Research Integrity FAQs
What is Research Integrity?
Put simply research integrity means undertaking your research according to commonly accepted standards, regulations and professional norms. It’s about being open and honest in the way in which you work with your participants and collaborators and ensuring that you use clear verifiable methods for undertaking, reporting and publishing your research.
It applies to everyone involved in the research process from researchers and their employers / host institutions, to research funders and other organisations involved in the process.
Why is it important?
Research is based on the work on those who have gone before and so we must trust that their work is rigorous and correct. But it’s not just trust in our predecessors, academic research is increasingly collaborative, and in order for those collaborations to work then we must have faith that we are all working in the same way and to the same standards.
It’s important to participants as well. Participants agree to be involved with research because they trust us to protect their interests and data. If that trust is lost then they will stop being involved.
It’s important financially too. We receive nearly £40m worth of research grants from public and charity funding sources, plus other streams of indirect funding worth millions every year. This funding is contingent on the University being able to demonstrate that it is providing high quality / worthwhile science which is benefitting society and is being undertaken to the highest possible scientific and ethical standards – research integrity is integral to this.
How do I know what behaviours are expected of me?
Durham lays out the key behaviours it expects in its Research Integrity Policy and Code of Good Practice. They are: Excellence; Honesty; Integrity; Co-operation; Accountability; Training and Skills; Health, Safety and Wellbeing; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
The code also explains what these behaviours look like in practice, i.e. what is expected from Heads of Departments, Principal Investigators and other members of the project team at the various stages of a project.
The code of good practice will give you a good overview of what’s required but it needs to be read alongside other policies.
For example a key part of research integrity is ensuring that your project has been through appropriate ethical review. The Ethics and Governance Toolkit provides guidance and resources to help you think through the potential issues and complete the appropriate review process. Here at Durham most departments have their own discipline specific policies so you’ll also need to read those to find out what’s expected.
It may sound complex but we’ve included a checklist in the policy to signpost what needs to be considered before, during and at the completion of your research. Plus there are people there to support you centrally in Research and Innovation Services as well as in your department / school. So if you’re not sure just ask.
So I follow Durham’s policies and I can’t go wrong?
Yes and no. Sometimes other bodies, professions and legal jurisdictions may have different expectations regarding research integrity and the standards to which your project should be undertaken.
Durham manages this by applying a principle of subsidiarity to its policies. That is to say it expects its criteria to apply unless the criteria elsewhere are more robust and effective. We have taken this approach to ensure that our researchers are all working to the same high standards.
For the most part behavioural expectations differ only in degree rather than in substance (all UK Universities for example are signatories to the Concordat to support Research Integrity) but there will be occasions where there will be conflict between the expectations of the University and another body.
For example where there are differing standards for obtaining informed consent (from participants) in other countries.
In these cases the best thing to do is seek advice and we’ll work centrally to resolve it.
What if something goes wrong?
Things do occasionally go wrong and for the most part they are minor, unintentional and caused by a misunderstanding or a lack of information. The important thing in these cases is to raise and deal with them at the earliest stage possible. Advice on who to raise it with is in the Research Integrity policy.
There are however sometimes incidences which are significant and intentional, including; Fabrication, Falsification, Plagiarism, Misrepresentation, Mismanagement or inadequate preservation of data and/or primary materials, or a Breach of duty of care. These are very serious are should be handled through the University's misconduct policy for staff and general regulation IV for students.
It may sound like there’s a lot to consider but actually research integrity at its simplest is about being open, honest and treating others in the same respectful manner we’d like to be treated. There are lots of standards out there but if you follow our processes / guidelines and seek advice if you’re unsure then it should be straightforward.
Where do I go for more information?
The Research Integrity Policy and Code of Good Practice is a good place to start, together with the resources in the Research Integrity toolkit. A full list of the relevant policies and processes are available on the Research and Innovation Services website or your student handbook. Support is available from the Research Policy team in RIS and from your department / school.
Most UK universities have signed up to the ‘Concordat to support Research Integrity’ and that’s a good UK level resource. The UK Research Integrity Office also provides guidance. If you are working with others (including funders) it is always worth asking what their policy is and ensuring there aren’t any conflicts.