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Our response to the assessment of people, culture and environment in the REF

Our response to the latest consultation

Submitted 1 December 2023

As the UK Committee on Research Integrity, we are grateful for the chance to comment on the People, Culture and Environment (PCE) element of REF 2028. We see PCE as vital to REF because research and its assessment can only be excellent if carried out with integrity.

To inform our response we hosted a roundtable discussion with experts and have formed a committee view. In line with our remit, our comments focus on the principles of research integrity as described in the UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity: rigour; transparency and open communication; honesty; care and respect; and accountability. There are many aspects of PCE—including workload and resource requirements related to REF processes; equity, diversity and inclusion; contractual arrangements for research and other staff—that may have direct or indirect impact on research integrity. However, other groups and organisations are ideally positioned to give views on those aspects, and our comments focus on research integrity with emphasis on practical recommendations for ways in which research integrity may be assessed. In our previous submission (October 2023) we provided views about how integrity might be assessed in other elements of REF. We will publish our response to the PCE consultation on our website.

Part 1: PCE at institutional level: evidence of research integrity governance

Organisations in receipt of research funding from any of the signatories to the Concordat to Support Research Integrity are already committed to the production and publication of annual narrative (assurance) statements. We recently published an analysis of annual statements. Similarly, publication of institutional policies relating to misconduct investigations and their reporting of such investigations provides evidence of institutional governance. Assessment of PCE at institutional level could therefore use existing materials to identify whether institutions have paid due regard to research integrity governance. To this end, REF could assess:

1.1. Whether the institution openly publishes annual narrative research integrity (assurance) statements and has done so across the REF reporting period, or can provide cogent reasons for not doing so

1.2. Whether evidence is provided that annual narrative research integrity statements report on incidence of research misconduct, even as a null return, noting that REF should not use incidence of misconduct allegations as an indicator of integrity

1.3. Whether the institution publishes its misconduct procedure, whistleblowing policy, named contact, and information about how to raise concerns safely

1.4. Evidence to provide assurance that the institution has followed its published misconduct procedure, including information about how the institution knows whether processes and procedures were followed

1.5. The extent to which the institution can demonstrate continual development or progress in governance of research integrity, whether contained within the annual research integrity statements or elsewhere

Part 2: PCE at institutional and disciplinary levels: evidence of the conditions that enable good practice in research integrity

REF can assess the conditions that institutions provide to support and underpin how research is carried out. These conditions are likely to vary according to size and shape of institution. To identify the extent to which institutions and disciplines provide the conditions that enable good research integrity practice, REF could assess:

2.1. Evidence about the extent to which submitted outputs contain author contribution statements, which may be provided in quantitative format complemented by qualitative material and as appropriate to disciplinary norms

2.2. Information about the extent to which submitted outputs contain data or material availability statements in keeping with disciplinary norms, which may be provided in quantitative format complemented by qualitative material and explanation

2.3. Evidence about whether and how the institution—in keeping with its size and shape—maintains an adequate institutional publication repository or supports researchers to access repository storage that meets international standards of open access and open information/data

2.4. Demonstration of the presence and use of policies and approaches to fair attribution of authorship as appropriate to outputs from a discipline

2.5. Evidence of the availability and uptake of support and professional development opportunities in keeping with size and shape of the institution. This may include information about uptake of these by all staff engaged in the whole research lifecycle, e.g., academic, technical and professional staff. Support and development might include presence of research integrity officers, activities of integrity champions, and training in research integrity

2.6. Evidence, where available, of the impact made by support and professional development opportunities in relation to research integrity

2.7. Evidence—through policies or other mechanisms—that appointment, reward, retention, promotion and related polices explicitly value and reward research integrity as appropriate to discipline and field. For instance, including but not exclusively relating to rigour, open and transparent communication, and care and respect

2.8. Evidence of staff awareness and understanding of institutional policies and processes in relation to integrity, including those for recent developments such as Generative-AI

2.9. Narrative evidence that the institution’s research integrity office’s (or equivalent’s) scale and role is appropriate for the size and shape of the institution

Part 3: Integrity of the REF process

In our opening comments we signal the importance of integrity in REF processes. Integrity in REF sets the tone for the sector and enables research assessment to provide maximum value. We recommend that the following are considered in REF processes:

3.1. Development and release of indicators for PCE should be carried out in good time so that submitting institutions can provide appropriate, precise and meaningful information

3.2. If PCE indicators are released part-way into the REF cycle, it should be clear that in what way these apply to the period before their release. The sector may welcome the opportunity to distinguish in their submissions between material relating to before and after the release of indicators

3.3. Development of indicators should be carried out with the same degree of rigour and transparency as would be expected of the research that REF assesses

3.4. Piloting and refinement of indicators is likely to be needed

3.5. Care and respect should be considered in relation to members of the research sector preparing submissions or involved in assessment, with parity and equity promoted in the latter

3.6. There should be consideration given to possible inclusion of early career colleagues in assessment processes in ways that enhance rather than cause detriment to their careers

3.7. There should be consideration of appropriate minimum unit size that enables the processes as a whole to deliver robust and fair assessment in all units

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on PCE.

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