Background to the Pro-Res Project
MAIN GOAL: PRO-RES aimed to use the full range of stakeholders, to devise and build a supported guidance framework for all non-medical sciences and humanities disciplines adopting social science methodologies. The framework is intended to meet the highest standards of research ethics and scientific integrity and to be comprehensive, covering the full range of issues and concerns – such as dealing with innovative technologies and the novel research possibilities of big data, the challenges of social media research and balancing public interest concerns with cherished rights to privacy. It will be of practical help in guiding interested parties to ways of achieving reliable and trustworthy research. The targeted stakeholders include researchers, reviewers, regulators, research managers and policymakers and, not least, a representative range of research subjects/participants. It will not duplicate existing work – merely guide stakeholders in the direction of established existing good practices.
WHY IS SUCH A PROJECT NECESSARY? Trying to behave ethically and with integrity when conducting research can prove to be complicated given the wide range of codes, guidelines and frameworks. Regulations are diverse and inconsistent, and review practices vary considerably – between countries, institutions, disciplines and professions. As multinational and interdisciplinary research grow, it is vital that the confusion arising out of such disparate approaches should be reduced as far as possible.
THE FOCUS: Decision takers and policymakers should be seeking evidence to support their work from the range of expertise on offer. Although the concept of ‘expertise’ has come under significant challenge it is clear that any errors, fraud or corrupt practices by researchers can lead to serious damage to the social, economic and cultural structure of society, as well as impacting the physical environment. But sound, reliable, transparent research, not driven by ideology or subservient to it and undeclared vested interests, produces robust evidence that can benefit social wellbeing and societal progress. It is in the interests of the scientific community to ensure the evidence produced is reliable and trustworthy and ethically generated. It is in the interests of those who make policy to be able to assure the decision takers (and the general public) that evidence has been generated in the best possible way.
Being a ‘good’ scientist in both the moral and methodological sense is not as easy as it might seem. All researchers have to compromise, make choices and balance potential conflicts and contradictions. Conducting research requires a balance between many political, institutional and professional contradictions and constraints: How should a scientist balance professional responsibilities with obligations to whoever funded their research? How can the safety of both researchers and participants in studies on highly sensitive and controversial political and social issues (such as social unrest, organised crime, or terrorism) and/or in conflict areas or with authoritarian regimes, be assured or at least have their risks minimised? How is the ethic of benefit sharing with participants to be addressed? When should privately commissioned research be shared in the public interest? When should intellectual property be kept private – or owned and sold? Ideology defeats expertise if the evidence is flawed. Responsible researchers cannot allow that to happen. Robust evidence helps to defend expertise against blind ideology. Vested interests, or those that conflict with the values of scientific integrity, must be challenged by virtuous researchers acting with integrity. The PRO-RES Guidance Framework aims to help them do just that.
THE FRAMEWORK is… under construction… so we need your help to make sure it achieves the intended aims.
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BEFORE GOING ANY FURTHER… IT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND…