Research integrity at the University of Edinburgh

In this week’s blog – Alan Campbell, RSO’s new Research Integrity Manager, talks about Research Integrity, why it matters and how we support academics at the University of Edinburgh to uphold the highest standards of Research Integrity in their research.

What is Research Integrity and why is it important?

When we talk about Research Integrity as a topic, what we’re talking about are the principles, ideas and behaviours that make up good research practice.  It’s about defining what excellence in the conduct of research looks like and creating frameworks to help researchers achieve it.

Research Integrity matters. Edinburgh’s reputation as an elite research-led institution is built on the high quality of research conducted by our staff and students. By ensuring that our researchers follow best practice in everything they do, we give others confidence in them and the findings of their research.

What are our commitments to ensuring Research Integrity at the University of Edinburgh?

The University of Edinburgh has adopted the Code of Practice for Research published by the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and the Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity.

The Concordat contains the basic commitments that underpin a research environment where best practice can flourish, while the Code of Practice fleshes out the practical issues that researchers need to be aware of at particular stages of the research journey.

Both are high level documents, and that’s deliberate, because best practice means different things in different fields of research, and so a high level approach means that the same standards can apply to everybody and yet individual Schools and Colleges have a degree of freedom in implementing them in a manner appropriate to their particular disciplines.

Importantly, both documents also recognise that not all of the responsibility for maintaining good research practice rests on the researchers.  The Concordat in particular describes the responsibilities and accountabilities of all the key players – the researchers themselves, their employers and the funders of research – in meeting the overall commitments.

In that way, both the Concordat and the Code of Practice are a bit like roadmaps: surfacing the issues that researchers need to get right, highlighting the areas where they can expect support from their employers and pointing them in the direction of good research practice.

Who does what in Research Integrity at the University of Edinburgh?

As an institution, the University of Edinburgh has a highly devolved structure, and that means that responsibility for promoting Research Integrity is shared across the University.  The important players include:-

  • Schools and Colleges, who work directly with researchers themselves, setting subject-specific standards in best practice and supporting them to uphold those standards;
  • The University’s Institute for Academic Development (IAD), whose remit is to provide University level support for teaching, learning and researcher development and which is heavily involved in devising and facilitating training in Research Integrity;
  • Governance and Strategic Planning (GaSP), which is part of the University Secretary’s Group and which, through its Research Policy Group, exercises an oversight role in good research practice and the stewardship of University wide research policies relating to Research Ethics and Integrity; and
  • The Research Support Office (RSO) which, through its newly created Research Integrity Manager post, acts as an intermediary between the University community on the one hand and the key external stakeholders, such as the funders, UKRIO and the Russell Group on the other. My main role as Research Integrity Manager is to keep abreast of developments right across the Research Integrity space and, in situations where Edinburgh needs to take a stance, to work with colleagues throughout the University in formulating the appropriate policy responses.

All of these Research Integrity players come together for quarterly meetings of the Research Ethics and Integrity Review Group (REIRG), which was established in 2014 to ensure a strong profile for Research Integrity at Edinburgh and to embed the principles of good research practice firmly in the University’s ethos and culture.  Chaired by RSO Director, Dr Lorna Thomson, REIRG’s broader remit also includes ensuring that the University keeps up to date with changing policy and legislation and promoting the Research Ethics and Integrity training available to staff.

You can read REIRG’s annual reports on the RSO Research Integrity webpages.

Where can I find help and support?

As I mentioned earlier, both the University and individual researchers share responsibility for upholding the principles of Research Integrity.

School and College offices across the University, as well as RSO, have specialist staff with in-depth knowledge about Research Ethics and Integrity regulation, policy and procedure.

RSO has recently launched new Research Integrity webpages providing information about Research Integrity training resources, relevant policies and guidance and details of contact points where you can access help and support.

If you’re ever unsure about any issue that may impact Research Integrity in your work and would like help or guidance, please do visit our webpages, or get in touch!

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