Discover the nine steps to promoting research integrity

  • Date

    Tue 20 Oct 20

An Essex professor is working with an international consortium of academics to develop a toolbox which gives universities and researchers clear, practical guidance on promoting and protecting research integrity.

Professor Nick Allum, from the Department of Sociology, is part of the the EU Horizon 2020 project Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity (SOPs4RI) which has investigated the issue of research integrity across multiple countries to identify issues and highlight best practice.

This month he contributed to a joint-authored comment article published by Nature, titled 'Research integrity: nine ways to move from talk to walk', which explains why research integrity is vital and outlines how making it an inseparable part of research culture takes more than having rules and procedures in place.

The comment piece in Nature provides ideas and concrete examples on how institutions can introduce plans and procedures for research integrity, based on the project’s findings so far. The SOPs4RI consortium is now inviting researchers and managers to review the resources it is making available and to share views, concerns, examples of best practices and any other input in order to improve the final version of the toolbox.

Professor Allum said: “Research Integrity is all about promoting research quality, sustaining trust in science and confidence in its contributions to society. At the same time it is really important that it is concerned with the quality of life for researchers in particular those training for research careers and early career researchers. However, there are intentional misdemeanours and unintentional questionable research practices that cannot be ignored. This project aims to support institutions in dealing with all of these issues.

“The web-based Toolbox gives institutions a concrete starting point for starting to develop plans to promote research integrity. I hope in the coming two years we can work with researchers and others to enhance this resource.”

The consortium has undertaken a significant analysis of local, national and European statements, declarations, and codes about research integrity. Work has included:

  • A round of 23 expert interviews that included researchers, educators (lecturers, professors), policy makers, members of research integrity committees, and individuals involved in research from industry and funding organisations;
  • Two scoping reviews of literature related to best practices for research integrity promotion and factors influencing the implementation of research integrity practices, with documents such as existing procedures and guidelines;
  • A Delphi survey study involving 69 research-integrity policymakers;
  • 30 international focus groups with researchers, managers, and funders to find out what is lacking and what is working in relation to institutional research integrity procedures.

In the next two years, the consortium will launch a quantitative survey of researchers across more than 25 countries to capture a broader array of perspectives and to gain feedback on some of the toolkit contents. It will conclude by ‘road-testing’ the final iteration of the toolkit at selected research-performing institutions across Europe.

The first version of the toolbox is now being released to begin a conversation with all relevant stakeholders and identify improvements. A crucial concern is ensuring that the toolkit can help institutions improve the quality of their research and research environment while avoiding excessive bureaucracy.

The European Commission has reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to Research Integrity and will expect institutions involved in applications for Horizon Europe research funding (worth €86bn over six years) to take concrete steps to comply with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.

Professor Allum said: “I think our project fits in with the priorities of the European Commission and all organisations committed to robust research. Our project is supporting the European Commission’s aim by producing a set of empirically validated tools to help institutions comply with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity and, more broadly, enhance the quality of research and create an environment in which researchers can flourish.”

Members of the Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity (SOPs4RI) consortium

  • Amsterdam UMC
  • School of Medicine in Split (HR)
  • University of Essex (UK)
  • Austrian Agency for Research Integrity (AU)
  • Irish Health Research Board (IE)
  • KU Leuven (BE)
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (UK)
  • EARMA - European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EU)
  • University of Trento (IT)
  • the University of Warsaw (PL)
  • Leiden University (CWTS)
  • under the lead of Aarhus University (DK)