Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is committed to fostering a culture of integrity. This spans the spectrum of SFI’s funded research, from the training of the next generation of researchers, to the conduct of rigorous studies and 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, SFI endorses the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland; that is, all research performing organisations and SFI grant recipients are expected to comply with this policy statement, as reflected in SFI’s Grant General Terms & Conditions. SFI also endorses the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, the principles of which are largely reflected in the National Policy Statement.
Science Foundation Ireland’s Assurance Processes
Science Foundation Ireland endeavours to ensure that the research it funds is conducted to the highest standards of professionalism and rigour, supporting Ireland’s reputation as a leader in research excellence. To contribute to the broader research environment, SFI has undertaken several steps to further promote good research practice, research integrity and reproducibility, some of which have been incorporated into its grant management workflows.
These include the following:
- Data Provenance Review
-A portion of the mid-term progress review is allocated for an external expert panel to focus on the source and generation of a specific dataset, fostering engagement with the research team on matters concerning training, mentoring and supervision along with procedures used for data capture, analysis, storage and curation.
-This focus helps to raise awareness of effective data management practices and integrity in all aspects of SFI-funded research, and embeds a culture based on strong principles of good research practice.
- Agreed upon Procedure
-A broad review conducted by independent evaluators who assess institutional policies and processes relating to Research Integrity and Research Ethics in light of the principles espoused by the National Policy Statement and European Code, also exploring their reach across the institution to schools, centres and individual researchers.
-This approach has contributed to increasing awareness and capacity to create an environment that adheres to national and international guidelines in support of Research Integrity and Ethics.
These processes help to support that the highest standards of integrity underpin all aspects of the research SFI funds. 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. They have helped to position the agency as a leader, nationally and internationally, in the promotion of good research practice. Moreover, our learnings from these reviews have informed the development of a self-assessment checklist described below.
Self-assessment checklist: Tips for developing Policies and Procedures
The National Policy Statement (2019) and European Code (2017) emphasise critical elements to strengthen procedural fairness in the handling of Research Misconduct and other detrimental research practices. To align with these important guidelines, SFI encourages that the following elements are explicitly described in research performing organisations’ policies and procedures, along with other aspects deemed important for a fair procedure:
DESCRIPTION in POLICY / PROCEDURE
Definition of Research Misconduct / Other Breaches
Use detailed definition to allow for uniform application in addressing misconduct / detrimental practices
Reference to the National Policy Statement and European Code
Incorporate overarching spirit and key elements from these guidelines in procedural terms
Notice to funders
Note importance of contractual stipulations as far as communicating with funders when cases arise
Conflicts of interest
Describe that those involved in handling allegations disclose and manage conflicts of interest
Notice to Respondent in writing
Explain that persons accused must be given full details of the allegation(s) in writing and allowed a fair process for responding and presenting evidence
Presumption of innocence
Ensure that anyone accused of misconduct is presumed innocent and does not suffer unnecessary penalty
Establish protections for those involved by keeping the process as confidential as possible
Burden of proof
Describe the standard of proof for showing misconduct was committed (preponderance of the evidence)
Protect those raising concerns
Emphasise that no person should suffer any penalty for making an allegation in good faith
Note that action taken in response to upheld allegations should be proportionate to the severity of the violation
Right to appeal
Ensure that any action(s) taken are subject to right of appeal
Detailed and confidential records should be maintained on all aspects of the procedure for handling allegations
Offer education & training programmes for all engaged in research (research integrity & methodology, etc.)
To expand upon this non-exhaustive list, SFI encourages those refining and implementing procedures to draw upon the detailed descriptions in the National Policy Statement and European Code as they are updated. The National Research Integrity Forum also offers resources and a Community of Practice as support in this regard.
The National Research Integrity Forum
Science Foundation Ireland is a member of The National Research Integrity Forum (the Forum), along with representatives from the Irish Universities Association, the Technological Higher Education Association and other research funders and research performing organisations. The Forum was established to represent the Irish public research system and coordinate a national approach to research integrity in Ireland. In 2022, the Forum was re-structured to allow for knowledge exchange through two specific groups:
- A Steering Group where strategic issues relating to the conduct of research and research integrity are discussed by key senior stakeholders. Science Foundation Ireland is represented on the Steering Group along with other national funders and publicly-funded research performing organisations.
- A Community of Practice whose members represent a broad group of stakeholder organisations sharing information and good practice on training and policies. Members include all publicly-funded research performing organisations, national research funders, and other national organisations.
The National Research Integrity Forum has undertaken the following important activities to date:
- Developed a Framework-to-Enhance-Research-Integrity-in-Collaborations, a guidance document to help researchers reinforce responsible research conduct in their research collaborations;
- Contributed to the revision of the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity and revising the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, originally published in 2014, to better align the statement with international best practice, including that prescribed in the (revised) European Code of Conduct;
- Prepared guidance documents for establishing research integrity policies and procedures in Irish research performing organisations (https://www.iua.ie/research-innovation/research-integrity/);
- Implemented the roll-out of the national EPIGEUM online research integrity training resource;
Presented at several international research integrity conferences to raise awareness of the Forum’s work;
Publishing annual statistics reports on instances of research misconduct formally investigated in Irish RPOs (2016-2021; see https://www.iua.ie/for-researchers/research-integrity).
As described in SFI’s Grant General Terms & Conditions, research bodies are expected to have clearly publicised procedures for addressing allegations of research misconduct. These should be aligned with the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland, and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The Research Body must inform SFI of any suspected or alleged Research Misconduct directly or indirectly relating to the Research Programme as soon as possible and in any event within 30 days in accordance with SFI’s Grant General Terms & Conditions (GT&Cs).** Those handling allegations of research misconduct should be familiar with Clause 11 of these GT&Cs, which also addresses research governance.
Summary of SFI’s Process once an Allegation of Research Misconduct is made
- SFI will immediately contact a senior representative, namely the Vice President of Research (VPR) or equivalent, of the relevant Research Body 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 relevant 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 grant, and the associated Research Body. The DG will notify the Chief Risk Officer and Chair of the SFI Audit and Risk Committee.
- 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. By accepting SFI’s Grant Conditions, a Research Body and Principal Investigator agrees to clause 11.1 of the Grant General Terms & Conditions which states that “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 or data management.”
- 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 development, and any finding of Research Misconduct, subject to compliance with Applicable law and fair procedures.
- SFI may, according to its oversight procedures, engage its external advisors to conduct a review or audit of the Research Body’s procedures to ensure that the investigation of alleged research misconduct was undertaken in accordance with best practice and, in particular, that prescribed by the National Policy Statement on Research Integrity.
- 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 review, the appointed auditor will report directly to the SFI Chief Operations Officer, the Head of Research Policy and the DG, who will in turn notify the Chief Risk Officer 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, although SFI does not conduct any investigation of its own into research integrity or alleged Misconduct or Research Misconduct, SFI shall be entitled, in accordance with the Grant General Terms & Conditions, to audit the procedures adopted and any reports produced or other findings made by the Research Body in respect of Misconduct or Research Misconduct.
[**] In any event, where the alleged research misconduct relates to a research programme supported in whole or in part by SFI Funds.