There are a few questions that we get asked fairly often at UKRIO, especially by those who are new to our work. One of the most common is whether we want to have regulatory powers, so it would be mandatory to follow our guidance. Another is whether we would become a statutory regulator for research integrity if we were ever asked to take on such a role.
The answer to both questions is, ‘no’. Nothing could be further from our aim. We don’t want regulatory powers and, more importantly, we don’t need them to be effective.
We organised UKRIO as a response to a problem, but as a response which specifically aimed to avoid any form of burdensome regulation. We’re not a regulatory body and don’t want to become one, as we’ve said to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and on other occasions.
So if we’re ever asked to become a regulator, we will say no. We feel that to say yes would conflict with the values and mission of UKRIO and with the way in which we have successfully provided support to the research community and the public. Also, we don’t want UKRIO to evolve into a body which increases bureaucracy and hinders researchers and institutions. They already have enough to deal with. So we will continue to focus on support that is practical, appropriate and proportionate, which helps the public, employers and researchers rather than adding to their burdens – the long-term, in-depth yet light-touch support which only UKRIO can provide.
We think that research integrity – ensuring that research adheres to good practice and high ethical standards – is an intrinsic responsibility of employers and researchers, one which shouldn’t be delegated. UKRIO was set up to help not only the general public and individual researchers but also the employers of researchers: the institutions which are legally responsible for resolving most issues of research conduct. We don’t ask employers to delegate their responsibilities to us. Instead we provide independent and expert advice on how they might best fulfil their duties. We have found that we are listened to, even though we are an advisory body – or perhaps precisely because we are an advisory body.
UKRIO’s guidance isn’t mandatory. It reflects best practice. We promote good research conduct and have published robust and fair methods to address misconduct. UKRIO’s advice and publications don’t create additional bureaucracy and delays, nor do they cause problems for innovative or cross-disciplinary research. Instead they emphasise the good practice that underpins research across all disciplines, all sectors and all regulatory remits.
There has been considerable use and uptake of our services since we began our work in 2006. Our status as an advisory body, rather than a regulator, hasn’t hindered this. In fact, it has helped it. We’ve found that we don’t need statutory powers to get results.
Our published guidance has been adopted or otherwise used by many research organisations, including by over fifty universities. In both 2010 and 2011 we helped with more than 60 cases – over one a week! It’s clear that researchers and institutions, well aware of their responsibilities for research integrity, are willing to come forward and seek guidance from UKRIO when they need it. In the same way, the general public, including research participants and patients, have been happy to seek our advice, often on difficult issues.
As Michael Farthing, our higher education Vice-Chair, said at a high-level meeting on research misconduct earlier this year, we should keep a sense of perspective. The UK has a well-earned reputation for excellent and innovative research and for producing high-calibre researchers. Our research is not rife with fraud or misrepresentation but there is no room for complacency. UKRIO’s role is not to add further burdens to institutions and their researchers. What we do is help sustain and enhance the strong professional ethos which, thankfully, drives most research here.
James Parry, Chief Executive, UKRIO.
For further information about UKRIO and our work, please contact us.