The Framework for Research Ethics and our principles for researchers and research teams should be highlighted to all proposed collaborators (eg academic, business, third and public sector) or project partners providing co-funding or in-kind contribution, prior to a submission for funding.
Research collaboration is often an effective way to ensure research impact, providing an opportunity for academics to engage with others affected by and interested in the proposed research. This approach can raise ethical concerns as it can blur the lines between the researcher and the participant. Collaborative projects can include non-social science academics, international and non-academic partners who may have different perspectives regarding the ethics issues within the joint research.
Projects involving collaborators from more than one organisation can also create complications for ethics review procedures or create specific ethics considerations, for example due to differences in organisational culture, training, access to research resources and participant populations. Consideration should also be given to public attitudes towards the collaboration and conflicts of interest.
A single review process should be agreed by all researchers, with standards which should at least satisfy the ESRC ethics review guidance. Research organisations (ROs) and other partners engaged in collaborative research may agree to use the research ethics committee (REC) of the RO where the principal investigator is based to review the project on behalf of all collaborating ROs.
Researchers and their co-producing partners also need to agree to an iterative and shared process of ethical reflection as the project develops. Each RO or partner organisation needs to be satisfied that the research proposal has been properly scrutinised by the appropriate REC, that regular monitoring of the conduct of the research is taking place, and that ethical issues are promptly reported to all ROs or partner organisations involved.
Co-production in research may raise complex ethical considerations around responsibility and accountability which may differ from traditional forms of research. Researchers and their co-producing partners will need to consider such issues in advance and establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability.
Where research is to be conducted outside the UK or involves international partners, ROs should require researchers to establish whether ethics review is required by the non-UK ROs, and how the principles of the framework can be followed in developing and undertaking the research. Legal and ethics requirements for all the partner countries must be followed.
Co-funded research may involve the ESRC in partnership with other Research Councils, business, other public sector organisations, civil society sector or research funded under a European Union framework programme and involving research teams from different EU member states. For co-funded research there may be conflicting national or international review procedures. In each of these cases, co-funders will discuss and agree the ethics review expectations. There should be a commitment of mutual recognition of ethical consideration between funders, where possible, of common standards, and it should be made clear where researchers should go for advice.