Dr. Hiney, Head of Post-Award and Evaluation with the Health Research Board, Ireland, was one of the keynote speakers at the fifth World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) that took place in Amsterdam last week.
At her presentation on the final day, she made a historical review of the conferences, starting with Lisbon, 2007. There, she said, the topic was whether we can agree that we have a problem. Three years later, in Singapore, we agreed that we had a problem. The next challenge was to agree on definitions and principles.
In Montreal 2013, Hiney summarized the topic as follows: What evidence, structures and processes do we need to tackle the problem so that we can collaborate? In Rio 2015, one asked: How can we promote responsible conduct of research in our systems? And finally in Amsterdam: How can we improve transparency, accountability and consistency?
«Research integrity is now being discussed in a way that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago», said Hiney, using examples such as the adoption of the Conclusions on Research Integrity by the EU Council of Ministers, and the revision of the European Code of Conduct (ALLEA), a process she chaired herself.
«Research Integrity is now also seen as a legitimate area of research», Hiney pointed out.
Terminology still discussed
The various sessions at the conference reflected on Hiney’s main point: Research Integrity has risen on the agenda in most countries and in research forums worldwide during the last decade. The number of countries who have developed national codes of conduct, guidelines and policies have increased significantly. Many new tools for safeguarding research have been developed, more are in the making and were preliminary presented at the conference.
Still, various issues from previous conferences obviously have not been resolved. Another conference speaker, associate professor Carol Thrush at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, introduced the audience to a new tool for empirical measurement of the climate of research integrity in academic organizations (SOURCE). She asked the crowd whether the term research integrity might easily translate into their native language. Only a handful of hands came up.
«Really?» She responded. «I will need to talk to you guys!»
The SOURCE-tool is intended for use worldwide, but, as Thrush pointed out, translating it might prove challenging both literally and culturally.
Suggests research registry
One of the goals at this year’s conference was to develop the Amsterdam Agenda for Promoting Transparency and Accountability. The agenda was initially envisioned as an “action-oriented one-page statement drawing attention to the urgent need to fight questionable research practices”, according to conference co-chair professor Lex Bouter.
During the conference, delegates were encouraged to suggest specific aspects of research integrity that need improvement, ways to ensure such improvement and to measure it. Replication and quality control were among the subjects that came up.
The form of the agenda changed, however, into a research registry, as described in the final agenda draft:
«To promote greater transparency and accountability in research on research integrity, the World Conferences on Research Integrity will explore ways to establish a “Research on Research Integrity Registry” (RRIR). The RRIR will enable researchers to share information about five key elements of their research on research integrity (…).»
The five elements are the problem, the importance of the problem on reliability of research, intervention planned to address the problem(s), anticipated outcomes of the intervention, how they plan to assess whether the outcomes are achieved, and how they plan to share their data.
Whether this turns out to be a useful tool, might be a topic at the next conference, which will take place in Hong Kong in 2019, co-hosted by the University of Hong Kong and that of Melbourne.