SFI is committed to fostering a culture of integrity. This spans the spectrum of SFI’s funded research, from the conduct of rigorous studies to the accurate reporting and publication of research results, whether performed in Ireland or with international partners. The actions described below in support of this commitment enable SFI to play a key role in ensuring that the public can place their trust in research and the scientific record. Overarchingly, Science Foundation Ireland endorses the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland; that is, all research performing organisations and Science Foundation Ireland award holders are expected to abide by this policy statement, as reflected in SFI’s General Grant Terms & Conditions. We also endorse the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, which is largely reflected in the national statement.
SFI Assurance Processes
Science Foundation Ireland is committed to ensuring that the research it funds is conducted to the highest standards of professionalism and rigour, maintaining Ireland’s reputation as a leader in research excellence. In support of continuous improvement, SFI is currently piloting innovative processes that will further promote good research practice, research integrity and reproducibility.
These include the following:
- Data provenance
- A portion of the mid-term progress review is allocated for a subject-specific expert panel (external) to study the provenance of a dataset and engage with the research team on matters concerning training, mentoring and supervision along with procedures used for data capture, analysis, storage and curation
- This bottom-up process helps to ensure the highest standards of integrity in all aspects of SFI funded research, and to embed a culture based on strong principles of good research practice
- Agreed upon Procedure
- A system-wide approach conducted by an independent (non-technical) consultant who surveys institutional policies and processes relating to Research Integrity and Research Ethics, and explores the reach of these across the institution to schools, centres and individual researchers
- This top-down approach will support that research is conducted in an environment that adheres to national and international guidelines in support of Research Integrity and Ethics
Collectively these processes, once fully integrated into Science Foundation Ireland’s oversight and review practices, will position the agency as a lead, nationally and internationally, in the promotion of good research practice. They will also help to ensure that the highest standards of integrity underpin all aspects of the research it supports. It is anticipated that the benefit of these processes will extend beyond the ‘boundaries’ of SFI funded research and be felt by the research environs as a whole.
National Research Integrity Forum
Science Foundation Ireland is a member of The National Research Integrity Forum, along with representatives from the Irish Universities Association (IUA), the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), other research funders and research performing organisations. The Forum has been established to represent the Irish public research system and coordinate a national approach to research integrity in Ireland
Key actions undertaken by the National Research Integrity Forum to date have included:
- Revising the Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, which was originally published in 2014, so as to align it with international best practice including that outlined in the (revised) European Code of Conduct
- The preparation of guidance documents for establishing research integrity policies and procedures in Irish research performing organisations
- An annual seminar to share best practice in managing issues relating to research integrity with a broad cross section of stakeholders
- The roll-out of the national EPIGEUM online research integrity training resource
Process in suspected research misconduct
What to do if there is a suspected or alleged case of research misconduct
Research Bodies are expected to have policies and procedures in place to address allegations of research misconduct in accordance with the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, along with any guidance released by the National Forum on Research Integrity.
Where the suspected or alleged misconduct relates directly or indirectly to a Research Programme supported by SFI funding, the Research Body must inform SFI as soon as possible and in any event within 30 days, in accordance with SFI’s Grant General Terms & Conditions.*
The Research Body is directed to Clause 11* of the SFI Grant General Terms & Conditions relating to Research Governance/Prevention of Research Misconduct. A brief summary of the processes that should be followed is below.
Summary of the Process for Addressing Research Misconduct
What SFI does when it is made aware of an allegation of research misconduct
- SFI will immediately contact a senior representative, namely the Vice President of Research (VPR), of the relevant Research Body (RB) where the alleged breach has occurred.
- The relevant details of the alleged breach will be established, and the investigation timeline will be agreed.
- The Research Body representative will then be requested to communicate the details in writing to the Director General (DG) of SFI.
- The DG of SFI will notify all SFI staff and Board members that an alleged breach of research integrity has occurred and advise them of SFI’s position in this regard. This notification will preserve the anonymity of the researcher(s) in question, the award and associated Research Body. The DG will notify the Chief Risk Officer (CRO) and Chair of the SFI Audit and Risk Committee (ARC).
- According to the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, the Research Body is obliged to conduct a formal investigation into the allegation once sufficient evidence exists. If a Research Body has not signed up to the concordat in support of the National Policy Statement, they will, by way of signing the Letter of Offer corresponding to the relevant SFI award, agree to the following statement: “The Research Body shall, and shall ensure that the Research Team shall, comply with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, the SFI Policy Documents and any other guidance SFI may release in relation to research integrity.”
- The Research Body must keep SFI informed of any developments relating to the investigation of potential research misconduct as soon as possible and in any event within 30 days of the event
- SFI will then, according to its oversight procedures, engage its external advisors to conduct an audit of the Research Body’s process to ensure that the investigation of alleged research misconduct was in accordance with the National Policy Statement on Research Integrity and that the conclusion is supported by the weight of evidence.
- The SFI appointed auditor will undertake the audit in accordance with a Terms of Reference agreed in advance with the Research Body.
- At the close of the audit, the appointed auditor will report directly to the SFI Chief Operations Officer (COO) and the DG, who will in turn notify the Chief Risk Officer (CRO) and Chair of the SFI Audit and Risk Committee.
- The auditor’s report may contain recommendations pertaining to the processes and procedures followed by the Research Body in conducting the investigation. If corrective actions are required, these will be revisited within a specified timeframe.
- For the avoidance of doubt, SFI does not wish to conduct any investigation of its own into research integrity or alleged Research Misconduct but shall be entitled, in accordance with the provisions of clause 9.5 in the Grant General Terms & Conditions,1 to audit the procedures adopted and any reports produced or other findings made by the Research Body in respect of research integrity or alleged Research Misconduct.