Proven Practices

Institutional Culture Section

Institutional Culture & Organizational Barriers

Institutional culture can play a significant role in all aspects of work performance including the promotion of ethical actions and the potential for unethical behavior. Responsible and ethical research can be bolstered by organizational cultures that prioritize and support such behavior. On the other hand, in organizations where responsible research is seen as a compliance box to check or undue pressure is placed on securing funding and publishing papers, unethical behavior may be more likely to arise. Sufficient attention and focus should be placed on conducting research with integrity so that it is integrated into organizational operations.

Proven Practices

Make sure Research Integrity/Ethics Office / RIO/ Ethics Officer is visible

  • Make sure reporting lines up and down are well organized and well publicized – people should know if they have this type of problem…this is where they go.
    • Make sure the Research Integrity Office is clearly identified and easy to find on the organization’s website.
  • Make sure office and/or contact information as well as information and policies are clearly posted, on website, etc. If people telework make sure there is coverage and/or clear direction how to contact staff while teleworking. Use visuals/flowcharts.
    • Consider poster or other document that can be posted in relevant research departments which includes information about research integrity and contacts for questions and concerns.
  • Give an individual the title of ethics officer, research integrity officer, or other explicit title as appropriate for your organization. Advertise this broadly. Make sure this person/these people are highly placed enough to have authority but not too highly placed as to be too busy to focus on research integrity.
  • Integrity and ethics should be incorporated into institutional mission and vision.

Be aware of and try to knock down institutional silos, work across units

  • Research integrity does not exist in a vacuum – it should be connected into the other missions of the institution (teaching, outreach, community engagement, etc.) – determine opportunities for incorporating research integrity into research methods and other appropriate courses.
    • Promote inclusion of research integrity in institutional and departmental mission statements and goals.
  • Make connections wherever possible, identify allies.
    • Research Integrity leaders should meet regularly with other institutional leaders.
    • Research champions and/or advisors should be identified and incorporated into the research integrity program.
  • Use specifics such as new large awards as an opportunity to create teams across organizations within the institution and discuss research ethics and compliance in these meetings.
  • All units should receive the RCR message whether they consider themselves part of the research integrity process. Consider embedding research managers in the department AND centrally so that they feel at home in both.

Assess institutional culture to identify ways in which the organization might be more proactive rather than reactive

  • Monitor success of compliance and ethics programs – be proactive about communicating and acknowledging issues.
    • Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
    • Make sure progress against KPIs is discussed at relevant governance committees.
  • Carefully select approach and language when communicating – do not want to be police. Tone and language selected should fit audience – when speaking to risk manager for instance discuss risks from unethical behavior. Tone should be appropriate for institutional culture.
  • Openly discuss successes and failures related to research ethics and RCR – assistance may be offered from this transparency.
  • Walk the talk – make sure that institutional leaders and policies reflect an appreciation of research integrity. Make sure individuals responsible for research integrity act fairly and ethically. Show up on time, listen, respect other’s resources, be helpful.
  • Engage as a facilitator (rather than gatekeeper) emphasize that you are an institutional ally.

Identify and address power and cultural disparities between faculty and administrators

  • Administrators must feel empowered to question behavior if they are going to be agents to promote ethical conduct.
    • Make sure institutional policies support raising concerns and protect those that do raise concerns, whether they are faculty, administrative staff, or students.
  • Administrators should also attempt to understand faculty culture and demands on time – not every situation is intentional noncompliance.
    • Meet them where they are – attend faculty meetings and keep comments brief (10 minutes or less).
    • Attend faculty events (new faculty orientation, faculty senate) and provide presentations and have informal conversations.
  • Make sure outreach and education is appropriately targeted to the audience.
    • Ask faculty to preview training intended for faculty audiences.
  • Engage faculty in a variety of ways, not just when there is a problem (e.g. advisory committees, scientific reviews).
  • Make sure faculty are comfortable providing feedback when they do not understand the reason for a compliance requirement or request.

Evaluate your organizational response to noncompliance and unethical behavior

  • Approach situations neutrally and ask probing questions.
  • Be transparent about the policy that is involved and underlying federal or other requirement.
  • Accountability should be clear from policies, procedures and training so that when a problem arises responsibility is clear.
  • Keep detailed and careful records of the issue and response.
    • Regular training and professional development should be provided for staff charged with Research Integrity implementation and monitoring.
  • Individuals at all levels of the organization should be engaged in the research integrity program.
    • Everyone from undergraduates through the university president should receive outreach and/or education about research ethics and responsible conduct of research and become part of the community supporting research integrity.
      • Include information in annual reports considered by governing body, audit committee and others.
    • Specific attention should be paid to engage and educate everyone who touches the research process – students, staff, and faculty.
    • Engaging administrators who do not view research integrity as their job can be challenging, embed research integrity in other types of training.
    • Identify groups to serve as research integrity champions. Target appropriate messages – different approaches for different groups.
    • Engage highest level leaders to provide messages supporting research integrity. Senior leaders must model integrity.