RCR Framework Interpretations: Responsible Allegation

1. What is a responsible RCR allegation?

A responsible RCR allegation is an allegation that:

  1. is based on facts which have not been the subject of a previous investigation;
  2. falls within Section 2 and Section 3 of the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research; and
  3. would have constituted a breach during the time the alleged breach occurred.
(Glossary, RCR Framework (2021)).

The first element of a responsible allegation is that it must be based on facts. All relevant facts known to the complainant should be stated precisely and clearly and, where possible, supported by relevant documentation. Allegations of a general nature, such as “I believe researcher X is not using their grant money properly” with no supporting documentation to substantiate the allegation, would not be considered responsible.

For an allegation to be considered responsible it must also be novel and, to the best of the complainant’s knowledge, never previously investigated. There is no benefit to reinvestigating an allegation based on the same set of facts. If, however, new facts arise regarding an allegation that was previously investigated, institutions would have a duty to consider the new facts to determine whether the matter should be revisited.

The second element of a responsible allegation is that it must fall within one or more responsibilities or breaches described in Section 2 and Section 3 of this RCR Framework. This means that RCR allegations have to relate to some aspect of the life cycle of a research project - from the application for funding, to the conduct of the research, to the analysis and dissemination of research results and management of research funds. Examples of RCR responsibilities and breaches can be found in Section 2 and Section 3 of the RCR Framework.

The third element of the definition of a responsible allegation is that the alleged breach must have been considered a breach of responsible conduct at the time the actions took place. Standards for certain research practices, such as image presentation, referencing another author’s work and referencing one’s own work, have evolved over time. When receiving an allegation, as part of the inquiry process, institutions may seek advice as to whether the alleged breach would have been considered a breach of relevant policies or disciplinary standards at the time the conduct that is the subject of the allegation occurred. An institution may declare the allegation not responsible and close the file after an inquiry if it is confirmed that the conduct in question would not have been considered a breach at the time.

2. Who can make a responsible RCR allegation?

Anyone can make an RCR allegation. An individual or a representative from an organization who has notified an institution or Agency of a potential breach is considered a complainant.

Complainants may include researchers, professors, students, journal editors, peer reviewers, or other concerned citizens.

3. Is an anonymous allegation considered responsible?

To be considered responsible, an anonymous allegation must meet the same criteria set out above. In addition, however, an anonymous allegation must contain sufficient information to enable the Institution to assess the allegation without further information from the complainant. So, for example, if the allegation concerns plagiarism, and the complainant supplies the text produced by the respondent as well as the original text from which it is alleged to have been plagiarized, that allegation can be investigated without further information from the complainant. Where, however, the allegation does not contain sufficient information to be independently verified (for example, if it is lacking in sufficient detail or it relies on verbal agreements that the complainant was party to) then the allegation will not be considered responsible and cannot be pursued.

4. Where and to whom should I send my responsible allegation?

Allegations should be sent to the institution where the respondent (the individual identified in an allegation as having possibly breached a policy) is currently employed, enrolled as a student or has a formal association (RCR Framework, Article 3.2.a).

Each institution has a central point of contact, that is responsible for receiving all confidential enquiries, allegations of breaches of policies, and information related to allegations. Institutions identify their central point of contact in their RCR policies, which are accessible on their web sites.

If the respondent is no longer at the institution where the alleged breach occurred and you do not know where the respondent is now employed, complainants may send their allegation(s) to the respondent’s former institution, which must determine how to proceed.

5. How should responsible allegations be reported?

RCR allegations should be reported in good faith and confidentially. Allegations should also be made in writing and in accordance with the institution’s RCR policy.

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