Ethical research and innovation

UKRI is committed to supporting a positive research and innovation culture conducive to high-quality ethical research and innovation, by creating healthy environments so people and ideas thrive, and through the adoption of recognised standards of conduct.

Deliberate consideration of ethical issues, trade-offs and potential unintended consequences supports everyone working in the research and innovation system to manage risk, mitigate against possible harms, and deliver high-quality outcomes.

Key principles

These principles align with existing ethics guidance and frameworks produced by individual UKRI councils, where more detailed remit- and discipline-specific information can be found.

Given the breadth of research and innovation that UKRI supports, there will be discipline-specific variation in how these principles will be appropriately applied, and in how they apply to academia or businesses engaged in research.

The principles include:

  • research and innovation should aim to maximise benefits for individuals, the environment, society, or all of these, and minimise risk and harm
  • the rights and dignity of individuals and groups should be respected
  • wherever possible, participation should be voluntary and appropriately informed
  • research and innovation partnerships should be transparent, based on mutual respect, and deliver mutual benefits
  • the research and innovation community should consider equality, diversity, and inclusion in all their activities
  • research and innovation should only use animals if no viable non-animal alternatives exist. Appropriate consideration should be given to the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) in all research involving animals
  • the research and innovation community should aim to minimise harm to the environment resulting from their research and innovation activities
  • outputs from publicly funded research should be freely accessible as soon as possible, under conditions that maximise reuse to amplify social, economic, environmental and research benefits
  • research and innovation should be conducted with transparency and integrity
  • lines of responsibility and accountability should be clearly defined and effectively communicated
  • the research community should maintain the independence of their research, and where conflicts of interest cannot be avoided they should be made explicit

Learn more about UKRI’s ethical principles.

Guidance on legislation

Research ethics relates to a number of the areas on the good research resource hub. Legislation relating to specific areas of research ethics can be found on the following hub pages (under ‘Guidance on legislation’):

UKRI policies and guidance

The UKRI position statement on funding ethical research outlines a set of shared high-level ethical principles which set out our expectations for UKRI-funded research and innovation.

The principles apply to the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. They outline key areas for consideration in the development and delivery of activities throughout the research and innovation lifecycle, and identify areas of best practice.

These principles are underpinned by a series of UKRI policies and guidance which support our communities to deliver against our ethical expectations, and can be found in the other sections of the good research resource hub.

How ethical principles in the position statement map on to existing UKRI guidance

The UKRI policy on the governance of good research practice outlines UKRI’s expectations relating to the maintenance of high standards of research practice within the research communities we support.

It requires that staff, students and any associated personnel involved in a UKRI-related research and innovation activity should “adhere to the highest level of research ethics, in line with requirements set out by national and international regulatory bodies and legislation, professional and regulatory research guidance, and research ethics frameworks issued in appropriate areas”.

ESRC’s extensive framework for research ethics helps researchers and innovators to consider ethical issues during the complete lifecycle of a project, and includes information and guidelines on good research conduct and governance.

The Medical Research Council Ethics Series are guides that address specific regulatory and ethical considerations relating to research in the medical research field.

The MRC guidance on ethical approval walks researchers through the process of applying for ethical approval, with particular reference to the process of applying for NHS Research Ethics Committee review

The PAS 440:2020 guidance on responsible innovation is a resource that provides overarching guidance on how to structure responsible innovation thinking and processes for companies

The EPSRC framework for responsible innovation provides advice and guidance for researchers and research organisations, setting out EPSRC’s expectations

Roles and responsibilities

Ensuring research is conducted ethically is a collective responsibility of the researchers, the research organisations and the appropriate research ethics committee.

It is less about compliance and ‘getting through’ the ethics process, and more about mature, constructive and collaborative ethical deliberation, mutual learning and shared action aimed at maximising benefit and minimising harm.

For information on other sources of information, email us at:

Guidance for researchers and research teams

Researchers, innovators and their teams are encouraged to engage in self-critical ethical reflection throughout the lifecycle of the work, seeking expert advice where necessary.

They should design and conduct research in accordance with recognised best practice and ethical standards, and ensure that at a minimum research is subject to appropriate professional and institutional oversight. In all cases, researchers and research organisations must comply with all relevant legal requirements.

Guidance for research organisations

Successful implementation of ethics-related policy and guidance relies in a large part on the degree to which individual research organisations have built and maintained appropriate structures and support systems and cultivated a culture of good research practice and ethical reflection.

Research organisations should maintain a research ethics committee (REC) with appropriate support, resources and expertise to provide ethics oversight for research within their organisation that requires ethics review which does not fall under external RECs (for instance NHS Health Research Authority Research Ethics Committees or Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee).

They should facilitate awareness of the benefits of potential knowledge exchange, impact activities and outputs of the research conducted by their researchers, alongside consideration of risk and other social and ethical implications of the research.

Research organisations have a responsibility to provide the necessary training, resources and support to researchers and research administrators to allow them to deliver the agreed objectives of UKRI-supported research, and achieve maximum benefits from the research to participants, the wider research effort and society.

They have a responsibility to provide access to training for members of research ethics committees that emphasises the importance of maximising the benefit of the research they review.

They also have a responsibility to provide researchers, research administrators and research ethics committee members with protocols and other resources to enable them to identify, manage and minimise risk and harm to all parties involved or affected by the research.

Guidance for research ethics committees

All parties involved in research have an active role to play in creating and sustaining a culture of rigorous ethical reflection.

We acknowledge that research ethics committees have many competing obligations, with duties to protect participants, researchers and research organisations. We encourage RECs to engage with researchers in all stages of a project’s research lifecycle.

The following considerations should also form part of any ongoing monitoring of UKRI-funded projects:

  • research and innovation should aim to maximise benefit for individuals and society and minimise risk and harm
  • the rights and dignity of individuals and groups should be respected
  • wherever possible, participation should be voluntary and appropriately informed
  • research and innovation should be conducted with integrity and transparency
  • wherever possible, research ethics committees should ensure the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research and innovation, and fully justify the use of animals with appropriate rigour in experimental design
  • research and innovation should be carried out in the most environmentally-sustainable way possible to achieve intended outcomes and impacts in a way that minimises negative environmental impacts
  • lines of responsibility and accountability should be clearly defined and agreed with all participating researchers prior to commencing the research
  • the independence of research should be maintained, and where conflicts of interests cannot be avoided they should be made explicit

Concordats UKRI has signed

Research ethics are a central component of good research and innovation governance, and are closely linked to research integrity as described in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, to which UKRI is a signatory.

More information on UKRI’s approach to research integrity can be found on the research integrity page of the good research resource hub.

UKRI has signed several concordats and declarations with relevance to ethics which can be found on the following hub pages:

Examples of good practice for researchers

Shared research priorities for better research and patient care: this project used a tried and tested method to bring together patients, carers and healthcare professionals to shape future research into rare forms of anaemia.



External guidance

Research ethics support and review in research organisations: a joint publication by the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) to support the research community in achieving high standards of research ethics review. It offers benchmark policies and processes which organisations can use to create or revise institutional practices in order to support the functions of research ethics committees.

NHS Health Research Authority: research ethics service and research ethics committees: NHS Research Ethics Committee (REC) review is a requirement for certain types of research in health and social care. The HRA and MRC decision tool can help researchers to decide whether NHS REC review is needed.

Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee (MODREC): MODREC ensures that all research involving human participants either undertaken, funded or sponsored by the Ministry of Defence meets nationally and internationally accepted ethical standards.

Last updated: 20 December 2023

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