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

ID: 
41
Personal Details
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
The University of Adelaide
Specific comments
Specific comments: 
Preamble in Code

There appear to be inconsistencies in the preamble about the intention and use of the Code.
The draft Code is said to be ‘… a framework … that provides a foundation …’ [outlining] ‘… the expectations for the conduct and the dissemination of research …’ [and a] ‘… mechanism to assure funders of research …’ These statements imply the Code is a guide rather than a prescriptive, regulatory document. In which case, an institution could choose whether or not to adopt the principles and responsibilities.
However, further down in the Preamble, it states that ‘… it is expected that all institutions and researchers will adhere to the Code ...’ [and that compliance] ‘… is a prerequisite …’ for NHMRC/ARC funding. This would seem to imply the Code is not a guide per se, but effectively a requirement of a funding agreement.

Clarifying the position of the Code would assist in its implementation at the institutional level. This is especially the case for early career researchers who should be conducting research in a manner that is consistent with good practice in anticipation of grant applications.
Likewise, reference to the ‘better practice guides’ including the draft guide on breaches of the Code, implies that it provides a model for institutions to develop their own policies and procedures; stating that the information in the guides is supportive, but not prescriptive, would be useful.
In relation to the scope of the Code, the Preamble implies that it is meant to cover all researchers in the Australian community. This should be stated clearly. Is it meant to include researchers of Australian institutions who are undertaking their research overseas if they are funded by overseas grants/agencies (e.g. NIH)? Is it the intention that these researchers are exempt from the Code? It is meant to include research undertaken at Australian university campuses located overseas?

Principles in Code

As noted in response to the specific consultation questions, it may be challenging for relatively uninformed and untrained university people to apply the general principles in every day contexts, let alone use them to assess breaches of the Code. A lot will turn on the advice guides that are published and the first one on breaches is reassuring. Institutions will be required to train staff to facilitate implementation of the principles within the Code; this will be an ongoing exercise, which would take longer than a 12 month implementation period.
The ordering of the principles might be improved by grouping honesty, fairness and respect as the top three, followed by recognition, rigour, transparency, accountability and ending with promotion.
It should also be noted, formally, that all principles apply to all stages of the research process, from conception and request for sponsorship, through to dissemination of results. This should include, expressly, the drafting and submission of the grant proposal.
In considering the eight principles, there does not seem to be anything explicit about taking into consideration the concerns of society. As mentioned in the Preamble, institutions and individuals have an obligation to the community in which they exist.

Principles in Code

P1 Honesty in the development, undertaking and reporting of research
The current wording of the principle may allow dishonesty on applications for funding support, as ‘development’ of research may be interpreted as a later stage. To improve this, inclusion of the words ‘… proposal, application for funding support …’ or similar may deter researchers from inaccurately reporting a track record to obtain sponsor support (for example).

P3 Transparency in declaring interests and reporting research methodologies and findings
Transparency in declaring interests should be mandatory.

Transparency in reporting research methodologies or findings is a very important aspiration, however it may not always be possible or appropriate to share and communicate research openly. There are situations where confidentiality is necessary, for example, commercial confidentiality, security concerns and legislative or contractual requirements. The Defence Trade Controls Act (2012) is a significant current example of restrictions. There may also be instances where harm could be caused by open reporting, e.g. harm to victimised or minority groups.
Responsibility R20 acknowledges that not all situations can be communicated transparently with the phrase ‘where possible and appropriate’. The principle should align with the responsibility.

P4 Fairness
The phrasing of this principle seems to indicate that fair treatment is only required between researchers, as opposed to anyone else who may be involved in research (including the participants or the professional staff who support the researchers). Re-drafting the principle to include others would more align with the intent of the Code.

P5 Respect
The current Code talks about the rights of those affected by research. The draft principle does not mention rights at all, which may detract from the intent.
In addition, to echo the sentiments in Principle 4, this principle could be broadened to indicate that respect for fellow researchers and support staff is also important. The phrase ‘the wider community’ does not immediately indicate that it would apply to colleagues.


P6 Recognition
It is unclear whether this principle is about recognition of the traditional owners of this land, or is about respect for people, particularly vulnerable people, minority groups, or indigenous communities in other countries, who are involved with or affected by research. It would be appropriate, ethically, for all such people or groups to be recognised, respected and consulted about research which will affect them, whether directly or indirectly. The Principle of Respect (P5) does not show this adequately and will need adjustment if other vulnerable people or minority groups are not included in Principle 6.
If this principle is about recognition of the traditional owners of this land, it would ideally point to the Values and Ethics Guidelines and any future iterations of the guidelines (https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/e52) to highlight recognition of the impacts of European colonisation and the existing wealth of knowledge of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

P7 Accountability
The first dot point talks about the responsibility of researchers and institutions for the research they conduct but does not mention that funding bodies also have a level of responsibility for the research they choose to fund, particularly if funds are provided on behalf of public or private benefactors. This is also important to consider in relation to dot point three. Stewardship is about duties and obligations of something in one’s care, but does not seem to include applying for funds (which would not yet be in care).
In addition, similar to the comment made for P1, it would be important for researchers to take responsibility for the research they propose as well as the research they conduct. This would include accountability to grant proposals once funded.
While appropriate for researchers to ‘… consider the consequences and outcomes of research prior to its communication’ it would seem more advisable for researchers to ‘... consider the potential consequences and outcomes of research prior to conducting it, and review these again prior to communication’. Considering consequences solely at communication stage may facilitate politically- or maliciously-motivated ‘cover-up’ or ‘hype’.
The fourth dot point talks about compliance, which may be interpreted as different to accountability. It is hard to make a research project accountable. It would be more correct to state it is the ‘researchers’ who should ensure their research (and behaviour) complies with legislation and policies, rather than the research.

With funding bodies placing greater importance on the impacts of research, it appears that the Accountability principle could be strengthened by incorporating a comment which addresses the translation of research, ‘wherever possible’.
A final few queries on accountability: what happens when new knowledge is not gained? In the essence of good stewardship, transparency, and respect, would a responsibility to report on null results also be important? While it can be difficult to publish null results in journals, researchers should be encouraged to do so.

P8 Promotion
This principle would benefit from separating the promotion and mentor elements into two dot points.
Institutions can promote responsible research conduct but cannot mentor.
Also the term ‘researchers’, according to the definitions on page 5, includes research trainees and, by default, early career researchers. Therefore, to say that ‘researchers’, which can include research trainees, will supervise ‘research trainees’ has an inherent semantic problem. Refinement of the definition, or refinement of the dot point to indicate ‘experienced researchers have an obligation to mentor and supervisor less-experienced researchers’ could address this issue.

Responsibilities for Institutions in Code

For consistency of message and ease of application, the principles should link through to the responsibilities and the examples of breaches should link to the principles and responsibilities.
The dot points under the principles may be better suited to the responsibilities section as use of the word ‘will’ is more a term of responsibility than a principle.
There is no specific mention about conducting research safely. Perhaps this is meant to be covered by R8 on general compliance, but it deserves a mention somewhere. It could be added to R1 where researchers are supported to conduct responsible and ethical research.

Organisationally, R5, R6 and R8 should be grouped together, without being split by R7.

 

R2. Encourage open exchange of ideas between peers, and respect for freedom of expression and inquiry.

R2 states that institutions will encourage the open exchange of ideas and respect freedom of expression.  This is fine in principle (although freedom of expression is not a Code principle per se), but how exactly would an institution demonstrate it has done this if asked?  Responsibilities need to be practicable, justified and demonstrable.

 

R3. Provide training and education in responsible research conduct for all researchers and research administrators.

Training is an important activity to enable researchers to understand their responsibilities. However, it should be noted that educational initiatives take time to evolve change, and training does not necessarily reflect the ability of researchers to enact responsible research practices based on principles, if they aren’t already, or if the culture within their discipline differs from broader expectations. Training also requires additional resources which some institutions may find difficult to provide.
This responsibility introduces the term ‘research administrators’, but this is not included in the definitions section. Training and education needs to encompass people such as laboratory technicians, etc. who would not normally be described as administrators. It could also be important to provide education to members of researcher ethics committees, as an example, and they will not necessarily be researchers or administrators.
The intent of the principle is appropriate; however it requires slight modification in phrasing.

 

R4. Ensure that supervisors of research trainees have the appropriate skills, qualifications and resources to supervise research.

See response in R3.

 

R7. Provide facilities for the safe and secure storage and management of research data, records and primary materials and, where possible and appropriate, allow access and reference to these by interested parties.


This may not always be possible, due to collaborative research projects being housed at non-University facilities for example. Contractual obligations or research materials with potential for Intellectual Property claims are other situations which may prevent sharing. It is assumed that use of the phrase ‘where possible and appropriate’ considers these types of situations.
As a minimum, metadata associated with research materials should be maintained by an institution and formal agreements about data/material use, including sharing, be kept within the institution.
Any data sharing possibilities which may result from collection of sensitive information should be reflected in ethics applications and participant consent should be sought according to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007) and the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988. It might be important to note this specifically.

 

R8. Identify and comply with relevant legislation, regulations and policies related to the conduct of research.

 See responses provided previously.

 

 R9. Investigate and resolve potential breaches of the Code, and have mechanisms in place to receive concerns or complaints about potential breaches of the Code.

‘Investigate and resolve potential breaches of the Code’ would suffice; the second part of the sentence could be incorporated into R11, where it is a more suitable fit.

 

R10. Promote the prevention and detection of potential breaches of the Code. This should include identifying and training Research Integrity Advisors (RIAs) who provide advice to those with concerns about responsible research conduct.

As this is a preventive responsibility, it should be placed in the list before the reactive responsibility (R9). To provide greater balance, it would be advisable to add emphasis about the general promotion of responsible practice. The current phrasing places disproportionate importance on the RIA, a role which is advisory, not about preventing and detecting.

 

R11. Ensure that the process for managing and investigating concerns or complaints about potential breaches of the Code is timely, effective and in accord with procedural fairness. Findings are to be made on the balance of probabilities.

Consider changing the first part of the sentence to say ‘Ensure that the process for receiving, managing and investigating…’ This brings together all aspects of the process, as mentioned at R9.

It is difficult to understand how ‘effective’ could be measured, in practical terms. Does ‘effective’ mean people are found in breach? Do a rising number of breaches signify ‘effective’ or simply greater awareness?

 

R12. Support the welfare of all parties involved in an investigation of a potential breach of the Code and ensure that any consequent actions are proportionate to the breach.

This lacks clarity.

To what extent are the parties to be supported? Does this include external complainants or only internal staff who are involved with managing investigation of a breach?

In addition, the word ‘investigation’ is used in the supporting draft Guide to denote the official inquiry stage; does this mean that those involved are only supported during the official inquiry stage, but not supported throughout the entire process?

Responsibilities for Researchers in Code

Responsibilities (R13–R28) of researchers

The section on ‘Responsibilities of institutions’ commences by noting that institutions are ‘accountable to funding organisations and the Australian community for how research is undertaken.’ This sentiment should be echoed here, as researchers are also accountable.

There does not appear to be a comment about the responsibility of researchers to report potential breaches through appropriate institutional (or other) channels or for respondents, complainants, witnesses and subject matter experts to assist with fairness. As mentioned previously, the principles should link through to the responsibilities.

 

R13. Foster, promote and maintain an approach to the development, conduct and reporting of research based on honesty and integrity.

This responsibility would benefit from addition of the word ‘fairness’ to integrate Principle 4. For example, ‘Foster, promotes and maintain an approach to the development, conduct and reporting of research based on honesty, integrity and fairness.’ In addition, ‘proposal’ of research should be included.

 

R14. Ensure that the ethics principles of research merit and integrity, justice, beneficence and respect are applied to human research.

This lacks clarity, even if the sentiment is fine.  Although the need for appropriate approvals (which would include ethics approvals) is stated in R27, it might be appropriate to also mention the need for appropriate ethics approval here.

 

R15. Ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or communities are consulted about research significantly affecting them.

This could be viewed as not giving adequate consideration to the special/unique situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As mentioned previously, moving the dot points below each principle to the section on responsibilities would improve them, and in particular, for R15. This would require amendment of the responsibility to reflect ‘recognition’. For example, R15 could be ‘Recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the original owners of the land’ with dot points to expand on their valuable knowledge and cultural property, and the need for consultation, respect and benefit. A specific reference could be made to the Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (2003) if document review timelines permit.

 

R16. Ensure that the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) will be considered at all stages of research involving animals. Act to minimise the impacts on animals used in research and in so doing support the welfare and wellbeing of these animals.

This responsibility would benefit from adding explicit reference to gaining ethical review of work involving animals. Also, including the word ‘respect’ would integrate the responsibility with Principle 5 as has occurred for the drafted responsibility (R14) relating to human research.

 

R18. Adopt methods appropriate to the aims of the research and ensure that conclusions drawn are justifiable.

Does this require clarity in who the conclusions may be justifiable to? For example, peers, the community, funding bodies.

 

R21. Cite and acknowledge other work appropriately and accurately and obtain permission for the use of unpublished work.

Potentially this is very broad. Does it mean unpublished work not in the public domain? The main cases would obviously be unpublished papers where authors are known, but the scope could potentially be much wider.

In addition, would this mean that you could use work published (under licence) without permission? For example, to reproduce a figure without seeking consent from the holder of the publishing rights would appear to be permissible with the responsibility drafted this way, despite being illegal.

 

R22. Acknowledge those who have contributed to the research.

It would appear that the intent is to acknowledge contributions publicly, and as such, the wording should reflect this.

It would also be advisable to add ‘seek agreement to be named as an acknowledgement’ or similar, as would be required for an author in drafted R23, below. This may help prevent inappropriate authorship and pre-empt disputes so that breaches of the Code may be avoided.

 

R23. Ensure that authors of research outputs are those, and only those, who have made a significant intellectual or scholarly contribution to the research and its output, and that they agree to be listed as an author.

This responsibility is more open to interpretation than some of the others. Authorship is one of the areas which attract much attention, globally, and the openness of R23 may provide challenges for managing complaints or identifying breaches. This will necessitate strong institutional policies to guide researchers on what constitutes ‘a significant intellectual or scholarly contribution to the research and its output'.  This is an important issue affecting students and early-career researchers, in particular. 

It might also be helpful to define what may be meant by a ‘research output’. Authorship practices appear to differ between conference presentations and journal articles, for example, however the intent of R23 would be to apply the same approach. Providing a definition may clarify this expectation.

Also, should agreement be documented or is verbal agreement adequate? It would seem that verbal agreements are open to dispute.

This is a priority area for development of a best practice guide.

 

R24. Provide guidance and mentorship on responsible research conduct to other researchers, or research trainees under their supervision, and monitor their conduct. 

Clarify that it is the responsibility of ‘experienced’ researchers to ‘… provide guidance and mentorship …’

 

R26. Participate in peer review in a way that is fair, rigorous and timely and maintains the confidentiality of the content.

These responsibilities could also apply to people involved with investigations of research misconduct matters. It should be noted that the senior researchers who assume investigation roles would need to be aware of this responsibility.

 

 


Definitions in Code

Propose inclusion of ‘research outputs’ as mentioned at R23 and review of the use of ‘researcher’.

For example, on page 4, at R24, a ‘researcher’ is expected to ‘provide guidance and mentorship … to other researchers, or research trainees …’ while the definition of a researcher on page 5 includes research trainees. Does this mean a research trainee is expected to provide guidance and mentorship to other researchers? This would not seem to be appropriate. The problem may be overcome by slight amendment to R24 and/or the definition.

Guide Section 1

Feedback on the draft Guide

The Guide is an improvement on the current Part B of the Code, however additional clarity is required in many sections of the document. These will be noted separately.

Of particular note is that the investigation emphasis in the Guide is placed on the Panel hearing stage, rather than the preliminary assessment. Under the new Code, the preliminary assessment is only to determine whether there is evidence that supports a breach of the Code. However, as information may be collected, inventoried and subject matter experts approached, it may be possible for the Delegated Officer (DO) to come to a finding of a breach at the end of the preliminary assessment stage. Would it still be important to convene a panel to review the allegation and re-affirm the view of the DO?  This would seem to be a duplication of resources, with significant coordination required.

However, there are potential benefits. The independent review of evidence by a panel is a good idea.
In addition, an Assessment Officer may liberate some duties from a senior Academic (the Designated Person) who would otherwise be involved in a more substantive role. Another potential benefit is in the speed with which allegations could be investigated and resolved.

It might aid accessibility of the document to have the summary and role responsibility box at the front of each guide section, rather than at the end.

Guide Section 2

2. Introduction

This Guide is provided as a model for institutions and it says that it ‘… should be used to inform the application of existing institutional processes.’  An interpretation of this means that institutions have a choice as to the extent to which they replicate this model in their own processes, acknowledging the need to adhere to the principles of the Code itself.  Therefore, the phrase ‘… should be used …’ ought to be replaced, for clarity, by the phrase ‘… may be used …’ The same applies in many instances throughout the document where the prescriptive language of ‘should’ or ‘must’ is used.

 

2.1.  Institutional responsibilities

As noted above, a guide, which is not mandatory, should not be requiring actions. In this case, institutions should simply be ‘encouraged’ or ‘advised’.   

The first dot point indicates that institutions need to promote a culture that ‘rewards’ responsible practice.  How would this happen in practice?

The second dot point relates to reviewing ‘institutional processes that promote adherence to the Code’. This is one area in which the move from a prescriptive to a principles-based Code will provide challenges for implementation. For example, how does an institution include a principle of fairness or rigour in all its policies? In addition, this will mean every institution is duplicating resource allocation to build their own policies and procedures. Exemplars, provided through future Guides, may assist with delivery of this responsibility.

The third dot point can be accommodated through extensive training of the staff involved with managing received allegations.

Guide Section 3

3.1.   Definition

The definition of a breach is self-referring which makes it redundant. Propose separating the mention of ‘a single breach or multiple breaches’. In the latter case, does this refer to multiple instances of a breach of a specific principle, e.g. inappropriate authorship, or multiple breaches of different principles, e.g. inappropriate authorship and mistreatment of research animals?

The Code contains eight principles and twenty eight responsibilities. The Guide has now introduced six examples of breaches, but these are not linked back to principles. Was it a deliberate choice to omit the direct reference to principles in explanations of the given examples? Should it be?

It is understandable that ‘Not meeting required research standards’ is included as an example, however, the point about ‘misuse of funds’ requires additional consideration. Does this relate to non-compliant use of funds according to the funding rules or would dishonest requests for research funds also be considered as not meeting standards? This highlights the benefit that could be provided by linking the principles to the examples.

There is ambiguity in the reference ‘Failure to maintain research records …’ This would be strengthened by stating, explicitly, that maintenance or destruction should follow local legislative requirements or policies.

The example of supervision requires clarity so that it can be more easily understood in practical terms. What is ‘adequate’? What is mentorship as opposed to guidance? Usually we assume supervisors supervise and therefore guide while someone in a position of authority/expertise may mentor but will often not be a formal supervisor.

3.2.   Extent: breaches occur on a spectrum

Box 1 on page 4, while helpful, will still require interpretation and development of a suitable matrix to allow the factors to be practicable. It is noted that the reference to ‘… an institution does not provide appropriate resources or facilities to researchers’ could make it an easy excuse for a researcher to say they have not done something because they were not supported. While it is appropriate that providing guidance for the researcher is important, is the burden then on the institution to prove that they have done so? It would be reasonable to assume that some principles align with broader societal expectations; using the institution as a scapegoat would not be acceptable behaviour.

The idea that there is a spectrum from minor to major breaches, depending on seriousness, is an improvement over the current problematic process to determine when a breach becomes research misconduct.  However, looking at Figure 1 (page 5), use of a spectrum might be a little too interpretive. For example, could there be a case in which the finding was a ‘medium breach’, somewhere between minor and major? It is likely that the spectrum would become a more easily implementable use of two formal definitions of minor and major breaches. 

On Figure 1 (page 5) it appears to indicate (based on the layout of the columns) that you would establish a small panel for a minor breach such as a failure to sign a required form due to clerical error. Is this the intent, or a presentational issue?   

As noted previously, allowing institutions to determine whether to include a definition of research misconduct in their own processes could generate inconsistencies nationally, as well as challenges for development of misconduct policies by funding bodies.

Guide Section 4

4.3. Institutional roles

This section discusses the need to ‘… indemnify individuals involved in the investigation process …’ This is a good point, however there is no discussion relating to the provision of adequate support and training for those involved in management of breaches. This would be just as important.

Again, the use of the word ‘should’ could be replaced with ‘may’ or ‘could’ to reflect the optional use of the Guide.

Table 1 mixes responsibilities and actions under the column for ‘definition’. Which are they meant to be, responsibilities or actions?

In addition, is it appropriate for a ‘… senior professional or academic institutional officer …’ to oversee a breach investigation, as Delegated Officer? Certainly, they should assist but as the investigation requires a determination which, while based on a finding of fact, will incorporate an academic judgement, it is better done by a person with academic experience and with the associated authoritative approval.

The division of responsibilities between the Responsible Executive Officer (REO), Delegated Officer (DO) and Assessment Officer (AO) would be difficult to put into practice.  For example, if a Vice-Chancellor delegated the REO role to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), then the latter couldn’t be the DO. If we could make a Pro Vice-Chancellor the DO we might have issues finding AOs. If an AO was a member of the RIO staff, who would be able to provide the pro-active training and education or development of policies which needs to occur in the everyday institutional environment while managing an investigation of a breach?

There may be additional challenges in deciding upon disciplinary actions as a result of finding a breach. For example, if an Enterprise Agreement provides that only the Vice-Chancellor can decide termination of employment is the appropriate response to a breach, all other disciplinary action is to be determined by the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor/ Vice-President. These are not two different roles according to Table 1.

One suggestion for improvement relates to the role of the Designated Officer (see page 14 of the Guide). Table 2 on page 14 says that the Designated Officer will both ‘oversee’ the preliminary assessment and also ‘provide advice’ to the Assessment Officer who conducts the preliminary assessment. Given that the Designated Officer has the role of deciding on the outcome of a preliminary assessment, the Guide should make it clear that the ‘advice’ provided by the Designated Officer to the Assessment Officer should be about the processes associated with the preliminary assessment, and not to direct or guide the conduct and outcomes of actual preliminary assessment itself.


4.3.1 Research integrity advisors (RIAs)

In the event that an RIO is the Assessment Officer, could RIAs be involved with delivery of educational initiatives? This would assist with workload management and it would relate to knowledge the RIA should already possess in the role as an RIA. As it stands, the text on responsibilities for an RIA may preclude this type of activity. It is noted that the definition of RIA provided at the end of the Guide refers to this activity, in the absence of reference to providing advice. The information provided is, therefore, inconsistent.

 

4.3.2 Research integrity office (RIO)

Clarity should be provided on the responsibilities or activities of the RIO.

 

Guide Section 5

5.2. Initial receipt of complaints 

Dot point two mentions the option of making a verbal complaint. Verbal complaints are problematic unless the discussion can be recorded or documented, and a complainant would need to be advised of this. Written complaints are preferable. Complaints made in writing might assist with accuracy in determining an allegation, assist with the procedural aspects of a breach investigation and would also be part of treating a respondent fairly. Written complaints may also reduce the likelihood of vexatious complaints being made.

Dot point three mentions submissions of anonymous complaints.  While there are instances where the identity of the complainant may be kept from the respondent, anonymous complaints may prohibit the ability to clarify information important to the investigation. They may also lend themselves to vexatious use.

In the last paragraph, the phrase ‘The institution may need to work with the complainant to construct a complaint …’ would potentially introduce a conflict of interest wherein the institution helps formulate the complaint it will then investigate. The ‘institution’ should maintain arm’s length to the complaint lodgement. The complainant should be encouraged to provide all relevant information in a form that is defined clearly by the code. A Research Integrity Adviser, as part of giving advice and imparting knowledge about procedures, could explain this; this would not extend to helping formulate a complaint.

 

5.4. Communicating with the complainant 

This will not be possible if anonymous complainants are deemed acceptable.

 

5.5. Summary

Why is the box about roles not included on p11?

Is this because it is unclear to whom who complaints ‘should’ be directed?

Guide Section 6

6.3. Outcomes from the preliminary assessment 

How would corrective actions be taken when a respondent resigns from their position or from within the University? For example, if the matter related to wilful and repeated disregard of human or animal lives, how would corrective action be taken?

If a researcher left an institution, there may also be challenges in contacting them to inform them of the corrective actions taken.

If the respondent moves to another research institution, can the information be confidentially relayed to the other institution? Can slander or reputational damage be avoided? What is the responsibility of the institution in maintaining integrity within the wider researcher world?

The lack of consistency in the terminology relating to breach or the degree of a breach may also cause challenges with following up corrective actions outside the institution (for example, with a publisher).

As noted previously, it might be possible to make a finding of a breach at the end of a preliminary assessment. In such instances, why would you go to Investigation stage?

 

6.5. Summary

The entire process appears to assume that the respondent accepts the finding of a breach if one is found. Is there room for an appeal at the preliminary assessment stage?

Guide Section 7

7.2. Preparing for the investigation 

Regarding the last dot point the panel members are expected to agree to, ‘provide a written report’; should this mention to whom who the report would be provided?

 

7.3. Conduct of the investigation

Section 7.3 indicates that the support person is not able to represent the respondent. While this is a good idea, conceptually, it is a matter which Human Resources (and the unions) might object to in relation to an Enterprise Agreement which uses the term ‘representative’. Unlike a support person, a representative can attend a meeting as an advocate and can act or speak on the behalf of a staff member.

 

7.4. Outcomes from the investigation

The REO receives the final report from the DO, following an investigation, and it appears the REO can then decide whether or not a breach has occurred. If an investigation has been conducted, especially one involving external participants, and there is a finding of breach, that finding should be accepted by the REO. This would focus the role of the REO on determining disciplinary actions.

 

7.6. Mechanisms for review of an investigation 

This section suggests that while institutions should have processes for considering appeals, they should only consider them on the ‘grounds of procedural fairness’. This is prescriptive wording which does not align with the intent of the Guide to ‘… assist institutions to fulfil their responsibilities under the Code …’ (page 1).

This also appears to read that a respondent cannot appeal a decision and request review of an investigation if they dispute the finding of a breach or a disciplinary action. Our Enterprise Agreement permits review by an internal appeals committee provided the request for review outlines reasons and supporting documentation; it is not limited to ‘procedural fairness’. The review can determine whether: the misconduct clause in the Enterprise Agreement was properly followed; there is sufficient evidence to support the finding; and the recommended disciplinary action is commensurate with the level of misconduct or serious misconduct.

In addition, the Guide links appeal mechanisms to the Investigation stage, and does not provide an opportunity for a respondent to appeal at the Preliminary Assessment stage, as noted previously in the response to section 6.5.

As shown in response to specific consultation question Q6, Section 7.6 of the Guide is ambiguous about who can make or review appeals, and under what circumstances, and the section lacks clarity around the role of ARIC – its jurisdiction, processes, and who may approach them for review.

Guide Section 9

9   Definitions of terms used in this Guide

Allegation:  This implies that the respondent is not informed about an allegation until the end of a preliminary assessment process, and where there is a finding of a breach.  This does not seem to fit with the Code principles of fairness and transparency.

The Guide: Recommend ‘… may use this Guide’ as a less prescriptive comment.

Research Integrity Advisor: The role of promoting the responsible conduct of research attributed to the RIA in this definition, was lacking throughout earlier Guide discussion. Promoting responsible conduct of research is something with which all members of the research community should be involved. However, allowing the RIA to assist with this, specifically, may provide additional support to researchers in the instances when the Research Integrity Office needs to fulfil an Assessment Officer role.

Respondent:  A ‘person or persons asked to respond to a complaint’ could be wider than ‘a person or persons against whom a complaint is made’, so the latter phrase would be more precise.

 

Define ‘support’ as commented in draft Code feedback at R12.

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?: 
The principles-based approach taken in the draft Code is an improvement over the existing version of the Code. This approach allows for flexibility in delivery of intent and content to researchers, and in responses to potential breaches of the Code based on the circumstances in each case. As the principles are broad, there may be disputes over interpretation. However, this could be accommodated in institutional policies and procedures and through extensive training of researchers and of staff involved with managing potential breaches.
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?: 
The principles in the draft Code appear to capture expectations across research disciplines adequately. Disciplines that have greater familiarity with the current code may find the lack of prescriptive detail gives less guidance; these areas will require additional training.
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.: 
Generally, the removal of ‘research misconduct’ is a positive move. 2 The use of the terminology ‘breach’ may remove some of the stigma associated with the term ‘research misconduct’. This may in turn result in greater reporting of irresponsible research practices, and recognition of more acceptable modes of behaviour. However, this approach may lead to inconsistency across and possibly within institutions, and will not provide clarity to the public that is a major stakeholder of the process. It will also make research of national and international misconduct behaviours difficult and development of misconduct policies by funding bodies challenging. It will take time for institutions to define and set thresholds for the major areas of risk in misconduct and to determine whether it is practicable to use ‘research misconduct’ for serious breaches. This in turn impacts on how outcomes from the investigation of an alleged breach under this new Code can be integrated with the misconduct processes of Enterprise Agreements. The guidance provided in Figure 1 may be helpful.
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
The process is relatively clear but may require some adjustment to our existing internal processes if we were to implement it. For example, implementation would require greater clarity regarding the roles presented in ‘Table 1’ (p8, section 4.3); as they are written, they would not align easily with our procedures. Figure 2 suggests that a breach cannot be verified at the preliminary assessment stage, but collection of the evidence at stages prior to formal investigation may identify evidence of a breach, i.e. a finding, without need to progress to investigation. However, the Figure would suggest a finding cannot be made until after an investigation. In those instances, following the figure would result in duplicated or unnecessary effort and resources. It should be noted that the lack of clear definitions, may lead to greater time being spent on interpretation, consultation and seeking expert advice. This may not be practical for smaller research institutions who are unable to invest the human resources required to undertake such activities.
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.: 
Case studies are valuable to reduce some of the impact of the issues raised in Q4, and provide a valuable teaching resource, particularly if they can be provided in a way to which different disciplines can relate. They may also provide a mechanism to increase consistency of responsible research conduct messages across institutions. This is an important point given the collaboration and movement between, or affiliation with, different institutions.
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?: 
As detailed in Section 2 below, Section 7.6 of the Guide contains inconsistencies with the intent of the Guide (it makes a prescriptive comment, though the scope suggests it is a framework only) and ambiguity about who can make or review appeals, and under what circumstances. In addition, Section 7.6 lacks clarity around the role of ARIC – its jurisdiction, processes, and who may approach them for review.
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
Authorship Data management and materials management Collaborative Research These are areas which most commonly generate research integrity problems or will allow for pro-active education on priorities which are emerging and/or growing (e.g. collaborative research). In general, Guides which can assist researchers better with setting expectations, early, will be most valuable. This would also include guides for researchers who have supervision or mentoring responsibilities. It should be noted that ‘Data management and materials management’ is a large area, and this may be better separated into two components.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018