Dr Gary Allen
Over the course of the last three decades, institutions have been paying far more attention to institutional risk if their researchers do not adhere to national human research ethics or research integrity standards (such as in Australia National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research). Those of us who practice in these spheres have done a good job in highlighting to directors and the executive level the risks of the regulator, the government and/or the media concluding that an individual researcher has breached the national standards.
Perhaps we have done too good a job, because it is being approached as a matter that needs to be policed, with institutional sanctions for researchers who are deemed not to have met the national standards.
Evidence of this can be found in institutional professional development strategies that almost exclusively focus upon the sanctions that are associated with an individual failing to meet those standards.
There is logic in this for an institution because it is reducing the harm an institution might suffer. But it is an argument that at least some researchers won’t find compelling. Nor does it do anything to help improve the way they design, conduct or report the results of their research.
For some researchers, the whole topic and its impact for their research can seem esoteric at best. In addition, professional development activities can often rely on the use of examples of research misconduct that are not Australian and/or of limited relevance to the broad range of research disciplines at an institution.
We also need to get beyond form filling and box-ticking in our thinking and in our approach. We are not fans of expensive ‘off the shelf’ packages that use multiple choice questions and that rarely acknowledge disciplinary/methodological differences.
To be of perceived value, professional development strategies need to be focused upon good practice and building a positive reputation.
We also need to draw upon the latest in pedagogical practice. “Talk and chalk” stopped being a useful approach many decades ago. It is not a useful way to engage people who are themselves educators.
Our understanding of good practice needs to draw upon the wisdom of the crowd and the research culture within our institutions. Within this context, we might refer to the national standards, but our obvious intention is to improve ethical thinking and practice, not improve adherence to a national rule.
Individual professional development activities must involve participants applying concepts and principles to a realistic problem or challenge. The activity should allow for and celebrate, novel and innovative approaches that can be applied to real-world situations. Being able to say that ideas from a session will be used to improve institutional policy, procedure or guidelines would be a fantastic result – and signal to researchers that their collaboration is welcome and useful.
Institutions that are serious about risk management should be investing at least as much (if not more) on professional development activities as they do on review processes. Yes, the implications are if you are spending a six-figure amount on a research management system, you should be spending a comparable amount on your professional development strategies.
AHRECS is very proud of our work in this space. Send an email to email@example.com if you would like to discuss us doing some work with your institution.
Allen, G and Israel, M (in press, 2017) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R and Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage.
Israel M, Allen, G & Thomson, C (2016) Australian Research Ethics Governance: Plotting the Demise of the Adversarial Culture. In van den Hoonaard, W & Hamilton, A (eds) The Ethics Rupture: Exploring Alternatives to Formal Research-Ethics Review. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Allen, G (2008) Getting Beyond Form Filling: The Role of Institutional Governance in Human Research Ethics. Journal of Academic Ethics 6/2, pp105-116. ISSN 1570-1727
This post may be cited as:
Allen, G. (24 July 2021) Why resourcing practice is a better option for institutions than policing compliance. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/why-resourcing-practice-is-a-better-option-for-institutions-than-policing-compliance/