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Promoting Integrity as an Integral Dimension of Excellence in Research

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PRINTEGER (Promoting Integrity as an Integral Dimension of Excellence in Research)

Reporting period: 2016-12-01 to 2018-08-31

The Science with and for Society (SWAFS) project PRINTEGER aims to foster a research culture in which integrity is part and parcel of doing research. Integrity is not seen as an external and restrictive control system. Rather, PRINTEGER takes the view that an improved governance of integrity and responsible research has to be informed by practice: the daily realities of the research work and the tensions of a complex research system need to be taken into account. In short, integrity is about good research. It is fundamental for ensuring excellence and high-quality research results, and to secure credibility and public trust in science. Nevertheless, the issues at stake, e.g. how to ensure the implementation of research integrity or what is considered as misconduct or poor-quality research, are often quite complex and part of the project’s work. The aim is to improve integrity policies of national and international research organisations, but also to provide adequate tools for research leaders and managers, for instance via the PRINTEGER Bonn statement on research integrity, which is already being endorsed by important stakeholders in the fields (see for instance the lecture on research integrity by Rector Luc Sels of Louvain University during the opening of the Academic Year 2018-2019. In the long run, PRINTEGER will further ethical awareness and reflection through the education of new generations of scientists with next generation educational tools, e.g. UPRIGHT, an open-access platform developed by the PRINTEGER team. Immediate contributions of PRINTEGER include increasing the awareness of realistic and effective integrity measures through dissemination, or instance via our European conference in February 2018 (resulting in the Bonn statement and a demonstration of the UPRIGHT tool) as well as more focussed meetings, such as the recent conference on peer review in Leyden (June 2018).
A unique feature of PRINTEGER is the focus on a hands-on, bottom-up approach, starting from what is happening in real practice. For this reason, focus groups with researchers, research managers and other research actors have taken place to explore questions such as the effectiveness of integrity policies, definitions of research integrity, and barriers and challenges to integrity. But we also conducted case studies analyses in combination with an extensive European research integrity survey. The results were used for the development of tools for management, education and reflection for researchers, managers, publishers, teachers, and other stakeholders.
PRINTEGER focusses on internal integrity drivers rather than on external measures. Our results indicate that in order to address integrity challenges successfully, the focus should not be on external forms of control, such as more surveillance, more regulations, etc., but rather on the internal integrity drivers of research, on the fact that integrity, responsibility, transparency, reliability, commitment, etc. are already part and parcel of conducting research. Moreover, rather than on individualisation (punishing individual deviance, in accordance with the “rotten apple” metaphor) the focus should be on institutional responsibilities for creating a viable research ecosystem where integrity challenges can be discussed and addressed. Both in terms of diagnostics and in terms of therapy, there is a tendency in current integrity discourse to focus on strategies of individualisation, but PRINTEGER aims to focus more explicitly on environmental factors, e.g. on the quality and resilience of research ecosystems, on institutional rather than individual responsibilities, and on the quality and viability of the research culture. Not only because, in most disciplines, research is team-work, involving intense collaboration and mutual dependence, but also because many authors discern a connection between integrity issues (also in top quality science) and the extent to which the global research arena is becoming increasingly competitive, resulting in wide-spread symptoms such as “productivism”, the increase of pace and scale, output indicator fetishism and the focus on quantity over quality. In other words, high visibility cases (revolving around exposed science celebrities) seem symptomatic of increasing tensions between performance indicators and quality care. Our major conclusions:
1. Fostering research integrity should be a bottom-up process, informed by practice, by integrity work in every-day research settings
2. First and foremost, research integrity should be strengthened, not via individualisation (i.e. surveillance, detection, exposure and punishment of individual deviance) but via institutionalisation (i.e. promoting care and concern for research ecosystem quality)
This shift of focus from individual deviance to institutional quality care should be the starting point, not only for developing integrity policies, but also for designing educational tools for future researchers.
During Phase 1 of the project the focus was on reconnaissance, gathering information about practices and conceptions. WE conducted a systematic review of integrity cultures and practices; a conceptual analysis, a normative analysis, a legal analysis, a criminological analysis (deviance), and an analysis from an organizational perspective, resulting in a systematic comprehensive overview.
During the second stage (WPIII and WPIV), we moved into the more detailed analysis and assessment of the processes behind research integrity and the future options via media analysis, case studies, focus groups and the PRINTEGER survey (1126 respondents).
On the basis of the information gathered in WPII, WPIII, and WPIV, insights were combined into policy reports written for three specific target groups: research policy makers, research leaders and managers, and research supporting organisations (such as editors). Finally, on the basis of our results, we developed an interactive educational tool named UPRIGHT.
We produced all deliverables as planned but would like to highlight a number of impacts. Of special importance for policy development, institutional care, research and education on research integrity are: (a) the PRINTEGER Bonn statement on research integrity, paying special attention to institutional dimensions; (b) the open access educational platform UPRIGHT which will remain available after the project has expired; (c) our collaborations with and input to other projects addressing issues on research integrity; (d) new projects and activities for instance in the area of peer review; (e) a series of PRINTEGER publications in the journal LSSP. The PRINTEGER project was selected as a Success Story by the ‘Network of National Contact Points for Science with and for Society’.