RCR Framework Interpretations: Inquiry vs Investigation
1(a). What is an inquiry?
An inquiry is the process of reviewing an allegation to determine:
- whether the allegation is responsible;
- the particular policy or policies that may have been breached;
- the nature and seriousness of the breach; and
- if an investigation is warranted based on the information provided in the allegation.
Each institution must designate a central point of contact at a senior administrative level (e.g., Vice-President, Research; Research Integrity Officer) to receive all confidential enquiries, allegations of breaches of policies and information related to allegations.
An inquiry may be conducted by one or more individuals (the Inquirer(s)). This could include the institution’s designated RCR contact and/or other individuals qualified to assess if the allegation is responsible. If needed, the Inquirer(s) may seek the necessary procedural or subject matter knowledge to assess the allegation. Any Inquirer(s) should be without conflict of interest, whether real, potential or perceived.
In order to respect the confidentiality of the process, anyone conducting an inquiry must sign a privacy and confidentiality agreement prior to commencing an inquiry, unless conducting inquiries is within the normal scope of their responsibilities.
Inquiries should be conducted and concluded within two months of the institution receiving an allegation (RCR Framework, Article 4.4.d). If circumstances warrant and appropriate justification is provided, the Secretariat may extend this timeline.
An inquiry may conclude without proceeding to an investigation if:
- the allegation is not responsible or
- the allegation is responsible and a breach is not substantiated or
- the allegation is responsible, a breach is substantiated, the nature and seriousness of the breach can be assessed, and the Respondent accepts responsibility.
In any other circumstance, an investigation must take place (see Question 2 below).
1(b). When and how should Institutions notify a Respondent that they are the subject of an allegation? (New)
The Institution's designated RCR contact or their delegate should notify a Respondent, at the earliest opportunity, of an allegation that has been made against them, and the process that will be followed to address it. The earliest opportunity should be in accordance with the Institution’s RCR policy, or, if the policy is silent on this issue, at the discretion of the RCR contact.
The method of notification (i.e., written or verbal) is at the Institution’s discretion. When notifying a Respondent verbally (by phone, virtually, or in person), the RCR contact is encouraged to follow up with a Respondent, in writing, with relevant documentation (e.g., a summary of the conversation; a copy of the allegation; supporting documentation; the Institution’s RCR policy and procedures for addressing allegations; and, if applicable, the RCR Framework). It is also good practice to inform a Respondent of the Institution’s reporting requirements to funders, if applicable.
2. What is an investigation?
An investigation is a systematic process, conducted by a committee appointed by the institution for the purpose of determining the validity of an allegation. An investigation involves collecting and examining any evidence related to the allegation and making a decision as to whether a breach of Agency policy has occurred.
Institutions must conduct an investigation when:
- the inquiry has not established whether or not a breach has occurred;
- a breach is substantiated at the inquiry stage but the respondent denies/contests responsibility for the breach; or
- additional issues are identified through the inquiry.
The investigation process provides both complainants and respondents with an opportunity to be heard as part of the process of determining the validity of an allegation (RCR Framework, Article 4.3.4.b). This generally triggers rights of due process under the institution’s policy on how to address allegations. It also allows for the respondent(s) to appeal a decision of the institution, if a breach of policy is confirmed.
Investigations should be conducted and concluded within five months following an inquiry (RCR Framework, Article 4.4.d). If circumstances warrant, this timeline may be extended with appropriate justification provided to the Secretariat.
3. How should an institutional investigation committee be constituted?
Following confirmation that an allegation is responsible and that an investigation is warranted, the institution’s relevant authority (e.g., Vice-President, Research) or delegate shall strike an investigation committee to decide whether a breach occurred.
The investigation committee shall include members who have the necessary expertise in the research discipline involved and who are without conflict of interest, whether real, potential or perceived; and at least one external member who has no current affiliation with the Institution (RCR Framework, Article 4.3.4.c), or any party associated with the matter. The requirement for an external member is to provide the respondent, the complainant and the institution with an unbiased, objective perspective in the review of the allegation. An external member can also provide the necessary subject matter expertise.
In order to respect the confidentiality of the process, all members of an investigation committee must sign privacy and confidentiality agreements prior to serving on investigation committees, unless serving on investigation committees is already part of their responsibilities.
4. Why do institutions have to report to the Secretariat?
As a condition of eligibility to administer Agency funds, institutions must have policies in place that meet the minimum requirements of the RCR Framework when addressing allegations, regardless of the source of funding. The purpose of reporting to the Secretariat is so that the Agencies can exercise due diligence over the use of their funds in the conduct of research and to ensure that institutions follow the RCR Framework.
5. When are institutions required to report to the Secretariat?
a) Immediately, if the allegation relates to activities funded by one of the three federal research agencies (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) that may involve significant financial, health and safety, or other risks.
If this is the case, it must immediately be reported to the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR Framework, Article 4.4.a). This will allow the Agencies to determine whether immediate action is required (RCR Framework, Article 4.3.3.d).
b) At the conclusion of any inquiry that confirms a breach of Agency policy and involves Agency funds.
Institutions have two months from the date of receipt of an allegation to submit their inquiry report to the Secretariat. This timeline may be extended with appropriate justification provided to the Secretariat.
c) Regardless of the finding, at the conclusion of any inquiry in which the Secretariat is aware of the allegation.
When the Secretariat is made aware of an allegation (e.g., was copied on the allegation sent to the institution) (RCR Framework, Article 4.4.b), it opens a RCR file. Following the inquiry, the institution must advise the Secretariat in writing whether the institution is proceeding with an investigation so that the Secretariat can either close its file or keep it active until the investigation is completed. At that point, the institution must provide its investigation report to the Secretariat.
d) At the conclusion of every investigation that involves Agency funds, regardless of the finding and regardless of whether the Secretariat was aware of the allegation.
The institution must report to the Secretariat on each investigation it conducts involving Agency funds, regardless of the finding (RCR Framework, Article 4.4.c). The institution has five months following the end of the inquiry to conduct an investigation and submit its report to the Secretariat. This timeline may be extended with appropriate justification provided to the Secretariat.
Investigation reports should only be submitted to the Secretariat when the institutional process is complete, that is, following the close of the appeal period (if the respondent does not appeal) or following the completion of the respondent’s appeal of the institution’s findings.
If none of the above apply, institutions are not required to report to the Secretariat.
6. What should be included in an institutional inquiry or investigation report?
Subject to any applicable laws, including privacy laws, each institutional inquiry or investigation report shall include the following information:
- the specific allegation(s), a summary of the finding(s) and reasons for the finding(s);
- the process and time lines followed for the inquiry and/or investigation;
- the researcher's response to the allegation, investigation and findings, and any measures the researcher has taken to rectify the breach;
- the institutional investigation committee's decisions and recommendations; and
- actions taken by the Institution.
Institutional reports should not include:
- information that is not related specifically to Agency funding and policies; or
- personal information about the researcher, or any other person, that is not material to the Institution's findings and its report to the Secretariat.
To assist institutions (and the individual(s) delegated by institutions to conduct inquiries or investigations) in preparing their reports, please consult the following optional checklists:
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