Ensuring research is conducted ethically is a collective responsibility of the researchers, the research organisations and the appropriate research ethics committee.
It is less about compliance and ‘getting through’ the ethics process, and more about mature, constructive and collaborative ethical deliberation, mutual learning and shared action aimed at maximising benefit and minimising harm.
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Guidance for researchers and research teams
Researchers, innovators and their teams are encouraged to engage in self-critical ethical reflection throughout the lifecycle of the work, seeking expert advice where necessary.
They should design and conduct research in accordance with recognised best practice and ethical standards, and ensure that at a minimum research is subject to appropriate professional and institutional oversight. In all cases, researchers and research organisations must comply with all relevant legal requirements.
Guidance for research organisations
Successful implementation of ethics-related policy and guidance relies in a large part on the degree to which individual research organisations have built and maintained appropriate structures and support systems and cultivated a culture of good research practice and ethical reflection.
Research organisations should maintain a research ethics committee (REC) with appropriate support, resources and expertise to provide ethics oversight for research within their organisation that requires ethics review which does not fall under external RECs (for instance NHS Health Research Authority Research Ethics Committees or Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee).
They should facilitate awareness of the benefits of potential knowledge exchange, impact activities and outputs of the research conducted by their researchers, alongside consideration of risk and other social and ethical implications of the research.
Research organisations have a responsibility to provide the necessary training, resources and support to researchers and research administrators to allow them to deliver the agreed objectives of UKRI-supported research, and achieve maximum benefits from the research to participants, the wider research effort and society.
They have a responsibility to provide access to training for members of research ethics committees that emphasises the importance of maximising the benefit of the research they review.
They also have a responsibility to provide researchers, research administrators and research ethics committee members with protocols and other resources to enable them to identify, manage and minimise risk and harm to all parties involved or affected by the research.
Guidance for research ethics committees
All parties involved in research have an active role to play in creating and sustaining a culture of rigorous ethical reflection.
We acknowledge that research ethics committees have many competing obligations, with duties to protect participants, researchers and research organisations. We encourage RECs to engage with researchers in all stages of a project’s research lifecycle.
The following considerations should also form part of any ongoing monitoring of UKRI-funded projects:
- research and innovation should aim to maximise benefit for individuals and society and minimise risk and harm
- the rights and dignity of individuals and groups should be respected
- wherever possible, participation should be voluntary and appropriately informed
- research and innovation should be conducted with integrity and transparency
- wherever possible, research ethics committees should ensure the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research and innovation, and fully justify the use of animals with appropriate rigour in experimental design
- research and innovation should be carried out in the most environmentally-sustainable way possible to achieve intended outcomes and impacts in a way that minimises negative environmental impacts
- lines of responsibility and accountability should be clearly defined and agreed with all participating researchers prior to commencing the research
- the independence of research should be maintained, and where conflicts of interests cannot be avoided they should be made explicit