Introduction to the Concordat to Support Research Integrity
This guide aims to provide introductory information on the Concordat to Support Research Integrity to those not familiar with it. It should be of use to researchers, research integrity officers and those who are considering raising concerns relating to research integrity with a research organisation.
The UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity can be found here.
It was first developed in 2012 by a group of national funding bodies, funders and university mission groups and was revised in 2019 following the recommendations of a parliamentary Select Committee on research integrity.
The Concordat asks research organisations, individual researchers and funders of research ‘to commit to ensuring their work is underpinned by the highest standards of rigour and integrity’.
It aims to ‘provide a national framework for good research conduct and its governance’ to ensure that government, business, international partners, and the public can continue to have confidence in UK research and its world-leading researchers.
The Concordat sets out responsibilities for researchers, employers of researchers and funders in five areas:
- Upholding the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research;
- Ensuring that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards;
- Supporting a research environment that is underpinned by a culture of integrity and based on good governance, best practice, and support for the development of researchers;
- Using transparent, timely, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct should they arise;
- Working together to strengthen the integrity of research and to review progress regularly and openly.
Responsibilities relating to research misconduct
You may also find UKRIO’s Short Guide to Research Misconduct of interest. The Concordat refers to research misconduct as:
‘behaviours or actions that fall short of the standards of ethics, research and scholarship required to ensure that the integrity of research is upheld.’
The Concordat is committed to the use of ‘transparent, timely, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct when they arise’.
It notes that:
‘Employers have a duty of care to the researchers they employ, and there needs to be appropriate protection for the rights and interests of all parties.
There must be accountability when things go wrong and, where concerns are upheld, appropriate action must be taken.’
The responsibilities of research organisations employing researchers include:
- Ensuring that any person involved in investigating allegations has the appropriate knowledge, skills, experience and authority to do so;
- Taking reasonable steps to ensure that any investigation is independent and avoids any potential conflicts of interest;
- Ensuring that the investigation is well documented and occurs over a reasonable timeframe.
Research organisations are required to remain impartial in any investigation, avoid conflicts of interest, and ensure that all parties are treated fairly. This is particularly important given that the parties in a matter, whether complainant or respondent, may have little recourse outside of the organisation if they are unhappy with the outcome.
The Concordat states that employers of researchers must:
- Have clear, well-articulated and confidential mechanisms for reporting allegations of research misconduct;
- Have robust, transparent and fair processes for dealing with allegations of misconduct that reflect best practice. This includes the use of independent external members of formal investigation panels, and clear routes for appeal (see the references section);
- Ensure that all researchers and other members of staff are made aware of the relevant contacts and procedures for making allegations;
- Act with no detriment to whistle-blowers who have made allegations of misconduct in good faith, or in the public interest, including taking reasonable steps to safeguard their reputation. This should include avoiding the inappropriate use of legal instruments, such as non-disclosure agreements;
- Take reasonable steps to resolve any issues found during the investigation. This can include imposing sanctions, requesting a correction of the research record and reporting any action to regulatory and statutory bodies, research participants, funders or other professional bodies as circumstances, contractual obligations and statutory requirements dictate;
- Take reasonable steps to safeguard the reputation of individuals who are exonerated;
- Provide information on investigations of research misconduct to funders of research and to professional and/or statutory bodies as required by their conditions of grant and other legal, professional and statutory obligations;
- Support their researchers in providing appropriate information when they are required to make reports to professional and/or statutory bodies;
- Provide a named point of contact or recognise an appropriate third party to act as confidential liaison for whistle-blowers or any other person wishing to raise concerns about the integrity of research being conducted under their auspices. This need not be the same person as the member of staff identified to act as first point of contact on research integrity matters, as recommended under commitment 3.
Employers should also be mindful that minor infractions, including honest errors, particularly by less experienced researchers or where there is no evident intention to deceive, may often be addressed informally through mentoring, education and guidance.
Responsibilities of researchers
Researchers also have responsibilities under the Concordat. This is important to note when raising any matters, or for those who are the subject of any investigation.
- Act in good faith with regard to allegations of research misconduct, whether in making allegations or in being required to participate in an investigation, and take reasonable steps, working with employers as appropriate, to ensure the recommendations made by formal research misconduct investigation panels are implemented;
- Handle potential instances of research misconduct in an appropriate manner; this includes reporting misconduct to employers, funders and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies as circumstances require;
- Declare and act accordingly to manage conflicts of interest.
As noted above, research organisations and others have responsibilities under the Concordat and are accountable to funding bodies. These responsibilities are referenced in UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) documentation and policies, including:
Grant terms and conditions; adherence to the Concordat is a condition of award of any UKRI-funded research grant. See paragraph RGC 3.1.2, which states:
RGC 3.1.2 You must follow Our Policy on the Governance of Good Research Practice at: www.ukri.org/publications/ukri-policy-on-the-governance-of-good-research-practice/ and ensure that the requirements set out in the 2019 Concordat to Support Research Integrity, including any subsequent amendments, are met. You are responsible for ensuring all necessary permissions are obtained before the Project begins, that there is clarity in roles and responsibility among Grant Holders, Research Workers, and Third Parties, as well as investigating and reporting unacceptable research conduct. Any potential conflicts of interest in research identified at the point of application must be declared to Us and subsequently managed.
UKRI’s policy on the governance of good research practice and accompanying guidance also refers to the Concordat:
‘research misconduct investigation procedures should be developed and reviewed in light of, and be consistent with, the Concordat to Support Research Integrity and the UK Research Integrity Office’s recommended procedure for investigation’.
Research England policy and guidance on the reporting of formal research misconduct investigations state:
‘it is a condition of grant for all higher education providers eligible to receive research funding administered through Research England to have in place procedures for governing good research practice, and for investigating and reporting unacceptable research conduct, that meet the requirements set out in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity’.
Cancer Research UK are a signatory to the Concordat, and compliance with the Concordat is also a condition of grants awarded:
Research integrity: The Host Institution and Grantholder must conduct the Grant Activities with the highest standards of research integrity including, where applicable, in accordance with Universities UK’s ‘Concordat to Support Research Integrity(link is external)‘ (as amended).
All institutions in receipt of general quality research ‘QR’ funding that is distributed by UKRI following the Research Excellence Framework are required under UKRI terms and conditions to meet the requirements of the Concordat:
In line with UKRI’s terms and conditions for funding, it is a condition of grant for all higher education providers eligible to receive research funding administered through Research England to have in place procedures for governing good research practice, and for investigating and reporting unacceptable research conduct, that meet the requirements set out in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity (2019) https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2019/theconcordat-to-support-research-integrity.pdf and the https://www.ukri.org/aboutus/policies-and-standards/research-integrity/, and any subsequent iterations of those documents. UKRI will assess compliance with this condition on an ongoing basis.
To summarise, adherence to its requirements is a condition both of receiving research income from the UK funding body and of receiving grants from the research councils and other funders.
Annex B of the UKRI terms and conditions above set out the regulatory framework on how compliance with the terms and conditions is assured. Provider-level assurance activity is carried out by Research England and the Office for Students along with ‘occasional specific audit and assurance activity from time to time’.
Universities are autonomous and there is no direct form of appeal or reporting if an individual considers an institution to be in breach of the Concordat. If a complainant is not happy with the outcome of a research misconduct investigation, there is not normally any specific recourse to an ombudsperson or other organisation beyond the institution once the institution’s processes, including appeals, public interest disclosure/whistleblowing, and grievance/complaints procedures, have been exhausted. Where relevant, individuals may be able to contact the funder of any grant involved in the matter raised or a publisher or journal.
Written by Nicola Sainsbury, Research Integrity Manager UKRIO.
January 2023, revised 1 March 2023