RCR Framework Interpretations: Good Faith and Confidentiality
1. Do complainants have responsibilities under the RCR Framework?
The objectives of the RCR Framework are to:
- ensure that the funding decisions made by the Agencies are based on accurate and reliable information;
- ensure public funds for research are used responsibly and in accordance with funding agreements;
- promote and protect the quality, accuracy, and reliability of research funded by the Agencies; and
- promote fairness in the conduct of research and in the process for addressing allegations of policy breaches.
Complainants bear some responsibility for achieving part (d) of these objectives.
The responsibilities of complainants are listed in Article 3.2a of the RCR Framework as follows:
Individuals are expected to report in good faith and confidentially any information pertaining to possible breaches of Agency policies to the institution where the researcher involved is currently employed, enrolled as a student or has a formal association.
Fulfilling the responsibilities in this Article helps to ensure that the process of inquiring into or investigating allegations under the RCR Framework is as thorough and equitable as possible.
2. What does “good faith” mean?
While it is left to the discretion of institutions to set specific definitions of “in good faith”, in general terms, an allegation is submitted in good faith when it is submitted with a genuine intent to achieve the RCR Framework’s objectives. An allegation is filed in bad faith when it is submitted with a purpose other than meeting the Framework’s objectives (e.g. harassing a colleague), or is submitted in a manner that makes it challenging for a neutral and impartial inquiry or investigation to be carried out.
3. What does “confidential” mean?
An allegation is filed confidentially when it is sent only to those who need to be aware of the allegation to carry out an inquiry or investigation under the RCR Framework. This is normally the Institution’s designated point of contact for RCR matters and/or that person’s delegate.
Confidentiality is maintained when the complainant, and indeed any other parties to the alleged breach, do not discuss the allegation or any aspect of the inquiry or investigation process with individuals other than the Institution’s designated contact for RCR matters, or with people tasked with conducting the inquiry or investigation. With the exception of information disclosed to meet reporting requirements, confidentiality is expected to be maintained even after the investigation process is complete.
4. Why is confidentiality important?
Institutional inquiries and investigations often uncover new facts and information related to an allegation. For example, investigations may reveal that an individual other than the named Respondent committed the breach, the responsibility for the breach was shared among several parties, or the allegation was based on a misunderstanding and that no breach, in fact, occurred.
A confidential process ensures that the individuals tasked with conducting an inquiry or an investigation are able to gather facts and make findings with a reduced risk of interference. For example, it reduces the chance of individuals becoming apprised of an investigation in progress and deleting records in order to impede it. A confidential process also reduces the risk of premature judgements by parties that are not involved in the matter and helps reduce the risk of reprisals to the complainant, the respondent or to other affected parties.
5. Can an institution dismiss allegations that are not filed confidentially or in good faith?
Institutions have an obligation to establish whether an allegation is responsible and whether an investigation is required (Article 4.3.4a). They also have an obligation to protect the privacy of the complainant and respondent as far as is possible (Article 4.3.2). These responsibilities remain, regardless of whether the complainant has respected Article 3.2a when filing his/her allegation.
However, at their discretion, institutions may take measures to encourage or require complainants to adhere to Article 3.2a when submitting their allegations. Examples could include providing instructions on the institution’s website for how to submit an allegation, and creating forms for individuals to use when submitting allegations. These forms could include a space where the complainant indicates agreement, via signature or check box, to maintain the confidentiality of the inquiry or investigation.
If a complainant has intentionally breached his/her responsibilities under Article 3.2a, the institution may consider taking actions against the complainant in accordance with its policies.
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