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

Personal Details
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
University of Tasmania
Specific comments
Specific comments: 
Principles in Code

Principle 4, Fairness in the treatment of others

The University suggests expanding the first dot point to read Fellow researchers, including students, industrial collaborators and technical assistants, will be treated fairly and with respect.

While we acknowledge that in the definition of researcher these additional categories are included, but they are often the people omitted or excluded from acknowledgment. 

Responsibilities for Researchers in Code

Responsibility 16

The University recommends including a reference to the Australian Code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes here, or expand the definitions of the three R’s to ensure they convey the full meaning. For example, “reduction in the number of animals used to achieve the proposed aim(s) and to satisfy good statistical design.”

Responsibility 20

The University recommends including time periods for which records are to be retained.

Responsibility 22

The University suggests revising to read Acknowledgement should be made of all those who have contributed to the research.

Definitions in Code

The University commends the NHMRC on the concise yet informative definition of research, and offers one suggestion – that the gathering of data be included. The definition as it currently reads covers the use of information, but not the process of capturing the information in the first place. This is essential for ensuring those research projects that fail at the information gathering stage are captured. Suggest adding the following to the beginning of the definition: “The undertaking of activity intended to create new knowledge…"

Guide Section 3

Section 3.1: With regards to the example breach of the Code relating to supervision, it is our experience that a “failure to provide adequate guidance or mentorship” can be difficult to quantify and needs to be kept separate from any relationship issues. It is recommended that statement be qualified by adding “in relation to the responsible conduct of research” 

Guide Section 5

Section 5.2 states that it is not the responsibility of the complainant to identify the part of the Code or relevant policy that may have been breached. In large organisations where there can be multiple avenues for complaint, it has been our experience that ensuring a complaint clearly articulates the source of the breach is integral to ensuring that the complaint is appropriately addressed. We suggest a revision whereby the suitable officer (Designated Officer or Assessment Officer) will work with the complainant to distil the issues and clearly articulate the sections of the Code or policy which have allegedly been breached if this information is not provided with the original allegation.

Guide Section 7

Section 7.4 and 7.5

Consideration could be given to the sharing of learnings both internally and externally. Institutions should be encouraged to develop processes to use all investigations as an educative opportunity and to evaluate processes. Consideration should also be given to the sharing of these learnings though national fora and to the creation of a national case study resource. Further, it is recommended that specific guidance is included as to where the responsibly lies to communicate findings to external parties; for example, to journals editors when a finding of plagiarism is made.  

Section 7.7

Clarity is sought for potential breaches at the level of Pro Vice-Chancellor or Deputy Vice-Chancellor level; would the process as described work in these situations? 

Guide Section 4

Figure 2

Clarity is sought regarding the process to be followed when at the preliminary assessment stage the respondent admits to the breach. Is an investigation still necessary in order to reach the final outcome (e.g. such as corrective action (i.e. the final grey section of the figure))? Would a dotted line from the preliminary assessment stage to the final outcome stage be more appropriate? 

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?: 
Overwhelming, the response from University staff was that the revised Code was a well written, easy to follow document pitched at the right level to support Institutions and researchers in promoting and sustaining a responsible research culture. The revised Code is a mature document and an improvement on the previous, more prescriptive version. The structure of key principles for Institutions and responsibilities of researchers has resulted in a well written document. It is the University’s recommendation that any amendments to the current draft should be minimal.
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?: 
Advice from the academic community is that the content of the draft Code will be applicable across all research disciplines.
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.: 
The University strongly endorses the removal of the distinction between breaches of the Code and serious breaches amounting to research misconduct. The distinction was difficult to apply in practice. We also support removal of the word ‘deviation’. We do suggest that the definition of breach might include the word “deliberate” or “wilful” on the basis that sometimes omissions do occur and may be unintentional or unknowingly committed due to a lack of knowledge, or confusion over the clarity of roles or arrangements.
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
The process for describing the complaints process is clear. Removal of references to prima facie case and focusing instead on preliminary assessment is a welcomed improvement. The flow diagram is particularly useful.
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.: 
As currently proposed the draft Code and Guide provide an appropriate level of guidance without being prescriptive. However, any additional guidance which might be used at the discretion of Institutions to inform internal processes regarding the practical application of the Code would be a welcome initiative to assist in influencing consistent practice across the Sector.
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?: 
The mechanisms seem to be accurately described. We do see that further guidance could be added where the breach involves a team of researchers, some of whom could be graduate students. The interface between breach of the Code, student misconduct and student complaints should perhaps be stated, noting that the management of this will be the responsibility of the Institution.
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
1. Supervision 2. Collaborative research, including industry collaborations 3. Conflicts of interest
General comments

The University of Tasmania thanks the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for the opportunity to comment on the revised Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (the Code). The University commends the NHMRC, Australian Health Ethics Committee, the Australian Research Council and Universities Australia on the revisions, which have produced a high quality, concise guide for good research practice in Australia. 

Based on our assessment of the revisions being proposed, it is anticipated that Institutions will need to dedicate significant internal resources to ensure they can appropriately respond to and adopt the Code and Guides, and we would request that sufficient time is made available to allow research organisations to build work force capability and respond appropriately before compliance reporting is initiated.

An extensive internal consultation was conducted to obtain feedback from the academic community on the revised Code and we are pleased to submit the following comments on behalf of the University of Tasmania.

General Comments on the Code

The revised Code finds the right balance between high level guidance and practicality and the focus on training is welcomed. There is some concern amongst staff regarding the consistent application of the principles between Institutions, and noted that oversight of the mandatory reporting under the Code will be important for the NHMRC to ensure the Principles are being applied consistently.

The University is very pleased to see Principle 6, and commends the Code’s authors for including this.

Frequently Asked Question 12 does not make it clear whether, when released, the revised Code will supersede the 2017 version. The University seeks clarification on this.

General comments on the guide

The University queries whether an ‘institution’ can breach the code, and how this might be dealt with. Presumably, institutions can be deemed responsible for breaches of the Code (for example by not fulfilling their stated responsibilities R1-R12). However, the procedures for dealing with potential breaches are positioned around individual researchers. Could a staff member submit a complaint that the Institution has breached R1-R12 and what then would be the process of assessment?

The role of a ‘support person’ seems to vary slightly in the document. Under 6.2, the option of a support person is mentioned (without reference to their required professional credentials) for the preliminary phase. Under 7.3 for the investigation, it seems to be at the discretion of the institution whether a non-legal support person can attend. The University recommends ensuring the role of the support person is well defined and consistent throughout the document. The University supports the position that the support person cannot be a lawyer.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018