The Refugees in Towns (RIT) Project: Instructions for Case Report Writers


RIT is a practice- and policy-relevant project run through Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center. We collect local-level case reports from individuals who can write up their personal experiences with integration in their town or neighborhood. Writers should draw on their personal history, social groups, and local contextual knowledge to describe how they have perceived integration, and how migration has impacted their place of residence.

We are looking for writers who are either migrants themselves living in the town or are non-migrant locals who have lived there for an extended period of time and speak the local language(s). We are not looking for professional researchers, but rather for individuals who are motivated to help share their own authentic experiences and perspectives. These writers do not need to be fluent in English–we can assist with copy editing and with capturing nuanced ideas in the English language.

All of our reports are based on localized research, an idea derived from the localization principles underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “Localizing development is a process to empower all local stakeholders, aimed at making sustainable development more responsive and...relevant to local needs and aspirations. Development goals can be reached only if local actors fully participate, not only in the implementation, but also in the agenda-setting and monitoring.”

Just as the SDGs require that “public policies are not imposed from the top, but that the whole policy chain is shared,” the localization agenda seeks to involve local actors in all phases of the research. This approach has been pioneered by the Joint IDP Profiling Service. Local expertise and understanding is crucial to answering research questions. For external researchers, a significant methodological barrier is understanding the local context in which refugees are living. Language (translation) problems and lack of understanding of local cultural, political and social issues both mean that external researchers cannot fully grasp complex and sensitive problems such as the interaction between refugees and the host population. To overcome these barriers, RIT writers must be fluent in the local language and must live in or be very familiar with the town.

Style & Tone

We stress that this is not a technical report, academic research, or a policy briefing. The report is intended to be written in a narrative style and tone, in the first person, and reflect the personal experiences of the writer(s). Each case report should be based on the writer’s perspective and describe their unique experiences with integration.

RIT Report Themes

Drawing from personal experiences and observation, writers may address any of the three themes and example questions from the RIT project in their report.

Theme 1: Spatializing the refugee population

  1. From your observations and publicly available data, what is the overall population of the city or town? In your community, how many people come from what demographic backgrounds?

  2. From your experience, are refugees clustered in specific areas, or distributed evenly throughout the city? Why do you think this pattern occurs?

  3. Do you get a sense that refugees are settling in certain economic areas rather than others? Are these dominantly low income, middle income, or high-income areas?

  4. How has the refugee population of your area changed over time—have you seen refugees moving from other parts of the country or other parts of the city?

  5. Do you see refugees in your community maintaining connections with other countries by sending money, goods, moving back and forth, or communicating with people abroad?

Theme 2: The urban impact

  1. Have you observed businesses and trade change because of the presence of refugees and other migrants in your area? From your perspective, have refugees affected the job market or housing market? Where have you seen refugees working?

  2. Do you feel refugees have affected the culture and politics of your area?

  3. Have you perceived changing availability to—or quality of—healthcare, schools, housing, or other services in your area? Do you see this a result of migration, or other factors?

  4. How do you feel locals perceive and interact with refugees?

  5. How do you feel other migrant populations perceive and interact with refugees?

  6. Have you observed any impact of migration on governance? How has the town government responded to immigration? Is this the same or different to the national government response to immigration?

Theme 3: The refugee experience

  1. From your observations, what are refugees’ main sources of income and support? What are their financial obligations? Do they typically have access to financial tools like loans, or carry debt?

  2. Have you observed refugees becoming politically active? What kinds of mobilization has occurred?

  3. How do you think refugees and host community members in your area define integration? What factors do you think they consider important in enabling or preventing integration?

  4. How do you think refugees perceive their futures in your area? What do they want for their children? Do they plan to stay, go elsewhere, or return home? Have you observed any return movement?

  5. What kinds of social networking do you see among and between refugees, other migrant groups, and host community members? What sorts of interactions allow or damage these relationships?

Planning the Case Report

Prior to beginning writing, we may have some conversations to help think about the positionality of each case writer (nationality, gender, class, etc.), and how this position may influence their experiences with integration. These conversations may also be helpful in narrowing down and settling on a particular theme of integration for the written report (e.g. arts, language, public parks, cooking).

The Report Outline

The case report is 15-20 pages (including maps, references, photos, etc.). We request writers use the following the outline to structure their report:

1.     Introduction (1 page): Place the city in the context of the host country, overviewing city size, number of refugees, how long they’ve been there, and outline the themes the case report explores. This may draw from a desk review of pre-existing reports.

2.     Positionality reflection (1 page): Description of what the author’s position is in the town, how they came to choose their topic, the limitations and biases of the author’s perspective, a description of the author’s social connections in their area.

3.     National Background (1 page): Description of refugees in the host country at a national level, drawing upon existing reports and publicly available data. This section is written in the style of an encyclopedia entry in the third person. Unlike the majority of the report, this section is objective and simply provides the basic facts and context for a reader who doesn’t know about your country or region.

4.     City Background (1 page): Description of the town’s history of migrant integration and key events. This can be based on desk review, and your own personal knowledge of the town’s history. This section is written in the style of an encyclopedia entry in the third person. Unlike the majority of the report, this section is objective and simply provides the basic facts and context for a reader who doesn’t know about your country or region.

5.     Map of the town (1 page): Visual depiction generalized at the census tract (or equivalent) of how refugees and key points like service centers are distributed throughout the town based on your observations of public spaces, publicly available geolocation data in software like OpenStreetMap, and any publicly available census data. RIT writers may create these maps using free, open-source Geographic Information Systems (GIS) like Google Maps. Please note that writers cannot and should not collect or map personally identifiable or sensitive information and should not geocode anything that is not public knowledge (i.e. already available through mapping software like OpenStreetMap, or easily visible by a walk along a public street).

6.     Main Findings (10-12 pages): Drawing on your personal, lived experiences, this section addresses the above themes and questions. This section should be written in the first person and be your own subjective account of integration.

7.     Conclusion (1 page): Describe your perceptions about the future of migrant integration in your town and summarize any lessons or good practices from the town that may be valuable for other towns to learn from.

8.     References (<1 page): Please keep references to a minimum, but list in APA 6th Edition, alphabetically in a numbered list here.

More on Reflexivity and Positionality

All of our writers will depend heavily on reflexivity to consider how their positionality has effected their narratives, their role in communities, their relationships with migrant and host communities, their role in the city, and their role as a researcher / service provider / service recipient / friend / colleague / etc. To assist in this process, we might suggest "Kitchen Table Reflexivity," or the use of guided everyday talk to consider the writer's positionality and relationship to the writing process. This everyday talk may take place with other RIT writers, people you are close with, or virtually with members of RIT team. Here are readings with more information on the use of reflexivity in research, the theory behind reflexivity, an example of reflexivity used in research, and the application of reflexivity in urban spaces.

The Editing Process

After submitting your case report, the text will be reviewed by Prof. Karen Jacobsen and Charles Simpson, who may provide suggestions for revisions: expect that this process will include several exchanges and may take around two months. The final report text will go through a copy editing and formatting process before being published online by the Feinstein International Center at Tufts.

Technical details on writing

·       Citations should be kept to a minimal, but if necessary, do not restate content and rather refer the reader to external reports. Use parenthetical citations with a references section alphabetized in a numbered list in APA 6th Edition format.

·       Use U.S.-style spelling and grammar. In Word, go to Tools > Languages > English (US) to set the language.

·       Avoid stylization or formatting and keep your document simply text. The entire report will be professionally stylized by the Feinstein International Center prior to publication.

·       We welcome original photos that give a feel for the place being described in your report. However, photos should not depict any personally identifiable features of subjects.

·       No personally identifiable information (e.g. names, addresses, emails) or sensitive information (e.g. specific names and locations of areas where vulnerable populations gather) should be recorded or included in the report.


In addition to the report publication, we aim to have every case contribute to additional outcomes: 1) evidence for building an academic theory of integration, and 2) some practically relevant outcome that will facilitate healthy integration in your town or neighborhood. This could include a community center where refugees and hosts can bond over cooking, like what was developed in Augusta, Maine by RIT researchers, or an interactive map for service providers to better decide where to locate their personnel and resources, as was developed in Belgrade, Serbia. This practical outcome will vary from town to town, and often is only discovered through the case report writing process.

Research Methodology

RIT distinguishes between a "study," (testing a theory or intervention with pre- and post-data) from a "case report," (descriptive, non-generalizable account of a particular place and window of time). However, those writing case reports may learn from research methodology used in studies to develop their work: here are some resources.

Mixed methodology utilizes a range of different instruments to collect and analyze data. More information on qualitative mixed methodology is available here. Mixed methods may include a combination of the following data collection methods:

  • Quantitative data may include randomized or representative large-n statistically significant surveys. Survey data is often already available, such as census records, and simply needs to be collected, organized, and analyzed by researchers. Where survey data is publicly available (such as surveys conducted by state or town municipal agencies, or international organizations such as the World Bank or UNHCR) researchers can access these data fairly easily (they are often online). By contrast, surveys conducted by an independent researcher can be more difficult to access, and will require you to make contact with the researcher, establish trust, and request permission to see and use his/her data. Building such a relationship can take time and trouble but is worth the effort. It might even be productive to ask the survey researcher to team up with you to work on the case together.

  • Key informant and in-depth interviews typically include a wide range of people to accurately represent the diversity of interests and groups in the town or neighborhood you are exploring. The difference between a Key Informant (KI) interview and an in-depth interview is that a KI does not speak about him/herself, but rather about a community, organization, or institution as an expert. So, whereas you might ask a refugee about his or her personal experience, you would ask a KI about broader patterns and trends, or about the history of a community. Among in-depth interviews, researchers typically aim to have a diverse sample of respondents. In the forced migration context, these may include recently arrived refugees, long-settled refugees, non-forced migrants in the community, community leaders, government personnel, aid workers, business people, and service professionals (e.g. teachers or health providers). A sampling strategy is used before beginning interviews to determine which different demographics within relevant groups may need representation, such as newly arrived male and female refugees, old and young refugees, educated and uneducated refugees, and low-income and high-income refugees. Depending on the capacity of the research team (including number of enumerators, time, accessibility and financial constraints), interview samples may be representative or non-representative. We offer a reading by Trost for guidance on developing a non-representative sampling matrix. For additional information on sampling, readings are available here. For specific guidance on how to conduct interviews, more readings are available here.

  • Ethnography is a process of observing and recording individual and social interactions, rules, and behaviors. This may be formal and follow any number of specific techniques such as those described here. Ethnography may also be less formal, more akin to "hanging out with forced migrants" and taking notes on the interactions between people and the space they are in.

  • Participant Observation is a method of data collection in which the researcher establishes rapport with both the refugee and host communities and can move freely within and between them. The researcher gathers data through unobtrusive methods including observation, natural conversations, and interviews. The researcher should have an open, nonjudgmental attitude, be interested in learning about the different experiences and attitudes of all members of the communities, and be a careful observer and good listener. The researcher can be a member of either the refugee or host community, but should seek to become familiar to both groups.

  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS), or maps help tell a visual and spatial story that words may not effectively communicate. For the RIT project, maps help answer two central questions: 1) Are refugees/migrants clustering in certain areas, and why? 2) What public and private services are available, and where are these services located relative to migrant residences? Most RIT maps will include four layers of data:

    1. Refugee residency areas, generalized at the neighborhood level;

    2. Humanitarian services locations such as food, non-food aid, housing, medicine, education, and legal aid;

    3. Livelihoods and finance such as businesses and money transfer centers;

    4. Other points of interest relevant to the integration experience such as public parks, libraries, or soccer fields where refugees meet and spend significant amounts of time.

    These maps are not comprehensive and will not have all of these data points included exhaustively – they only need enough detail to show trends about how space and the city effect integration.

Maps present some ethical challenges. It is critical to first consider the safety and protection of personal information before beginning mapping. No information that cannot be obtained publicly (e.g. by walking down the street, or by a Google search) or that puts anyone at risk (e.g. individual refugee residency addresses) should ever be mapped. All individual data should be generalized at the neighborhood, census tract, zone, or equivalent level. In some cases where urban refugees are particularly vulnerable, any mapping at all may not be ethical: please discuss this with the RIT team if you have any concerns.

To begin, we recommend creating a list of important points of interest in a spreadsheet. You may already know many of these points but may discover more points through conversations with your social network, through a neighborhood walk, or by reading reports on your area. Next, you’ll need to “geocode” this list, or connect each of these points with location data, either an address, latitude-longitude (i.e. lat-long), degree-minute-second (i.e. DMS), or decimal coordinate. More information on geocoding is available here. To find this location data, start by searching for any existing maps and datasets from government, NGO, or academic sources: often there is publicly available government census or cadastral maps of the town, and lots of existing map data on Google Maps and OpenStreetMap’s humanitarian layer. You can add to this data by asking members of your community to map out points of interest, or taking a walk through the neighborhood with a smartphone and a map application like Google Maps that allows you to save locations as you walk by dropping “pins.” We suggest creating one map at the city level, and at least one detailed map at the neighborhood level showing distribution of services and other points of interest.

We also suggest creating one map at the city level showing neighborhoods or census tracts where migrants are clustering. You may start by finding a map of your city or town divided into census tracts, districts, or other equivalent units, then color coding each neighborhood by the density of refugees/migrants living there. This information may already be available from census or survey data but may need to be estimated with neighborhood walks and conversations with experts. It may be valuable to overlay this population data with other information like income level or cost of housing of each district to demonstrate why refugees/migrants are clustering in some districts rather than others.

To try using free, open-source map building tools, you can experiment with Google Maps:

  1. Go to

  2. Create an account or log in using the top right button

  3. Click the three horizontal lines menu on the top left next to the search bar

  4. Click "Your Places"

  5. Click "Maps"

  6. Click "Create Map" at the bottom

  7. This will enter the map builder. From here you can add layers as a shape, line, or point (buttons under the search bar).

... or OpenStreetMap:

  1. Go to

  2. Create an account or long in

  3. Be sure you have visible layers (e.g. "Humanitarian layer," the button of the layered squares on the right) and other relevant data like "Public GPS traces" are turned on (see buttons on the left).

  4. Edits can be made in the same way as Google Maps

More on Reflexivity and Positionality

Underpinning research--particularly qualitative research dealing with subjective data beyond clinical trials or other objective and often quantitative data collection--is the use of reflexivity to consider how positionality has effected researchers' narratives, identity, roles, and relationships with their work, their co-researchers, and their respondents and participants. Here are readings with more information on the use of reflexivity in research, the theory behind reflexivity, an example of reflexivity used in research, the application of reflexivity in urban spaces, and "Kitchen Table Reflexivity," or the use of guided everyday talk as a reflexive exercise.


After collecting data, a researcher needs to make sense of these data through analysis. Organizing data and analyzing it can be just as difficult and time consuming as collection. For some guidance on analysis, read here.