Developing research integrity standard operating procedures
Research integrity is key to achieving excellence in research and innovation in Europe. It is widely acknowledged that research misconduct undermines the quality of research and may potentially lead to social and financial costs.
Research performing organisations (RPOs), including Higher Education Institutions, as well as research funding organisations (RFOs) play an important role in shaping the culture of scientific research. In this regard, it is important that RPOs and RFOs develop efficient mechanisms to promote the quality of science. As indicated in the first Council conclusions on research integrity, they are expected to "define and implement policies to promote research integrity and to prevent and address research misconduct". The implementation of these policies requires the development of standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines related to research integrity and the prevention of research misconduct. The crucial role of RPOs and RFOs is further underlined by the new the European code of conduct for research integrity. In order to achieve the broadest embedding of research integrity and the minimisation of research misconduct, appropriate structures must be in place.
The action aims to promote the development of Research Integrity Promotion Plans, i.e. concrete and efficient research integrity support processes and structures as "drivers" for institutional change within RPOs and RFOs. To this end, SOP and operative guidelines for effective and efficient prevention, detection and handling (including any legal and financial aspects) of research misconduct (hereafter "processes") will be developed, addressing the needs and expectations of the research funders, the research community and other relevant stakeholders.
In order to inform the development of such guidelines, discipline-related focus groups including stakeholders from research integrity structures (research integrity offices, academies, industry ethics departments, university research offices, etc.) should take place. The issue of promoting research integrity and the relation with scientific and research culture in general should also be discussed and analysed.
The outcomes of the focus groups will form the basis of a large-scale survey of researchers on issues around research integrity to be carried out by the action. This survey should be performed on the basis of the relevant literature and, in order to avoid duplication, take into account previous survey results including those conducted by the SwafS projects PRINTEGER, ENERI, DEFORM and EnTIRE. Similarly, the results of EU Member State national surveys should also be used appropriately. The survey, to be conducted in all EU Member States and some key OECD countries, should cover the main scientific disciplines (including social sciences and humanities) in order to reflect the different realities and perceptions of research integrity within these fields. Ultimately, the survey results will inform the development of the research integrity support processes and structures.
The processes must be in line with the above mentioned new European code on research integrity. Overall, the action must facilitate the coherent implementation of the principles and practices contained in this code throughout the European Research Area. The elaborated SOPs/guidelines should be tested as a pilot, in selected institutions, and the feedback on their efficiency and effectiveness should be integrated into the outcomes of the project.
When designing such processes, the work shall explore, among others, factors that could have a negative influence on the culture of scientific research as well as on the means of promoting the quality of science, identifying in particular best standard practices, good laboratory practices (GLPs), conditions for reproducibility of results and standardisation of materials, encouraging the publication of negative results. The processes and structures should be comprehensive and practical, designed to address specific needs and expectations of the research community and other relevant stakeholders in the different fields. The work should also include cost-benefit analysis and suggestions as to how the proposed SOP/guidelines should be embedded in the RPOs internal procedures (e.g. acknowledging differences in size, scope of activities, budget, location, etc.)
A key element in developing the SOPs is the need to address, in a constructive manner, the roots of research misconduct (e.g. the lack of standardisation and GLPs, negative consequences of the "publish or perish" model and side effects of assessing excellence via bibliometric tools) and not to solely rely on repressive systems. In this regard and in addition to the identification of the most effective sanctions (from a short and long-term perspective), innovative ways of stimulating responsible research practices should be proposed and validated (preparatory work should be included in the survey). This should also address those researchers who have been involved in some form of misconduct ("innovative sanctions").
The scientific community and other relevant stakeholders should be involved in the co-design of research integrity plans for RPOs and RFOs. The research integrity plans should include actions such as the introduction of research integrity in Higher Education Institutions' curricula, continuing education actions on research integrity, SOP for establishing research integrity committees and a commonly accepted framework of principles and procedures dealing with issues of research misconduct.
The proposal should demonstrate how the Research Integrity Promotion Plans will contribute to the promotion of research integrity, fostering a culture of open science and open innovation. The work will also propose methods for monitoring the implementation of such integrity plans in RPOs and RFOs.
The proposed actions will closely collaborate with and make use of the results form relevant EU funded research projects under the SWAFs programme (mainly PRINTEGER, ENERI, DEFORM and projects funded via SwafS-16-2016, SwafS-21-2017, SwafS-27-2017). The currently available results of these projects are accessible through the websites already listed (see previous footnote). Any IT communication infrastructure envisioned should use the existing EU communication tool SINAPSE
The close cooperation with the European Network on Research Ethics and Research Integrity (ENERI) is of particular importance due to its current activities in this area. In order to improve the impact of the expected output, cooperation with organisations of research managers and administrators such as the European Association of research managers and Administrators (EARMA) is encouraged.
In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation (COM(2012)497), international cooperation is encouraged.
A project duration of at least 36 months is recommended.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of the order of EUR 4 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts
Overall, the action will actively contribute to the development in the EU of a strong research integrity culture and to a coherent adherence to the highest ethics and integrity standards. The resulting support processes and structures should ultimately lead to institutional changes within RPOs and RFOs that will fill in gaps in the existing system and promote responsible research and innovation while respecting the diverse circumstances that prevail in different scientific and research fields.
Socio-economic science and humanities
1 December 2015 – 14853/15 RECH 296.
See http://europa.eu/sinapse. SINAPSE quick guide: https://europa.eu/sinapse/sinapse/index.cfm?fuseaction=cmty.downloadgui…