Research integrity framework
1. Imperial College London is a signatory to the UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity, which was first published in 2012, and was revised and updated in 2019. The Concordat seeks to provide a national framework for good research conduct and its governance. All of its signatories, including the College, are committed to:
- upholding the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research
- ensuring that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards
- supporting a research environment that is underpinned by a culture of integrity and based on good governance, best practice, and support for the development of researchers
- using transparent, timely, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct should they arise
- working together to strengthen the integrity of research and to review progress regularly and openly.
Accordingly, the College not only provides support, guidance and training for researchers so that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards, it also has robust processes in place to deal with allegations of research misconduct when they arise.
2. The revised Concordat also includes the following commitments for research organisations, with which the College also complies:
“Employers of research will:
- identify a named senior member of staff to oversee research integrity and a named member of staff who will act as a first point of contact for anyone wanting more information on matters of research integrity ensure that this information is kept up to date and publicly available on the institution’s website.
- provide a named point of contact or recognise an appropriate third party to act as confidential liaison for whistle-blowers or any other person wishing to raise concerns about the integrity of research being conducted under their auspices.
- produce a short annual statement, which must be presented to their own governing body, and subsequently be made publicly available, ordinarily through the institution’s website. This annual statement must include:
- a summary of actions and activities that have been undertaken to support and strengthen understanding and the application of research integrity issues (for example postgraduate and researcher training, or process reviews)
- a statement to provide assurance that the processes the institution has in place for dealing with allegations of misconduct are transparent, timely, robust and fair, and that they continue to be appropriate to the needs of the organisation
- a high-level statement on any formal investigations of research misconduct that have been undertaken, which will include data on the number of investigations. If no formal investigation has been undertaken, this should also be noted
- a statement on what the institution has learned from any formal investigations of research misconduct that have been undertaken, including what lessons have been learned to prevent the same type of incident re-occurring
- a statement on how the institution creates and embeds a research environment in which all staff, researchers and students feel comfortable to report instances of misconduct
3. The College confirms on its Research integrity webpages that the senior member of staff with leadership oversight for research integrity at the College is the Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), Professor Nick Jennings; and that the named point of contact for any person wishing to raise concerns about the integrity of research conducted at Imperial College is the College Secretary, John Neilson, who is both the Chair of the College’s Research Misconduct Response Group (RMRG), and the designated person to receive Public Interest Disclosures under the College’s whistleblowing procedures.
4. In accordance with its obligations under the Concordat, the College also considers an annual report on research integrity and misconduct. This report from the RMRG provides the Provost’s Board with a statement of the actions taken to support research integrity, and to investigate concerns about research in the last year, and forms the basis of the annual high-level statement on research integrity made to the Council in accordance with the College’s commitments under the Concordat. A copy of the annual report to the Council is then published on the College’s Research Integrity webpages.
5. The College's reputation and success in research are underpinned both by the quality and expertise of the individuals within the College, and by the standards of research governance and integrity that the College expects all researchers to meet. To this end, the College has adopted the Council for Science and Technology's Universal Ethical Code for Scientists and upholds its three principles, which are:
- Rigour, Honesty and Integrity
- Respect for Life, the Law and the Public Good
- Responsible Communications: Listening and Informing
6. The Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), Nick Jennings, has leadership oversight for the research environment, including Ethics and Integrity. The Research Office’s responsibilities now also encompass an Ethics and Integrity function that has been reviewing gaps in the College’s provision in this area. Additional information and guidance on the following areas of research integrity is also made available on the College website:
- Health and Safety
- Research Misconduct
- Equipment sharing
- Animal research
- Open Access
- Data Collection and Retention
- Public Interest Disclosures
- Peer Review
- Conflicts of Interest
- Intellectual Property
- Our Responsibilities
Research Integrity Training
7. To support research integrity, the College already provides a variety of training opportunities and guidance to its researchers, including e-learning and face-to-face covering a variety of areas of research integrity, including health and safety, academic supervision, intellectual property, the responsible conduct of animal research, data protection, plagiarism awareness etc. In addition to these College’s online resources and training opportunities, new fellows and clinicians are provided with a half-day induction programme that aims to equip the new starters with a wide range of information and tools to help them start their careers at Imperial College. The induction programme includes a specific introduction to research integrity at the College.
8. The revised Concordat to Support Research Integrity confirms that researchers should be provided with training on research ethics and research integrity and that they should also be provided with suitable learning, training and mentoring opportunities to support the development of their skills throughout their careers. In addition, funders are increasingly seeking assurances that institutions are providing training for researchers which can be documented as part of each individual’s training record. To meet these new requirements, the Research Governance and Integrity team as part of the Research Office is developing a dedicated webpage to ensure further engagement in research integrity and a research integrity online training course.
9. Over the last year, to make clear policies on ethical review and approval available to all researchers, the Research Governance and Integrity team also reviewed and updated all Standard Operating Procedures and the Terms of Reference for the Imperial College Ethics Service. An ethics awareness talk has now been delivered to all Faculty Research Committees and the aim is now to deliver this talk to each Department. To embed a culture of ethics and integrity throughout the College the Research Governance and Integrity team now also delivers training courses on research transparency, NHS research ethics and Imperial College Research ethics. Yearly training on ethical review has also been implemented for all College and Lay members of the Imperial College Research Ethics Committees.
10. As well as providing training and support for early research staff at the College, advice and guidance on research integrity is also provided for postgraduate students by the College’s Graduate School. Its online plagiarism course, which is intended to equip Imperial PhD students with a working knowledge of the concept of plagiarism and how to avoid it, is compulsory for all 1st year Doctoral students and must be completed before the 9 month Early Stage Assessment. A similar mandatory course is also provided for Masters level students.
11. The Graduate School has also developed a Supervisors’ Guide, which is available online, and also as a printable handbook. The guide sets out the College's requirements for the continuing professional development of supervisors, and contains information about the recruitment of research degree students, the roles and responsibilities of supervisors and Imperial's research degree milestones. The guide is also intended to support the effective development of student supervisor partnerships, a key part of the effective development of future researchers.
12. Allegations of research misconduct are considered under Ordinance D17, the Investigation of Allegations of Research Misconduct, which aligns closely with the requirements of the Concordat and with the UK Research Integrity Office’s model procedures for the investigation of misconduct in research.
13. Under these procedures, allegations of research misconduct are made in confidence to the College Secretary, as Chair of the RMRG. The other members of the RMRG are the Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), the Director of the Research Office and the Director of HR. If the RMRG agree that an allegation constitutes research misconduct, it will arrange for a screening investigation to be conducted. The purpose of the screening investigation is to determine if there is a prima facie case of research misconduct. There are normally three possible outcomes from a screening investigation:
a. That a prima facie case has not been established, in which case the case will normally be dismissed.
b. If the screening investigation determines that there is some substance to the allegations, but it is judged that they are minor or there is lack of intention to deceive then the allegation may be dealt with through informal resolution.
c. That there is a prima facie case for further investigation. In such cases, the Provost will convene an investigation panel, which must include an independent, external member, to conduct a formal investigation and reach a conclusion on whether the allegations are founded, based on the balance of probabilities. Where an allegation is upheld, it will then be referred to a disciplinary panel, which will determine the appropriate penalty to apply.
14. The Chair of the RMRG, the Director of the Research Office and the Head of Central Secretariat meet on a weekly basis to monitor progress with all research misconduct investigations.
15. In accordance with the Concordat the outcome of all cases that are referred for full investigation are reported to the Council.