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New report will support UKRI's commitment to strengthening research integrity and culture


New report will support UKRI's commitment to strengthening research integrity and culture

Personal integrity and local culture are key to research integrity, and bullying and harassment is the single biggest negative influence, according to a new study published today, Thursday 11 June.

The research integrity landscape study, (PDF, 5.1MB) published by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), provides new insight into the incentives and pressures in the UK research system and their perceived impact on research integrity and wider researcher behaviour.

The report will support UKRI’s ongoing commitment to strengthen research integrity and culture.

Key findings include almost unanimous agreement from respondents that personal integrity drives research integrity and that local culture can have a strong influence on behaviour.

Good leadership and management, professional development, sharing research, and the opportunity to collaborate and work with colleagues from other disciplines are all considered to have a strong positive impact on research integrity.

The report found that bullying and harassment was the biggest negative influence on integrity and almost eight out of ten respondents believe that researchers feel tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity at times.

Research integrity includes the professional standards that researchers should adopt and research organisations should promote, as well as the core values of honesty, rigour, openness, transparency, care, respect and accountability.

It is defined in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, 2019, to which UKRI is a signatory, as undertaking and conducting research in a way that ensures it is trustworthy and ethical.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:  “Maintaining high standards of research integrity is of overwhelming importance to the UK’s research and innovation sector, and this should be re-emphasised in the current crisis.

“Research integrity is central to our vision at UKRI and cuts across all we do, as a research organisation, funder and partner. The report published today will inform our ongoing work, helping us to enhance positive incentives for research integrity and address negative ones.

“It will align with other activities in this area, such as the creation of a Research Integrity Committee, in supporting our commitment of ensuring a vibrant, healthy and responsible research climate. We will work with partners and stakeholders across the sector to address the issues highlighted in the report.”

To support this commitment, UKRI has announced the appointment of Dr Helen Munn as the Interim Chair for the Research Integrity Committee, which will champion research integrity in the UK and independently examine whether research institutions have followed appropriate processes to investigate misconduct.

Dr Munn will provide senior strategic leadership and subject matter expertise to refine the scope of the Research Integrity Committee over the coming months before an open recruitment for the Committee Chair and members gets underway.

Dr Helen Munn, Interim Chair of the Research Integrity Committee, said: “The findings of this report underline the importance of local culture and good management to promoting research integrity.

“I am looking forward to working with the UKRI team on progressing the establishment of the Research Integrity Committee to support a vibrant and healthy research environment.”

In 2019, UKRI reaffirmed its commitment to supporting improvements in the research environment by becoming a launch signatory of the refreshed Researcher Development Concordat.

The research integrity landscape study was commissioned by UKRI and carried out by Vitae in partnership with the UK Research Integrity Organisation (UKRIO) and UK Reproducibility Network (UKRN) in response to a recommendation from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to address the links between research culture and research integrity.

Dr Janet Metcalfe, OBE, Head of Vitae, said: “The report highlights the multi-stakeholder approach needed to sustain a research environment conducive to high levels of research integrity. This includes transforming the academic incentive structure and embedding a culture of continued professional development at all levels with senior researchers leading by example in demonstrating rigorous ethical standards and behaviours.

“The revised Concordat to Support Research Integrity and Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers set out the environment and culture where researchers can thrive and excellent research can flourish.”

The authors conducted a literature review, survey and workshops that engaged more than 1,500 researchers and other individuals across the UK research system, alongside interviews with representatives from 20 stakeholder organisations.

Findings include:

  • Researchers are intrinsically motivated towards high levels of research integrity. When surveyed, almost all respondents agreed personal integrity drives research integrity
  • Almost 8 out of 10 [78%] respondents believe researchers feel tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity at least some of the time.
  • The top five incentives with the strongest positive perceived impact were: data sharing policies and requirements; open access publishing; interdisciplinary research; professional development and training opportunities; research leadership and management.
  • Top five incentives with the strongest negative perceived impact were: incidents of bullying and harassment; use of journal impact factors, h-index and other metrics; league tables of institutions; institutional workload models; how researchers are assessed for promotion during their careers.

UKRI has already made a strong commitment to tackling bullying and harassment in the research and innovation sector and in 2019 updated its funding grant terms and conditions to require funded organisations to have robust measures in place for prevention and investigation of cases.

The recently published UKRI Preventing Harm (Safeguarding) policy, which encompasses bullying and harassment, now also sets out actions we may take where our expectations are not met. The bullying and harassment position statement outlines UKRI's wider programme of work in this area, aimed at supporting culture change across the sector.

UKRI is currently working with other funders to harmonise approaches and develop measures to support an inclusive and safe culture; these measures will be announced later in 2020. These include a Code of Conduct for Conducting Investigations to give everyone confidence that complaints will be handled properly, new training and development offerings including upstander/bystander interventions, and a funded programme to trial and evaluate new prevention and response strategies.

UKRI also is supporting researchers and innovators of all disciplines to maintain ethical practices by signposting to guidance and processes for researching at pace during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A webinar will take place on 8 July for a discussion of the research integrity study findings.

Read the study and annexes: https://www.ukri.org/about-us/policies-and-standards/research-integrity/#Research%20Integrity

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