Promoting excellent research and a strong research integrity culture that aligns with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.
SOPs4RI (Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity) is a four-year (2019-2022), multi-partner project funded by the European Commission. SOPs4RI aims to stimulate transformational processes across European Research Performing Organisations and Research Funding Organisations (RPOs &RFOs). Specifically, SOPs4RI will establish an inventory of relevant Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines that RPOs &RFOs can draw on when developing governance arrangements promoting strong research integrity cultures.
SOPs4RI will deliver an online, freely accessible and easy-to-use ‘toolbox’ that can help Research Performing Organisations (RPOs) and Research Funding Organisations (RFOs) cultivate research integrity and reduce detrimental practice. The end product of SOPs4RI thus addresses needs of RPOs and RFOs, contributing to solving problems related to research integrity and enabling positive change.
SOPs4RI takes a mixed-methods, co-creative approach to the development and empirical validation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines to cultivate research integrity and reduce detrimental practices. Empirical elements of the project include 20 expert interviews, a three-round Delphi survey, 32 focus groups across academic disciplines, a survey of researchers across 31 countries, and four co-creation workshops engaging stakeholders.
Through comprehensive empirical research and inclusion of core user groups, SOPs4RI will develop an array of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines that are sensitive to the organisational context and the academic domain in which they will be applied. The sequential implementation of qualitative, quantitative, and co-creative parts of the empirical research programme will enable iterative refinement of the properties of the SOPs and Guidelines.SOPs4RI includes a pilot programme, in which selected RPOs and RFOs apply the SOPs and Guidelines in local practices. A number of public and private research funding organisations as well as university networks have confirmed their willingness to participate in the pilot phase. Results of this final step of the validation procedure will feed into the final version of SOPs and Guidelines.
SOPs4RI will collaborate with other relevant EU-funded research projects and national projects in order to make use of these projects’ knowledge and key findings.
The end product of SOPs4RI is a ‘toolbox’. The ‘box’ will not be a container into which tools are randomly tossed, but rather an organised structure that allows users to easily find the relevant tools. ‘Tagging’ of tools will be one way of developing a structure of the box. The core, primary ‘tools’ in the box are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines. The tools will primarily target the organisational level, including both existing SOPs and Guidelines identified by the project but also new ones developed by the project in response to user needs. In addition, the toolbox will contain ‘other resources’ or ‘secondary tools’ that may be ‘best practice’ examples of SOPs and Guidelines addressing the level of individual researchers that users may consider sources of inspiration and learning.
SOPs4RI wants to promote excellent research and a strong research integrity culture that aligns with the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. SOPs4RI is developed in response to contemporary challenges, including the following interrelated problems:
Serious violations of good research practices – such as Falsification, Fabrication and Plagiarism (FFP) – are relatively rare, with an estimated 1% to 2% of scientists engaged in such practices. However, less serious issues, known as Questionable Research Practices (QRP), such as bad research design, methodology and analyses are much more frequent.
Studies from different disciplinary fields have shown that it is often difficult to reproduce previous studies’ findings. Selective reporting, inadequate description of methods and other such QRPsare often considered to be the cause of such replication problems.
It has been estimated that 85% of all clinical research funding is wasted, mainly due to: (1) not asking clinically relevant research questions; (2) the use of inappropriate methods and poor research designs; (3) not having access to full publications, and (4) poor reporting and the failure to publish negative or ambiguous results (Ioannidis, 2016).
Intended and non-intended breaches of integrity and good research practice reduce the trustworthiness of science. If scientific institutions and practices are perceived to be faltering, public trust in science may be jeopardised.
Carrying out research of the highest quality and integrity are goals shared by the overwhelming majority of researchers and the institutions in which they work. SOPs4RI aims to enhance the ability of RPOs and RFOs to realise these goals through the development of a toolbox of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Guidelines that can be used to create research integrity policies that are grounded in principles, which are both widely shared and underpinned by an empirical evidence base. SOPs4RI will develop procedures that empower researchers to produce high quality, rigorous and reliable research and not act as a brake or a perceived barrier to academic and scientific autonomy. To accomplish this, the programme of work planned in SOPs4RI includes a wide-ranging review of current SOPs and Guidelines, an extensive systematic consultation with experts from all fields and large-scale global survey of researchers. Thus, the toolbox that we develop will be grounded in deep understanding of the constraints and opportunities faced by researchers and institutions and provide practically-oriented resources to enhance research integrity and promote good research practice, as well as reduce malpractice and provide procedures for dealing with misconduct.