National Research Integrity Landscape
The UK has a national advisory body acting as a supporting platform on research misconduct cases, the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO). The UK Government has no intention of introducing a regulatory national body whereas it underlined the excellent work of the advisory body in its response of 13 September 2018 to a Report on Research Integrity from Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. On the institutional level, research institutions have their own codes of conduct for research and established procedures to deal with research integrity matters. Many have Research Integrity Officers, although the position is not always designated by that title. They handle misconduct allegations and ensure that the correct procedure is followed, including a prompt initial review by a small panel of senior academics. If the initial review determines there is sufficient substance to the allegations, a Panel of Inquiry is called together to fully investigate claims. The Institution can call on UKRIO to provide an Independent Advisor as an external member of that panel. Once claims are investigated, the panel will produce a report including an opinion on the allegations and recommendations on procedural matters that might help prevent future cases. The report is then sent to the Institution’s authorities who will determine what action will be taken to correct procedures and to deal with the subject of the allegation. Such actions may include reporting to professional regulatory bodies and the imposition of Human Resources measures where appropriate.
In 2006, a national institutional structure for research integrity was voluntarily established by a group of senior research professionals from a variety of disciplines, the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO). It is established as a registered charity with (a) a Board of Trustees (b) an Advisory Board (c) a Register of Advisers, and (d) the Office Team. Formal decisions are taken by the Board of Trustees, since the Advisory Board has not formal authority over the charity. UK and non-UK research institutions can choose to pay a fee to subscribe to UKRIO for which they receive additional, long-term support and services. UKRIO is funded by its subscribers’ fees, which comprise more than 50 universities and research instutitions in the public and private sector.
UKRIO is governed by its Protocol for responding to requests for assistance and its Code of Conduct for Advisers. It further developed a Code of Practice for Research in 2009, describing key principles of good scientific practice and serving as a reference tool for research institutions. Also, it developed a Procedure for the Investigation of Misconduct in Research with the same goal in establishing a thorough and objective procedure regarding alleged research misconduct. It assisted in developing the Concordonat to Support Research Integrity which in turn led UKRIO to develop the Concordat Self-Assessment Tool for UKRIO subscribers.
Mission(s) and tasks
UKRIO’s aims are (i) to promote the good governance, management and conduct of academic, scientific and medical research (ii) to share good practice on how to address poor practice, misconduct and unethical behaviour, and (iii) to give confidential, independent and expert advice on specific research projects, cases, problems and issues. It pursues these aims, among others, by generating publications in the field and by advising and supporting research organisations to develop training and education sessions for which the UKRIO also can provide Advisers. A key element of UKRIO’s programme of work, however, is UKRIO’s Advisory Service, providing independent, expert and confidential advice on the conduct of research on which one can call voluntarily. There is no (legal) obligation to seek UKRIO’s advice.
The Advisory Service handles, among others, requests which involve allegations or investigations of research misconduct. Its role is to advise only, not to advocate or to act as an intermediairy. It can advise on procedural and conduct issues and can give guidance, however, it cannot take over an investigation as it has no investigatory powers. The same applies to the Advisers whom the Advisory Service can call on when responding to questions and concerns about the conduct of research. In fact, one of UKRIO’s recommendations in its Procedure for the Investigations of Misconduct in Research is that investigation panels of research institutions should include one or more external participants, which can be provided by UKRIO from its Register of Advisers. The Advisers act in confidence i.e. make no reports to UKRIO concerning an investigation or its outcome. The Advisers also cannot take over the investigation process.
UKRIO’s Advisory Service is manned by the Chief Executive, supported by a project officer. In offering expert guidance to callers, it can consult with the Chair of the Advisory Board and the Register of Advisers. Advisers are recruited on the basis of their expertise and experience in addressing issues of research integrity. Also lay persons and legal professionals are recruited. All work on pro bono basis. Members of the Advisory Board/Advisory Service and Advisers are nominated and appointed by the Board of Trustees for an indefinite period.
Scope and remit
The scope of UKRIO’s Advisory Service is nationwide: it provides advice and guidance on issues of good scientific practice and misconduct in research relating to any projects that involve UK research organizations or research carried out in the UK. The remit of the Advisory Service of UKRIO is described in its Protocol for responding to requests for assistance: (i) an enquiry must relate to academic, scientific or medical research (ii) the researcher(s) and/or organization(s) in question are based in, or have links with the UK, and (iii) the enquiry is not a matter that falls within the remit of a statutory regulator or other body whose legal or other responsibilities to address the matter would take precedence. Advice from UKRIO’s Advisory Service is open to all, e.g. research students, researchers, research organisations and members of the public from in- and outside the UK. However, as it is a UK charity that promotes good practice and high ethical standards in UK academic, scientific and medical research, its expertise is understandably rooted in the legal, ethical and other structures under which research is conducted in the UK. As such, it may be unable to give advice on certain issues which arise in, or relate to, non-UK jurisdictions. Last, it may also respond to requests for assistance where the caller wishes to remain anonymous.
There is no formality on how a request must be submitted with UKRIO: this can be in writing, by phone or in person. UKRIO’s Advisory Service will start with a preliminary review of its competence: if an enquiry falls within UKRIO’s remit it determines the main issues involved in the enquiry, seeking clarification, additional information and/or relevant background from the caller as necessary. With the caller’s permission, it may seek additional information in confidence from other persons or relevant organisations. Based on the information provided, it advises the caller on how the issues raised might be addressed. UKRIO keeps a confidential record of requests for assistance and subsequent discussions for internal purposes. No one outside UKRIO has access to this record. Also no other parties are informed unless there is, for example, clear evidence of criminal activity.
Definition of research misconduct
The defining of research misconduct is left to the research institutions to whom an allegation of research misconduct needs to be reported and which have investigatory and decision-making authorities. In UKRIO’s Code of Practice for Research of 2009, which is used by more than 50 universities, UKRIO defines misconduct in research as including, but not limited to: (a) fabrication (b) falsification (c) misrepresentation of data and/or interests and/or involvement (d) plagiarism, and (e) failures to folllow accepted procedures or to exercise due care in carrying out responsibilities for (i) avoiding unreasonable risk or harm to humans or to animals used in research and to the environment, and (ii) the proper handling of privileged or private information on individuals collected during the research.
Advice and appeal
UKRIO’s Advisory Service is not bound by time limits in advising the caller. It addresses its advice to the caller: no other parties are informed apart from the caller. In some cases, at the discretion of the Chief Executive and/or the Chair of the Advisory Board, UKRIO may take a more active role, such as raising concern on behalf of research institution or person. UKRIO’s advice is non-binding. Appeal of any advice of UKRIO’s Advisory Service is not possible: the advice is not meant as a substitute for legal advice from suitable qualified persons, hence, it is not appealable.
Follow-up and monitoring
Follow-up and monitoring of UKRIO’s suggested advice on eventual measures is undertaken by the research institution in question, which will make the decision on whether to implement appropriate measures and/or sanctions
UKRIO publishes its activities on its website. To illustrate the nature and complexity of the work it does, UKRIO published in April 2018 anonymized, high level summary data on the use of its Advisory Service over the years 2007-2016.
For illustrative cases in English, see: https://ukrio.org/wp-content/uploads/UKRIO-Case-study-pack-No.-1.pdf
For further information, see: www.ukrio.org
For questions, send an e-mail to: James Parry, Chief Executive (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019