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Cape Town declaration to fold fairness into research integrity


Equitable partnerships an essential aspect of good research practice, meeting hears

Fair and equitable research partnerships should be viewed as an essential part of good research practice—on a par with passing ethical muster and avoiding misconduct—a virtual meeting has heard.

The 1 June meeting discussed preparations and priorities for a declaration that will be published in June next year at the 7th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference was originally scheduled for this month, but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.

The Cape Town declaration will discuss how to foster integrity through equity, fairness and diversity, and is envisaged as a major outcome of the 2022 conference. It aims to be a “succinct statement of principles and action guides intended to support fairness and equity in research, research contexts and environments and research collaborations”, the WCRI website says.

The document will contain “key principles” and “practical action guides” to promote diversity, equity and fairness, said Lyn Horn, director of the office of research integrity at the University of Cape Town, who addressed this week’s virtual meeting.

“We need to examine ways in which supporting equity and diversity can promote research integrity, and how actions that undermine these values can lead to situations where undesirable or questionable research practices become commonplace,” she said.

The declaration will address what can be done at the level of the individual scientist and team, as well as in the science ecosystem as a whole, including funders, publishers and other support organisations, she said. “All of these can have practices that aren’t as fair as they need to be.”

A new paradigm

Jim Lavery, an ethics professor at Emory University in the United States, introduced the virtual meeting to the notion of fairness in research partnerships as a third “paradigm” of good research practice—alongside the ethics paradigm that focuses on safety of research participants and the integrity paradigm that focuses on preventing research misconduct. “The missing thing is fairness in partnerships,” he told the webinar.

He said that fairness concerns in partnerships require their own logic and conceptual structures, and therefore new forms of evidence to inform policies and practices. He recommended that the Cape Town statement consider innovations in research funding policies, partnership governance, stakeholder engagement, organisational learning, and knowledge co-production

“We haven’t had enough emphasis on the ethical hazards and opportunities related to each of these points,” he said.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe