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Collaborative work

Since research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in different disciplines and institutions, ethical standards promote the values that are essential to collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness. For example, many ethical norms in research, such as guidelines for authorship, copyright and patenting policies, data sharing policies, and confidentiality rules in peer review, are designed to protect intellectual property interests while encouraging collaboration. Most researchers want to receive credit for their contributions and do not want to have their ideas stolen or disclosed prematurely.

Ownership, control and use of the research data and findings

When research is a collaboration between several people or partner organisations it is important to be clear who ‘owns’ any data, new knowledge or collaborative outputs that have been produced. ‘Ownership’ in this context means the right to use it and pass it on. If it is jointly owned, then it is important to decide what rights each partner has to use the data to inform their work or produce publications and whether the permission of all partners is required. Sometimes a funder may control the use of data and findings, and all parties need to be clear about the implications of this from the outset. It is particularly important that recognition is given to new knowledge made by communities and that when appropriate they receive financial rewards and have the right to own and use it.

Authorship and credits

It is a good idea to discuss in advance who will be responsible for compiling or writing the outputs, when decisions will be made about the nature and formats of outputs and how the responsibility can be shared and skills developed by those who are not used to doing this. Although it may be time-consuming, holding writing, editing, film or photography workshops, where people work and learn together, can be an empowering and satisfying process for all concerned. Agreeing who will be credited and how is also important – ensuring that the variety of contributions is recognised.

Vancouver Protocol/ authorship

The Vancouver Protocols state that in order to be credited as an author, each and every author on a publication needs to have been involved in ALL of the following:

  • Conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data
  • Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  • Final approval of the version to be published.

The Vancouver protocol sets some criteria for deciding who and how contributors are acknowledged in refereed papers so that people who have had little or no input should not be named.  The same criteria may be applied to bid writing where the issue of Principle and Co-investigator may be contested.

No person who fulfils the criteria for authorship should be excluded from the submitted work.

The contributions of formal collaborators who do not meet the criteria for authorship but who directly assisted or indirectly supported the research, including funders of research, should be properly acknowledged in an acknowledgements section.

Researchers must clearly acknowledge all sources used in their research and seek permission from any individuals if a significant amount of their work has been used in a publication.

Proposals requiring ethical approval from more than one institution

There are some occasions when a researcher will be required to gain ethical approval from different institution.   Whilst this may appear to be over-cautious, the differing focus of each institution may mean that an important issue for one may not be covered by the other.  When duplicate approval is required the ethical procedures for each body should be consulted and followed.