Researchers’ Perceptions of a Responsible Research Climate: A Multi Focus Group Study

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (6):3017-3036 (2020)
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Abstract

The research climate plays a key role in fostering integrity in research. However, little is known about what constitutes a responsible research climate. We investigated academic researchers’ perceptions on this through focus group interviews. We recruited researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University Medical Center to participate in focus group discussions that consisted of researchers from similar academic ranks and disciplinary fields. We asked participants to reflect on the characteristics of a responsible research climate, the barriers they perceived and which interventions they thought fruitful to improve the research climate. Discussions were recorded and transcribed at verbatim. We used inductive content analysis to analyse the focus group transcripts. We conducted 12 focus groups with 61 researchers in total. We identified fair evaluation, openness, sufficient time, integrity, trust and freedom to be mentioned as important characteristics of a responsible research climate. Main perceived barriers were lack of support, unfair evaluation policies, normalization of overwork and insufficient supervision of early career researchers. Possible interventions suggested by the participants centered around improving support, discussing expectations and improving the quality of supervision. Some of the elements of a responsible research climate identified by participants are reflected in national and international codes of conduct, such as trust and openness. Although it may seem hard to change the research climate, we believe that the realisation that the research climate is suboptimal should provide the impetus for change informed by researchers’ experiences and opinions.

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Author Profiles

Guy Widdershoven
VU University Amsterdam
Lex M. Bouter
VU University Amsterdam