Safeguarding a healthy research environment

“One way the SOPs4RI guidelines and the RIPP can help is by putting everything into context and making it explicit that there are many issues related to research culture and that they, too, have an impact on research integrity”

To what extent did your organisation have elements of a RIPP in place when you started engaging with the SOPs4RI toolbox?

We are part of the Department of Medicine and Life Sciences (MELIS) of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, which is located in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), one of the largest biomedical research hubs in the south of Europe, with 6 independent research institutions – one of them MELIS – and about 1400 people. So we are a university department, but are located in a research science park with other institutions with whom we work closely and share
When we started looking into the SOPs4RI templates we realized we already had quite a lot in terms of Research Integrity, Ethics structures, etc. some of them at the level of the department itself (for example related to training), others at the level of the whole university (the more formal ethics structures), with which we were perhaps a bit less familiar, and even some at the level of the PRBB (so not only for our UPF department, but shared with the other 5 institutions at the park). So it was a very good exercise to look at everything from scratch, following the SOPs4RI guidelines, in particular the stakeholders mapping exercise and the self-assessment matrix exercise, where we look at each structure/item and decided whether we had it covered, and to what degree.
This made us realise that we were already doing quite a lot of things, though potentially informally, and perhaps what was needed was to formalise them and make them more visible to the community. Also, that the aspects that were least explicitly taken into account were those regarding research culture in relation to research integrity, was an eye-opener.

How did the SOPs4RI toolbox help you to establish a RIPP and/or build a culture of research integrity?

As we said, it was a good way of realizing what we have, what we don’t, what we have but didn’t know… It has been great as an incentive to put something on paper, and importantly, to involve other stakeholders – which is something we are just starting to do. The fact that the RIPP comes from a project with backing of the EU helped, too.
Another very positive aspect has been that it has been a guide to have an overview of how many different aspects need to be included when dealing with research integrity, for example Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, or Mental Health and Wellbeing… Although these are topics already covered in our institution to a degree, they are not formally related to research integrity, or a good research culture. I think one way the SOPs4RI guidelines and the RIPP can help is by putting everything into context and making it explicit that there are many issues related to research culture and that they, too, have an impact on research integrity. It’s good to look at all of them with the same lens and consider them together.

What kind of difficulties did you encounter on your journey towards a research integrity culture and how did you overcome them?

Well, we are still at the beginning of the journey! Definitely the major challenge is the lack of resources, both human (as there isn’t anyone whose main job is to ensure research integrity in our institution) and economic. Even if the job is divided into different stakeholders, which is what we are planning to do with the RIPP, they all have their own jobs and don’t have time to take on more tasks. One way to overcome this is by doing a good job of understanding what we already have/are doing and seeing how it can feed into the bigger picture. In essence, maybe it’s not that many new tasks or actions need to be started, but rather that a better coordination and a framework to put them all under the same strategy is required. For that, a strong and
clear leadership is important.

What advice would you give to other organisations that aim to start their journey towards a research integrity culture?

I would say it’s essential to get the leadership involved from day one; that they not only ‘allow’ you to do it, but rather support you actively, give you the necessary resources and allocate some of your working time for this. Ideally, there should be at least one person fully dedicated to coordinate and direct the creation of the RIPP, someone whose job is to make sure it happens, that is in contact with all stakeholders, etc. Perhaps it would need quite a lot of time to begin with, then only some hours to maintain it over the years. It is a good idea to get as many different stakeholders as possible on board, but it’s important that it is clear whose responsibility it is to push this forward.

Maruxa Martinez-Campos
Digital media and Scientific affairs at PRBB