Following the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity at the University of Hong Kong, Commissioning Editor Emma Gallon reflects on research integrity and the social impact of research.
It was a real privilege to attend WCRI 2019 in June and hear a range of engaging speakers present on some of the most pressing research integrity issues, including transparency, open access and data, reproducibility, responsible metrics, and more.
We were also excited to introduce the new Australian edition of our Research Integrity programme, which was launched at the end of June, with a new UK edition scheduled for publication in 2020. Lead Advisor and Author, Professor Nick Steneck, and Adapting Author for the Australian edition, Dr Susan O’Brien, joined us on our exhibition stand to discuss the programme with attendees, and demonstrate our chosen approach – including alignment with national frameworks, learning design, and interactivity.
One of our aims with the second edition of our Research Integrity programme is to consider integrity across the whole research lifecycle, extending to the broader social responsibilities that researchers assume. This was a key theme at the conference, with a ‘Focus Track’ (Ensuring integrity in innovation and impact) and a number of other sessions on research impact providing plenty of food for thought.
At a time when impact drivers in the UK and Australia have never been higher, yet public trust in the benefits of science can be low, the gap that’s opened up represents a call to action for numerous stakeholders – including research integrity training providers, such as ourselves. The open and transparent sharing of research outcomes and fair distribution of a project’s benefits are important parts of the research process and clearly matters of research integrity. However, when it comes to further work to proactively encourage positive change, and evaluate any impacts that arise from research projects, what aspects should training cover to ensure that researchers feel confident in the integrity of their work?
As we work on our new programme, we have been reflecting on how researchers might approach the following five areas of impact activity with integrity – and identifying key learning points to consider:
- Generating impact:
Research findings that underpin change are based on responsible selection and analysis of data (conversely, Andrew Wakefield’s discredited vaccination study is a clear example of how irresponsible research practices can have a serious and widespread negative influence).
- Maximising impact:
Public stakeholders are engaged in a consultative process from the start to maximise the likelihood that the research meets an identified public need, and that any ethical and social implications are flagged up at an early stage.
- Recording impact:
Just as keeping research records is an important part of good research conduct, keeping records of impact activity and explanatory context (people, places, dates, outcomes), as well as evidence of the change that has been achieved, supports and justifies impact claims.
- Assessing impact:
Quantitative and qualitative metrics are used responsibly to measure the reach and significance of the research.
- Communicating impact:
Claims to impact are not exaggerated, are communicated clearly and accessibly, and are based on evidence of impact rather than personal convictions.
While this list is just a starting point, it is apparent that integrity considerations can take various forms and arise at multiple stages of impact-building activity. Designing training that recognises this is vital in order to fully support researchers from the outset. Such an approach could also lead to wider community engagement with, and trust in, the benefits of research – a feeling expressed at the conference by Dr Charlie Day, CEO of Innovation and Science Australia. He argued for processes that create trust – in both research and the translation of research into impact and innovation, where effective research integrity education has an important role to play.