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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 Wollongong
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?: 
The provision of a high level principles-based document makes sense provided the supporting guidelines are clearly identified, available and readily accessible to requisite personnel. It is difficult to fully evaluate the new approach in the absence of the accompanying guidelines and supplementary materials to ensure the elements that are no longer in the new Code are adequately captured in the new guidelines. Institutions will need to review the full suite of guidelines and Code as a complete package to be able to provide a comprehensive review on the new approach.
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 are generic enough to apply to all research disciplines. The accompanying guidelines and supplementary materials, as previously mentioned, will need to be reviewed, once available, to ensure they align with the principles and do not omit key criteria that have been removed.
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.: 
This question states that institutions can decide whether or not to use the term “research misconduct” and provides a full description of what constitutes a “breach”. It provides institutions with the option to apply either term and given this choice a definition of both terms would be need to be included, at minimum, in the Definitions section to facilitate best practice. In the absence of this clarity, there is the potential to create inconsistency between institutions that would undermine the procedural fairness the Code is attempting to promote. This will impact when researchers collaborate across institutions, where different approaches may be adopted. Section 3 of the Code discusses breaches occurring on a spectrum and provides examples of minor and major breaches via a visual representation on page 5. While this is useful, there is very little guidance for institutions in dealing with breaches that fall in between these extremes. Again, this increases the potential for inconsistency in applying the provisions of the Code across institutions working on joint research projects.
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
The process described is clear and practical. The flowchart on page 7 clearly details the assessment stages and provides a comprehensive visual. It would be useful if the responsible roles could be included. Universities tend to have well developed and robust systems already in place that are cognisant of many of the principles outlined in the Code and are well equipped to manage these matters within their current structures. We question the role of, and need for, an Assessment Officer to be appointed for each allegation received. Particularly in smaller institutions, we believe it is preferable for the same person ie. the Designated Officer, to manage the entire process as they have the necessary expertise required to assess these matters and make decisions. Most misconduct cases are generic and will not often require disciplinary expertise.
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.: 
Yes, case studies would certainly be of assistance to institutions in managing the practical application of the Code. The Code discusses training, but there is little to none offered by the NHMRC to assist institutions and researchers further understand the intent of the provisions and their application. This is designated as an institutional responsibility. Investigator training that is universally adopted would also be of benefit.
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?: 
Universities have a variety of administrative structures and processes in place for investigating and managing research misconduct cases. The Code states that review of outcomes can only be made on the grounds of procedural fairness without definition or examples as to what may constitute this. Whilst most will understand what procedural fairness is, there are some that would not. There is no reference to which role has the responsibility for receiving appeal requests. Is this an institutional decision, as all other tasks are stipulated in the Code? There is a paragraph on the ARIC which reads well, however this does not describe at what point the institution or complainant can tap into this resource. Are they purely an auditing body or do they have a role in the appeals process? If they are a resource that can be used during an appeal then further instructional detail is required including the options for appeal available to those institutions that are not in receipt of funding. The final paragraph advises that appeals can be made to a higher authority such as the courts. What other authority(s) is available? Is this able to be actioned after an ARIC investigation or anytime? There are also no guidelines for penalties/serious penalties or examples of further action that can be taken other than the courts.
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
The proposed guidelines listed above appear to be those that supplement the elements of the Code that have been removed. A clear list of guidelines needs to be provided along with the Code to ensure that there is no omission of any core requirement. We would suggest priority be given to those guides that have been removed from this current version of the Code: ~ Data Management; ~ Supervision of Research Trainees; ~ Publication and Dissemination of Research Findings; ~ Authorship; ~ Peer Review; ~ Conflict of Interest; and ~ Collaborative Research across Institutions.
General comments

The University of Wollongong welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. We look forward to reviewing the additional guidelines and supplementary materials as they become available.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018