Research integrity refers to all of the factors that underpin good research practice and promote trust and confidence in the research process. Research integrity covers all disciplines of research and all sectors where research is carried out. It’s the conduct of research in ways that promote trust and confidence in all aspects of the research process. It helps ensure that research is high-quality, ethical and of benefit to society.
Research integrity is an umbrella term, that enables best practices within the whole lifecycle of research, from the initial idea and design of the project, through the conduct of the research and its dissemination. It applies to all disciplines of research wherever it’s carried out – in universities, the private sector, the NHS, Government, charities and more. While the precise nature of ‘good research practice’ may vary somewhat depending on discipline or sector, the underlying themes remain the same.
You can look at research integrity through three perspectives.
- It’s important on the level of individual research projects and the work of researchers, whether in teams or on their own.
- It’s important on the level of organisational processes, systems and environment – often referred to as ‘research culture’.
- And it’s important on the level of national and international systems for how research is funded, monitored, disseminated and assessed – factors which influence research practice and research culture.
Research integrity is something fundamental to research. And it’s very relevant to all research and all researchers. Although research integrity isn’t always a familiar term to researchers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t familiar with good research practice! Under research integrity sits research governance, research culture, research ethics, and all the other aspects of the research process mentioned in UKRIO’s Code of Practice and national guidance like The Concordat to Support Research Integrity.
Is the community teaching researchers what they need to know?
Often there is an assumption that research integrity training is just about research misconduct, but all the training researchers receive e.g., from grant writing, public speaking, statistics, leadership, data management and software training, all enable them to carry out research informed by best practices and therefore with research integrity. In the UK, it is typical for researchers to be offered a suite of training and development to ensure that skills align with the needs of the researcher’s existing abilities and their discipline.
However, this training doesn’t always highlight what happens when things go wrong or when the incentives to survive as a researcher can tip the internal balance between choosing the sloppy over best practices. Historically, current ECRs are more likely to have been exposed to tailored training specifically on research integrity, perhaps during an induction process, due to increased awareness in this area since the late 90s and early 2000s, whereas those at the mid-career level may not. Even so, encouraging researchers to attend a long in-person training session dedicated to research integrity can be difficult, especially if they don’t know what research integrity means. Mandatory training is often debated but there has been no research into whether making this training mandatory has a measurable impact on research quality, although the benefits of mandatory signposting and awareness raising seem obvious. Measuring research integrity is incredibly difficult and would consist of many parameters, behaviours and interdisciplinary differences, overall, there is a lack of research in this area.
UKRIO notes the importance of including some research integrity information in all training provisions. This would improve basic awareness of what it is called and highlight that there are grey areas, where breaches of best practice or questionable research practices can become normal and even standard practice. It would ensure that researchers are aware there are avenues to raise concerns or to ask for advice both within an institution and independently with UKRIO. A strong culture of care is about being open and having conversations about the difficulties of being a researcher and it is an integral part of a good research culture which will enable researchers and research to thrive.
Within the pages of this section, we explore the definition of research integrity and research misconduct; we look at the research integrity landscape within the UK and introduce the UK’s national policy statement on research integrity, The Concordat to Support Research Integrity. The last section contains our current activities to inform the wider research community.