NHMRC Public Consultations

Skip Navigation and go to Content
Visit NHMRC website

Review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research Submission

Personal Details
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
Victoria University
Specific comments
Specific comments: 
Specific consultation questions
Question 1: Do you like the new approach to the Code, namely the principles-based document being supported by several guides that provide advice on implementation?: 
Victoria University supports the new approach to the Code and recognises the need for guidance documents to supplement the principles-based Code. To support this movement away from a prescriptive environment, an explicit statement needs to be included within the documentation that recognises any individual Guide may not represent the only way to meet the Code. Instead, if results are achieved in accordance with the Code’s stated principles, then any process that diverges from that stated within the Guide is equally valid. Such a statement would assure institutions that Guides are not binding. In expressing this view, VU believes there may be instances where deviation from a national Guide may not be appropriate; for example, in the case of ‘authorship’ and an expanded explanation of what constitutes a ‘significant intellectual or scholarly contribution to the research and its outputs.’ In instances such as this it may be preferable for certain aspects of ‘Guides’ to clearly be marked as mandatory and/or referred to by different nomenclature (e.g., an Instruction or Direction). This would assist Researchers and Institutions to classify where deviations from Guides are permissible and where they are not. In a given situation, several of the principles may seem to conflict. P3 states that research findings should be communicated openly, R19 states that research findings be disseminated broadly, whilst P7 requires that the consequences and outcomes of research need to be considered prior to its communication. If the results of contract research are to be embargoed or research results considered harmful, the Code should provide an overriding statement of priority to assist the application of the principles. In doing so, the National Statement on Ethical conduct in Human Research must also be considered. Given that the Code is to contain principles, it should be reviewed to eliminate slippages into “how” the principles might be achieved, rather than the principles themselves. R5 is a good principle; however R6 should be deleted. For instance, VU might choose to implement its adherence to the Code in its internal Statutes and Regulations rather than policies and procedures. VU may then be in breach because it does not have a “suite”, a “policy”, or a “procedure”.
Question 2:The draft Code is intended to be used by all research disciplines. Do the principles adequately capture the expectations for responsible research across all research disciplines?: 
Some areas of the Code could be improved to ensure it is more inclusive of all research disciplines and in particular, to bring an acute awareness of the challenges of fair representation. Under P2 (Rigour), P5 (Respect), and in the specific responsibilities for institutions and individuals, VU would like to see the following represented: • fair interpretation and reporting of the contributions of others (published and otherwise) where they inform the research, including rigorous efforts to avoid misrepresentation • evidence of due care for the consequences to individuals and communities of their portrayal in research and creative outputs • respect for participants’ cultural values, beliefs and expectations that may vary from those of the researcher(s). With reference to the current principle listed under P2 Rigour (p2), VU would like to see this extended to read “…biases and perspectives”. With increasing funding of research from commercial interests, the principles of Honesty (P1) and Accountability (P7) might also capture the principle to report negative results. This should also be captured in relevant guides, such as a guide for clinical trials, which should refer to the international imperative, in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, to report negative results. More generally, how these principles apply in different disciplines and across different issues may be nuanced. There is an opportunity to provide further information on defining priorities within relevant Guides. For example, if an institution is guided by the Vancouver Protocol on authorship, then the Guide will need to indicate that the Code’s implementation will need to be consistent with other international codes that might be in operation. With regards to the list of responsibilities contained in the Code, VU believes that the following responsibility should be added to the responsibilities of researchers: • Ensure researchers for whom they are responsible are appropriately skilled, qualified and experienced to perform the research.
Question 3: The draft Guide refers to breaches of the Code rather than providing a definition of research misconduct, and states that institutions can decide whether or not to use the term research misconduct in their own processes.: 
Victoria University believes it more appropriate for a nationally agreed standard to be applied in order to ensure sector-wide consistency and fairness given the gravity of the word within current national nomenclature. If a spectrum approach to breaches is to be applied, then clear descriptors (and naming conventions) for each level of breach needs to be provided to ensure consistency in implementation. VU is particularly concerned that if institutions use different terms to describe research misconduct, this will result in inconsistency and confusion, which could have significant unmerited and detrimental impacts on a researcher – particularly when viewed by an institution, which is not privy to the nuances of the Australian code or has a different definition for research misconduct.
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
Victoria University believes the process, as currently described, lacks clarity and rather than providing guidance, sets up a model process that might not be suitable for all institutions and reconcile with the institutional context, including the governing industrial instruments (i.e. enterprise agreements). This replicates issues experienced with the existing Code, where there was confusion and frustration caused by the apparent mandatory nature of the process described, irrespective of the outcome achieved. A more useful approach might be to divorce roles from the process; to not impose a structure, but rather provide a description around each stage of the process that covers: • what happens at this stage of the process • why this happens • what is to be achieved in the various stages • the positions that might be need to be involved to achieve the outcome. How each institution implements each part of the process to achieve the required outcome will depend on all of the circumstances of both the alleged breach and the institution itself. To support this alternative approach, the prefacing language also needs to change as it is currently too prescriptive. This section might alternatively suggest that what follows is a series of steps that should be considered, depending on the severity of the breach. With reference to section 4.2 ii, we suggest the deletion of the phrase ‘at all stages of the process’ because it is unclear what this adds. Further, it could improperly suggest that the right to respond/reply extends to the fact-gathering/preliminary assessment stage. With reference to section 4.4, Corrupt conduct and/or criminal behaviour, VU believes there needs to be a stronger statement here to provide clarity to institutions that their primary responsibility in cases of criminal activity is to refer the matter to the appropriate agency, and this takes primacy over any internal processing.
Question 5: The Code Review Committee and working group are considering what additional resources should be developed to support implementation of the Code and Guide.: 
Regular workshops, webinars, seminars would provide a useful resource to enabling the implementation and operation of the Code within institutions, as well as the establishment of a practitioner network for Research Integrity Advisors and Assessment Officers. While case studies could be useful, for example, to assist an understanding of the spectrum of breaches, VU does not believe they are necessarily useful in assisting with decision-making processes relating to active cases. Case studies should instead be used for educational purposes. Case studies of clear-cut scenarios are not helpful. It is the exploration of hard matters, where seemingly outside influences might or might not be relevant, that would provide most useful guidance.
Question 6: Are the mechanisms for review of an investigation clearly and correctly described in Section 7.6 of the Guide? If not, where are the inaccuracies?: 
Institutions will likely have review/appeal mechanisms contained in their enterprise agreements, and the grounds for a review/appeal may not be limited to procedural fairness issues. As Section 7.6 does not specifically address the interaction of review mechanisms with enterprise agreements, VU suggests that the statement contained in the first paragraph of 7.6 be left more open and simply state that institutions should have a process for considering reviews and/or appeals. With regards to ARIC, clarity needs to be provided as to the organisation’s authority and purpose. • Does ARIC’s review system look at institutional processes in relation to a singular case, or does it review the university’s processes overall? • Will ARIC seek to ascertain whether or not the Code’s principles have been applied, or whether a model process as described in a Guide has been followed?
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
Victoria University agrees with the NHMRC, ARC and UA assessment of prioritising authorship and data management as the next two guides for development. VU would suggest the third topic of priority should be conflicts of interest. From VU institutional experience, authorship and conflicts of interest represent the most prevalent issues, while data management is seen as an emerging issue due to pace of change in the digital world.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018