Dr Gary Allen
4.4 Ensure that any potential breaches of the Code are reported
…in instances where the concerned party does not wish to report the suspected breach, and the RIA has reason to believe a breach of the Code has occurred, the RIA has a responsibility to report the potential breach to the RIO. (Draft Good Practice Guide for Research Integrity Advisors, 2021)
The NHMRC is currently conducting a consultation on the proposed good practice guide for Research Integrity Advisers.
The draft indicates that an advisor must report a breach of the Australian Code if they know the details of the breach. To do otherwise would itself be a breach of the Code. Advisers are told helpfully to advise researchers to speak in hypotheticals, lest the adviser be obligated to report the matter to the institution.
This has me hot under the collar.
Allow me to explain why. A collegiate RIA network has the capacity to create, nurture and support a community of practice for research integrity in an institution. This rests on researchers being able to check their practice with an RIA, receive advice and improve their practice. It should also involve researchers being able to check the behaviour of their peers, mentors and supervisors with the RIA to confirm they are appropriate, or whatever they should be gently prompting a change in their peer’s practice.
The idea such conversations could be framed as hypotheticals feels like something that should be the stuff of theatre farce.
Setting aside the silliness and the thought acrobatics that would ensue, this positions the role of RIAs as agents in an enforcement and punishment system rather than as focussed on improving collective practice.
I concede there are matters which an RIA should be obliged to report. Behaviour that is clearly illegal, involves imminent harm or serious institutional risk, should be immediately reported. But the RIA should be helped identify whether such a situation exists.
An instruction that they must report any breaches if they know the details is unlikely to improve an institution’s research culture. It is hard to imagine too many people wanting to serve in such a role or others being confident and comfortable in seeking their advice.
These are my own views and I feel them strongly.
This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (18 June) Confidence versus mandatory reporting. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/confidence-versus-mandatory-reporting/