Beyond “Compliance”: The Role of Institutional Culture in Promoting Research Integrity

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Abstract

Purpose

To contribute data to conceptual explorations of the role of institutional culture in promoting research ethics and integrity.

Method

The authors highlight relevant themes that emerged from a multimodal needs assessment conducted under the Johns Hopkins Clinical Translational Science Award regarding ethical issues encountered in the conduct of clinical and translational research. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected through a short survey targeting research staff, course evaluations from a research ethics and integrity education course attended primarily by faculty and fellows, a review of institutional policies on research ethics education, and in-depth interviews of key administrative officials.

Results

Major themes included the relative influence of regulatory compliance and relationships between research personnel at different levels of the organizational hierarchy on the responsible conduct of research. The majority of respondents (85%) expressed comfort with reporting suspected breaches in research integrity, but the others did not feel comfortable doing so for fear of professional repercussions. Respondents provided insight into factors in the research environment they felt were most helpful in fostering research integrity, particularly with respect to relationships and power differentials between individuals or groups.

Conclusions

Compliance with research regulations is only one of a number of important factors in an institution's ethical culture of research. Equally important are a clear articulation of the ethical reasoning that underlies the regulations, and efforts to redress power imbalances by encouraging open communication. Other ways of improving relationships among various members of the academic research team should be the focus of future investigations.

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