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Spotlight on Research Ethics and Research Integrity for sustainable innovation

Spotlight on Research Ethics and Research Integrity for Sustainable Innovation
21 October 2021

Authored by: Maura Hiney, ALLEA Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics
Reviewed by: Camilla Leathem and Andrew Whittington-Davis

News | 21 October 2021

Research Ethics (RE) and Research Integrity (RI)

Ethics requires researchers to pay attention to and consider the potential effects of their research – both positive and negative – on research subjects and wider society, and to always strive to minimise any harmful effects. In research ethics, conflicts of values and interests between stakeholders (other researchers, users of the outputs, research subjects, society, future generations) are identified, solutions to these conflicts are sought, and the balance between harm and benefit is carefully weighed up in favour of benefit. Ensuring strong ethical values serves to make research trustworthy, reproducible and sustainable.

Research ethics sits within the broader ethos of research integrity, which aims to provide a comprehensive framework for researchers on how to carry out their work within accepted ethical frameworks whilst following good research practice. In the end research ethics and integrity should not only be a way to protect and be in concord with society, it should also be seen as the foundation of excellence in research and innovation. These ideas and practices are vital, especially with the availability of new forms of data, more advanced data acquisition tools, and the creation of new, and emerging technologies that have the capacity to cause significant economic and societal impact. This puts further pressure on this balancing act between harm and benefit, and in the absence of clear guidelines, risks pushing the pendulum more towards harm. This is why TechEthos aims to bring research ethics and integrity solutions to the forefront of technology innovation, making sure benefit is continually favoured.

RE and RI in the field of new and emerging technologies

European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity

ALLEA, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, has been a long-standing voice in the fields of research ethics and research integrity through its Permanent Working Group Science and Ethics, which has covered a wide range of issues relating to research ethics and integrity. This includes the development of the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity in 2017, issued by ALLEA and recognised by the European Commission as the reference document for research integrity for all EU-funded research projects and a model for organisations and researchers across Europe.  One of the main motivations for developing the European Code of Conduct was ALLEA’s recognition that the world of science has changed enormously over the past two decades, and that the ethical and research integrity approaches to new and emerging technologies are not yet fully understood in terms of their potential impacts on society and the economy. This poses challenges for the research community, funders and policymakers in terms of ensuring continued good research practice and strong ethical foundations for these advances.

Resources in the current RE + RI landscape

Europe has many existing ethics codes and guidelines to protect research subjects and broader society from any detrimental effects of research, and these have served us well. However, the radical nature of many technological innovations creates new ethical dilemmas about, for example, the very nature of being human, the potential to create fundamental societal inequalities and injustices, to make irreversible changes to the physical and cultural environment, breach basic privacy principles, impact on human freedom and autonomy, and open the door to potentially harmful misuse of new technologies. As a result, our current ethics codes are inadequate to deal with these challenges and this creates a gap in both understanding of and protection from the potential consequences of unchecked innovation. We urgently need new guidelines for the research and innovation community that can future-proof existing ethics and integrity principles and practices.

TechEthos RE + RI solutions

TechEthos will tackle this need for new guidelines by bringing ethical and societal values into the design and development of new and emerging technologies from the very beginning of the process. Such ‘ethics by design’ will allow for new, usable guidelines for the research community. In the end, the project will be developing guidelines for 3 exemplary new and emerging technologies across different domains. TechEthos will explore the ethical implications and potential consequences of several domains of knowledge advancement for which new codes and guidelines will be required. These can then become key supports to the European Code of Conduct and ensure that researchers have the best possible guidance on how to contribute their skills to the advancement of knowledge in a safe, considered and equitable way.

As a partner in the TechEthos project, ALLEA will contribute to enhancing existing legal and ethical frameworks by ensuring that TechEthos outputs are in line with The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, and identifying opportunities to borrow from TechEthos to inform future revisions of the Code. Linking new ethics guidelines to the European Code of Conduct will provide a common framework from which national and local codes and policies can be developed or updated to reflect current challenges. This will be important in ensuring consistency at a high level and promoting a common understanding of what constitutes good and ethical practice in research. This will not only benefit the research community but also enhance public trust in future research outputs.

To learn more about TechEthos follow the project on Twitter and LinkedIn, and sign up to the project newsletter. By joining the online community, you will be first in line to discover the technologies the project selects as the focus of its work and contribute to shaping the technologies of the future.


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A foundation for effective ethics governance

A foundation for effective ethics governance
28 June 2021

Authored by: Andrew Whittington-Davis, in dialogue with Lisa Diependaele
Reviewed by: Nuala Polo

News | 28 June 2021

TechEthos caught up with Lisa Diependaele, Policy Officer at the European Commission, to understand the European Commission’s vision in the field of the ethics of new and emerging technologies and the role we can play.

TechEthos: Could you first introduce yourself and your work for our audience?
Lisa: I am a Policy Officer in the Unit Research Ethics & Integrity of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and through that my work focuses on medical ethics and ethics surrounding new and emerging technologies within a research context. Prior to joining the Commission in 2020, I was a postdoctoral researcher and assistant academic staff member at Ghent University where my research involved ethical issues relating to the protection of pharmaceuticals through patents, data exclusivity and trade secrets, and issues pertaining to the use of algorithms in the context of clinical research. As you can see, this really set me up for my role within the Commission.  I serve as Policy Officer for the TechEthos project.

TechEthos: What is the vision of the European Commssion in the field of the ethics of new and emerging technologies?
Lisa: Ethics and integrity in research are key components of and a prerequisite for achieving excellence in research and innovation. For new and emerging technologies with high socio-economic impact especially, the EU aims to reconcile their development and deployment with the reduction of socio-economic inequalities including, in health treatment, social status and social inclusion and gender equality.

TechEthos: What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges for this field?
Lisa: The challenges we face here is not complicated, but complex. Due to the diversity of unknowns and interrelated factors, no fixed sequence of steps can be determined that will bring us the solution. For me, one of the big challenges is to work out clear practical guidance. Once we have a clear picture of what the potential ethical issues and risks are, defining how they must be addressed and by whom, is more difficult. It is mainly on this point that opinions diverge. Another challenge is the increasing internationalisation and interdisciplinarity of research. This requires the development of international and cross-disciplinary terminology to talk about and address ethical issues and risks. Collaboration is key here in addressing present and future ethical risks and issues.

TechEthos: What aspect are you most looking forward to seeing in TechEthos and why?
Lisa: For TechEthos, I am looking forward to seeing the process and the results of the horizon scan: what are the technologies that will shape our future? But this is only the first step in what is to be an exciting journey: from the ethical analysis of the selected technologies, finding new insights, and together with experts and stakeholders work towards concrete steps to embed ethics in the research and development process of these technologies.

TechEthos: Why are projects like TechEthos necessary?
Lisa: We know that with technological progress we can transform society as a whole. For the uncertainties and risks, these technologies bring, however, we have to ensure that their development, from the very beginning, is tied to the realization of our values. TechEthos can be a key component of that endeavour: to create awareness, but most of all to enable researchers to embed ethics in research design and practice (ethics by design) – allowing ethics to be a research enhancer rather than red tape.

For EU policymaking, it is pivotal that new and emerging technologies are thoroughly analysed from an ethical perspective, and that frameworks of ethical governance are developed. Projects like TechEthos, in close cooperation and co-creation with relevant stakeholders, the research community and the broader public, can provide a foundation for the effective ethics governance of these technologies and ensure these technologies unequivocally contribute to human wellbeing.

TechEthos: What other initiatives of the Commission would you highlight in the quest to make sure new technologies are ethically designed for the future?
Lisa: It is the key goal of the Commission to ensure that ethics and research integrity are fully integrated into research, as these are a prerequisite for research excellence and a critical factor in achieving socially relevant impact. To achieve this, Horizon Europe reinforces the development of dedicated training and education material and operational procedures for research institutions and ethics/integrity bodies. For AI, for example, operational guidelines for implementing ‘Ethics by Design and Ethics of Use Approaches for AI’ will be introduced, covering both the development and the deployment of AI-based systems. Other important initiatives are the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), and of course a Proposal for Regulation, laying down harmonised rules on artificial intelligence (Artificial Intelligence Act).

TechEthos: Anything else to add?
Lisa: We know that integrating ethical reflection from the very beginning of the design process is pivotal in helping us to reach satisfying outcomes. However, I want to highlight that ethical reflection will not always result in answers, but it will act as a method to engage and create inclusive and continuous deliberation. Ethical reflection is about the willingness to adapt, to improve, to do better, to improve people’s lives and maximally protect their rights and interests. I think in a way we can say that adopting a critical approach, looking into the ethical challenges and risks in fact makes us optimists: it stems from a belief that we can and must achieve the best possible results.

Image credit: Ernesto Velázquez, Unsplash


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