60% of the week. Travel and subsistence will not be paid for travel to a base office location.
New entrants to the Civil Service are expected to start on the minimum of the pay band. The internal roles rules apply to existing Civil Servants, i.e. level transfers move on current salary or the pay range minimum, transfers on promotion move to new pay range minimum or receive 10% increase. Either case is determined by whichever is the highest.
A reserve list may be held for a period of up to 12 months from which further appointments can be made.
Where more than one location is advertised, candidates will be appointed in merit order for each location. You will be asked to state your location preference on your application.
Any move to Defra from another employer will mean you can no longer access childcare vouchers. This includes moves between government departments. You may however be eligible for other government schemes, including Tax Free Childcare. Determine your eligibility at https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk
If a person with disabilities is put at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person, we have a duty to make reasonable changes to our processes.
If you need a change to be made so that you can make your application, you should:
Contact Government Recruitment Service via email@example.com as soon as possible before the closing date to discuss your needs.
Complete the ‘Assistance required’ section in the ‘Additional requirements’ page of your application form to tell us what changes or help you might need further on in the recruitment process. For instance, you may need wheelchair access at interview, or if you’re deaf, a Language Service Professional.
If you are experiencing accessibility problems with any attachments on this advert, please contact the email address in the 'Contact point for applicants' section.
Visa Sponsorship Statement
Please take note that Defra does not hold a UK Visa & Immigration (UKVI) Skilled Worker License sponsor and are unable to sponsor any individuals for Skilled Worker Sponsorship.
Criminal Record Check
If successful and transferring from another Government Department a criminal record check may be carried out.
In order to process applications without delay, we will be sending a Criminal Record Check to Disclosure and Barring Service on your behalf.
However, we recognise in exceptional circumstances some candidates will want to send their completed forms direct. If you will be doing this, please advise Government Recruitment Service of your intention by emailing Pre-EmploymentChecks.firstname.lastname@example.org stating the job reference number in the subject heading.
Internal Fraud Database Check
Applicants who are successful at interview will be, as part of pre-employment screening, subject to a check on the Internal Fraud Database (IFD). This check will provide information about employees who have been dismissed for fraud or dishonesty offences. This check also applies to employees who resign or otherwise leave before being dismissed for fraud or dishonesty had their employment continued. Any applicant’s details held on the IFD will be refused employment.
A candidate is not eligible to apply for a role within the Civil Service if the application is made within a 5 year period following a dismissal for carrying out internal fraud against government.
Higher Security Clearance
Please be aware the levels of national security clearance are changing which may impact on the level needed for this role by the time of appointment. All efforts will be made to keep candidates informed of any changes and what that will mean in terms of vetting criteria. For more information please See our vetting charter.
All of these posts require the successful candidate to hold basic security clearance. Candidates posted to London may be subject to a higher level of clearance because of the security requirements for that location. Job offers to these posts are made on the basis of merit. Security vetting will only take place after the receipt of a job offer.
Feedback will only be provided if you attend an interview or assessment.
Working for the Civil Service
Contact point for applicants
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