How to promote research integrity
We consider research integrity to mean that research methods, activities and processes are (1) guided by standards, guidelines and protocols; (2) open to external scrutiny (for example, ethical bodies extended to societal stakeholders); and (3) open to internal reflexivity (nurtured by a culture of open deliberative integrity). Research integrity is thus essential to ensuring research quality and trust in science.
Codes of conduct
It is the scientific community’s responsibility to ensure a culture of research integrity by formulating, executing and monitoring principles, virtues and criteria of good scholarly research and behaviour. Such principles and criteria are mainly found in codes of conduct. Codes of conduct are not bodies of law; instead they contain standards of integrity in conducting research. Still, most principles are reflections of universal values and norms in science. In this regard Europe’s code of conduct is worth a look. This code promotes ”honesty in reporting and communicating, reliability in performing research, objectivity, impartiality and independence, openness and accessibility, duty of care, fairness in providing references and giving credits, and responsibility for future science generations”.
In addition to fundamental and universal principles, institutes and nations should develop their own specific codes of conduct or good practice rules that fit their culture, law or topic-specific norms (e.g., ‘reduction’, ‘replacement’, and ‘refinement’ in animal research). Such rules are meant to oversee research practices, preventing poor or inappropriate practices and promoting appropriate standards for data management, records and data preservation, and authorship and publishing practices (take a look at How to Incorporate Open Access in Research Practice for more information on authorship and publishing). They also promote high ethical standards in working with research participants (for example, obtaining informed consent; see The Methodological Toolbox for inspiration on how to involve people in research). You can find the standards relevant for you on the website of your university, research institute, or national or international coordinating organisations. For an example, see the Research Ethics Library of The Norwegian National Research Ethics Committees; it contains general guidelines for research ethics as well as discipline-specific guidelines.
Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism and similar serious violations of good academic practice are incommensurate with research integrity. Furthermore, malpractice in research activities could mislead other researchers; it may even threaten individuals or society, possibly resulting in decreased trust in science. Each researcher is responsible for the trustworthiness of her or his own research, but forensic tools are available to help researchers identify potential cases of misconduct. At the institutional level, the European Research Council’s (ERC; the public body for funding scientific and technological research in the EU) Scientific Misconduct Strategy recognises that employers of researchers, such as research institutes, should facilitate high standards of research integrity in their practice. One way to do this is by establishing ethics committees to ensure that scientific research is conducted in an ethical manner. Take a look at the SATORI project (and their report on the legal frameworks that guide or constrain ethical procedures within research within the EU, in particular) for more information on how Europe and your specific country deals with codes of conduct, sanctions for scientific misconduct, and bodies upholding such codes and sanctions.
Education and training
For employers, maintaining a culture of research integrity includes training and mentoring of researchers at all stages of their careers. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands for example has a code of conduct for academic practice that explicitly includes academic teaching in its promotion of research integrity. Academic institutes are also responsible for training students in becoming good and responsible researchers. Helpful training tools are available: for example, the interactive games The Lab and The Research Clinic, both from The US Office of Research Integrity (ORI). For a less American and smaller-sized version, Integrity Factor (developed in the Netherlands) can be used. The ORI website also provides different web-based modules and information about regulations and standards for research integrity and misconduct. For more help in finding training modules and information about ethics in research, visit Ethicsweb or the TRREE programme, or read the European Textbook on Ethics in Research.
Integrity for society
Research integrity also refers to the socio-ethical responsibilities researchers have towards society. These responsibilities result from the impact science and innovation can have on society. Through Pathways to Impact, the research council of the UK encourages researchers to explore—from the outset, throughout the course of their projects, and beyond—who could potentially benefit from their research and what they can do to help make this happen. For more inspiration on how to integrate socio-ethical reflection in research, take a look at the STIR project (Socio-Technical Integration Research), which incorporates the point of view of human and social scientists in technical research team routines.
How to integrate ethics into all phases of the R&I process
When it comes to Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), the core ethical endeavour is to achieve its integration across the entire research and innovation (R&I) process. This process can be roughly divided into four phases: policy making and agenda setting, funding call formulation, project definition and proposal writing, and project execution and evaluation. Integrating ethics into these phases requires continuous orientation, reflection and deliberation on the decisions, actions and values at stake.
Below we present several resources for ethical conduct in the different R&I phases. Since critical reflection on the purpose and use of these resources remains important at all times, we first provide some guidance for your deliberations.
There are several ways to provide solid conditions for deliberative dynamics in all R&I phases. By organizing your practice so that moral deliberation takes place continuously, you can more readily orient yourself and reflect on the values at stake as well as on your goals and the best ways to achieve them. The collaborative nature of deliberation provides a means for catering to the rich variety of stakeholders that R&I often concerns.
One way to make deliberative dynamics possible is through stage-gating, a method used by the climate engineering project SPICE to increase opportunities for adaptive governance. By complementing it with questions such as those in the table below, stage-gating can be used and adjusted to make moral deliberation a continuous factor in RRI processes and to guide actors towards taking action more reflectively. The STIR (Socio-Technical Integration Research) program provides an example of such a protocol, including the following decision components for midstream modulation extracted from the paper A Framework for Responsible Innovation:
|Decision component||Critical question||Capacity built|
|Opportunity||What are you working on?||Reflexive|
|Considerations||Why are you working on it?||Deliberative, Reflexive|
|Alternatives||How could you approach it differently?||Responsive|
|Outcomes||Who might be affected in the future?||Anticipatory|
When these components are used in all of the following stages of the R&I process, reflexivity, responsiveness and anticipation will likely be increased.
Policy making and agenda setting
Ethically acceptable R&I practices begin with choosing the ‘right’ goals and purposes. Given that European science and technology are funded mainly with public money, it is vital that they are guided towards positive outcomes that can improve human lives and foster our environment. These outcomes need to be included in the agenda setting process. It is critical to include a diversity of stakeholders who can bring a wide variety of values and needs and make R&I a shared responsibility. The Mind the Gap! guide offers inspiring examples of multi-stakeholder dialogues for priority setting in health research. For a deeper look into the agenda setting process, check out the How to Set Up a Participatory Research Agenda section in this Toolkit.
Formulation of funding calls
Funding agencies have a prominent role in promoting and controlling ethically acceptable practices through their R&I proposal criteria (see the UK’s EPSRC for an example). Therefore, it is essential to incorporate ethical aspects in R&I calls, such as gender sensitivity, cultural diversity, integrity/conduct requirements, risk analyses, and socio-ethical considerations. The Toolkit’s How to Incorporate the RRI Principles in a Funding Call section describes in depth how these and other aspects can be integrated in such calls.
Project definition and proposal writing
Defining a project should include considering the R&I’s possible intended and unintended impacts on society, the environment, and human and animal life. Such considerations should include explicit discussions about whether the project could achieve outcomes more compliant with ethical norms and societal values and needs by using alternative methods and materials, including different actors, or implementing alternative strategies. Resources and techniques are available for reflecting on existing ethical norms, discussing societal values and anticipating impacts (including risk assessments). Examples include using techno-moral vignettes, technology assessment methods, or future scenarios and foresight (see the EC’s Joint Research Centre FOR-LEARN Online Foresight Guide, which offers guidelines, methods and case studies). More guidelines for defining a proposal are available in the How to Design a RRI-Oriented Project Proposal section of this Toolkit.
Project execution and evaluation
The project’s R&I practices should be designed in ways that are responsive to ethics and that continuously facilitate reflection on ethical norms and values. During the course of the project, regulations may change, for example, or new products that change the project’s methodology or aims may reach the market. Reflection can be stimulated by informal learning communities or by inviting an independent and critical social scientist or humanist to the project team, such as in the STIR project. Check out the Toolkit’s How to Create Structures for Implementing RRI section for more information.
How to facilitate structures for reflection
Incorporating reflection in R&I projects
Project-based reflection can take place in different phases of research or innovation. Early engagement exercises may help broaden the agenda and set R&I priorities, while future-oriented reflection may help actors anticipate R&I’s intended and unintended impacts. Various future-oriented tools and techniques are available, including future scenarios and techno-moral vignettes (check out SynBio Scenarios for examples) and foresight and technology assessment methods (see the RRI Toolkit’s How to Create Structures for Implementing RRI or the EC Joint Research Centre’s Online Foresight Guide, which offers guidelines, methods and case studies). Also available are courses on ethical reflection in RRI, such as this MOOC offered by Delft University of Technology.
During the R&I process itself, reflection can be stimulated through informal learning communities, for example, or by inviting social scientists or humanists into the lab. For inspiration watch the STIR project's video or visit their website, or read about using midstream modulation to increase reflection.
Mainstreaming reflection in R&I organizations
Ethics committees constitute a classical example of institutionalized reflection. These committees review the ethical aspects and implications of R&I plans and projects. They also encourage researchers and funding agencies to think about the values at play in R&I projects and, in this way, help steer them towards responsible outcomes. See for example the World Health Organization's manual for ethics committees for ideas on ethics in research and on organizing relevant training programmes. The latter is vital, as only with well-trained staff members can R&I organizations maintain high ethical reflection standards. In this regard, the TRREE project provides useful and relevant resources.
Organizations have recently sought to enrich ethics review procedures by extending the range of actors involved. Some examples are community advisory boards (take a look at IrsiCaixa’s HIVACAT) and patient advisory boards aimed at facilitating communication and dialogue between the scientific community and potential end-users of the knowledge and applications produced (check out the King Baudouin Foundation’s Mind the Gap! guide on multi-stakeholder dialogues). Working with a more diverse group of people within organizations and projects stimulates a more society-wide ethical reflection on values, concerns and preferred solutions. For inspiration visit Catalyst’s D&I map or take a look at the EC’s VOICES project).
Ultimately, providing structures for reflection comes down to offering the training, supplying the means and creating the environments that enable actors to adopt critical and reflexive attitudes and that help organizations to be open and responsive to moral deliberation.