1.6 Handling Conflicts of Interest
An individual researcher may undertake a range of activities in addition to research and teaching. Researchers have external links with, and provide expert advice to, the private sector, public sector, voluntary organisations and local communities, are involved in collaborations, may be peer reviewers, journal editors, be involved in spin-out companies, and may also be engaged in other activities in a personal capacity not related to their contract of employment with the University. Such activities extend the University’s reach and influence nationally and internationally. Researchers need to remain aware, however, of any real or potential conflicts of interest that may arise from undertaking a wide range of activities.
It is expected that the primary responsibility, interest and loyalty of the University’s researchers will rest with the University, and that their primary commitment of time and intellectual energies should be to the University’s activities; otherwise, a conflict of commitment arises.
Conflicts of interest should not adversely influence professional judgment. A conflict of interest can be real or reasonably be perceived by the wider public to be real (i.e. real or potential). A conflict of interest is real when the researcher has interests in the outcome of the R&I project that may lead to a personal advantage (or benefit a member of the researcher’s family and/or friends) and which might, therefore, compromise the integrity of the R&I project. Personal advantage can be financial and/or non-financial (e.g. the outcome of the R&I project may promote or appear to promote a researcher’s personal and/or ideological beliefs).
It is acceptable to have a conflict(s) of interest so long as the researcher is transparent about its existence and, where appropriate, takes steps actively to manage the conflict(s) of interest effectively in order that it does not compromise the integrity of the R&I project.
It is expected that researchers will undertake, and be seen to undertake, research in an impartial, independent manner, irrespective of who is funding the research.
Minimal acceptable practices in handling conflicts of interest that the University expects to be followed:
i. Recognise all real or potential conflicts of interest that could compromise the trustworthiness of their work (i.e. real and/or which other people could reasonably perceive to be conflicts of interest), and take steps transparently to disclose the conflicts of interest. Practical steps a researcher might take: declaring conflict(s) of interest by listing them on a webpage that has been set up about the R&I project; when evaluating a potential conflict of interest, consider how it might be perceived by the wider public (would others trust the researcher’s judgment if they knew s/he was in this situation?);
ii. Real or potential conflicts of interest must be reported immediately to the Head of Department or Director of Finance, whichever is more appropriate;
iii. If a conflict of interest is of a type and severity that poses a risk of fatally compromising the integrity of the research, the researcher should not proceed with the research;
iv. Openly declare and justify all real or potential conflicts of interest at all stages in the R&I project and, particularly, at the following key stages:
- In research funding applications;
- Where applicable, in research ethics applications and research governance applications;
- Where applicable, when seeking to recruit participants (i.e. as part of the process of seeking consent);
- Where feasible, when communicating with the public about research;
- In research publications;
- During commercialisation;
- Where applicable, when undertaking peer review.
v. In most situations a declaration of a conflict of interest, with a brief written record of that declaration, will suffice. However, sometimes agreement will be needed on how real or potential conflicts of interest can be actively managed. Practical steps a researcher might take:
- modifying the R&I project’s plan;
- severing relationships that create real or potential conflicts of interest;
- declaring a conflict(s) of interest in a meeting if the researcher believes there is an issue under discussion where the researcher has, or might reasonably be perceived to have, a conflict of interest (and not taking part in the discussion);
- resolving not to act as a particular person's supervisor;
- divesting or placing in trust certain financial interests;
- declaring an interest to a sponsor or third party;
- standing aside from any involvement in a particular project.
vi. All researchers should disclose and justify real or potential conflicts of interest in line with the University’s Financial Regulations;
vii. The University’s Policy Statement Personal relationships and conflicts of interest in the workplace should be consulted.