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Sensitive Research: Definition & Guidance

Researchers have a duty to consider carefully the risks and consequences associated with their research. Research that is classed as 'sensitive' carries with it particular risks that need to be managed, with particular consideration being given to the potential consequences of these risks. This includes risks and consequences for;

  • individual researchers;
  • research participants;
  • individuals, groups, communities connected either with the research participants or the research topic/focus;
  • the reputation of UCL and its researchers.

It is important therefore that, in order to minimise the impact/consequences for the individuals/groups concerned, researchers undertaking sensitive research consider beforehand what potential risks may arise from the research, to whom and how these risks could be removed, reduced or best managed.  

Guidance on managing research that is classed as 'sensitive' has now been published and is available on the Research Integrity website along with UCL's definition of 'sensitive research'.

Definition and guidance on sensitive research

Guidance on creating a Data Management Plan

Good management of research data is an essential part of research integrity, and having a research data management plan established upfront is important.  To assist researchers at UCL, the Research Data Management team in the library have developed customised UCL guidance for DMPOnline.  

DMPOnline is an online tool developed by the Digital Curation Centre that helps researchers develop Data Management Plans by providing templates for different funders and succinct guidance on data management considerations.  The UCL customized version of DMPOnline adds additional guidance which focuses on UCL policy, infrastructure and services.  The aim of this guidance is to provide researchers with a simple tool, which offers relevant and accurate information required for their Data Management Plan in one place.  This guidance also highlights the services available at UCL and who is able to provide support.  To access the tool researchers can sign-up to DMPOnline and choose UCL as their organisation.

More information on research data management at UCL, as well as extensive guidance on using DMPOnline to produce a Data Management Plans, can be found on the Research Data Management website.

UCL Research Integrity Annual Statement 2015-2016

As part of UCL's commitment to the Concordat to support research integrity, UCL produces a statement annually, setting out the activities undertaken to support and promote a culture of research integrity within that academic year.  Statements are then submitted to UCL Council before being published on the UCL website.

The UCL Research Integrity Annual Statement 2015-2016 has now been published and can be accessed via the research integrity webpages.

EU-US Privacy Shield now in force

Following the agreement between the European Commission and United States in February 2016, the 'EU-US Privacy Shield' is now in force and is therefore the main means of allowing personal data to be transferred to the US.

The EU-US Privacy Shield replaces the invalidated Safe Harbour agreement whilst providing additional obligations to protect personal data, as well as establishing annual monitoring and reporting. 

From this date, any new agreement to transfer personal data (including transient transfer) can only be done if the US recipient (this includes universities) has signed up to the Privacy Shield Framework.

Researchers planning on transferring data to the US to a recipient that has not signed up to the Privacy Shield Framework, or who are already working under an existing Safe Harbour agreement, should contact the UCL Data Protection Officer (data-protection@ucl.ac.uk).

Further information about the EU-US Privacy Shield can be found on the relevant Data Protection webpage.  Additional guidance can be found on the research integrity website Transferring personal data outside the UK.

Transferring personal data outside the UK

Data Protection

European Commission Factsheet

European Commission Press Release

The Nagoya Protocol

'The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) to the Convention on Biological Diversity' (the Nagoya Protocol) came into being in 2010.   It was then adopted by European legislation (in force on 12 October 2014) and later implemented into UK law ('The Nagoya Protocol (Compliance) Regulations 2015'). 

From 12 October 2014 anyone who wishes to access genetic resources and/or the traditional knowledge associated with resources must comply with the EU Regulation.

Each country has rights over the genetic resources that exist within their country such as animals, plants and organisms as well as the traditional knowledge associated with them.  The Nagoya Protocol focusses on the equitable sharing of genetic material (plant, animal, microbial, other) including the traditional knowledge associated with the genetic resources, and the benefits that arise from their use.

It does not apply to:

  • human genetic resources;
  • genetic resources for which access and benefit-sharing is governed by specialised international instruments (such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).

It is recommended that researchers read the new research integrity webpage on the Nagoya Protocol for further information on the implications for research.  Please note that further guidance is being written and when finalised will be uploaded to this webpage.

Research Integrity Annual Statement

As part of the recommendations of the Concordat to support research integrity and UCL's commitment to transparency and open communication, the Research Integrity Annual Statement 2014-15 has been made publicly available on the research integrity website.  This annual statement describes the work that was undertaken during the academic year 2014-2015 to support high standards of research integrity across UCL.  

UCL Research Integrity Annual Statement 2014-2015

 Research Data Management Blog

The Research Data Management Blog is a useful resource for staff and students, providing guidance and advice on a number of research related areas, including:

  • What is Research Data Management
  • Personal and sensitive research data & the law
  • How can I comply with ESRC's expectations on data management?
  • I am about to publish my article, where can I deposit my data?
  • Who should I go to for advice on including data storage costs in a research grant application?
  • Who can help me to write & negotiate my research contracts?
  • I am using external hard drives to archive my data, how can I make them as safe as possible?

Research Data Management Blog

A response to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report on The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK

In December 2014 the Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report on The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK. Responses were received from researchers at all levels (from students through to Heads of Department) across multiple disciplines and the report presented a number of areas that respondents believed were having both a positive and negative impact upon the culture of research.

A number of suggested actions were set out for funding bodies, research institutions, publishers and editors of scientific research as well as for individual researchers in order to address the concerns raised by respondents. UCL considered the suggested actions, looking at ways these were currently being met as well as additional steps that could be taken to support a positive research culture within UCL.

UCL's response to the Nuffield report can be found below and is being published as part of UCL's commitment to transparency and open communication 

The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK

Reproducing results of research

In April this year a symposium was held jointly between the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.  The focus was to review ways to improve the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research in the UK, including the challenges that may effect this.

Reliability and the ability to reproduce results impacts upon all disciplines and this report (published in October) highlights the benefits that can be achieved through collaborative working and the consideration of approaches used in different disciplines. 

Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: improving research practice 

Risks relating to the misuse of research

The primary aim of research is to advance knowledge in order to benefit society.  However, though the original research holds this aim, it is possible that others may seek to use the results of research with the aim of inflicting harm, such as by using advances in research against large sectors of society or individual groups.

The Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust have produced a joint policy statement on managing the risks of research misuse.  The principles have application across all disciplines and UCL researchers are advised to read this document and consider the advice contained within.

Managing risks of research misuse