Research Integrity: a current view from Wellcome

  • 8 July 2024
  • Anne Taylor, Associate Director, Funding Operations and Governance, The Wellcome Trust

Research integrity is a phrase we hear used a lot, but what do we understand by it? There are many different guidance documents written in many parts of the world with their own description of what it is. There are Concordats and Codes of Conduct, one-pagers and essays (1,2,3). In the UK we have the Concordat to Support Research Integrity (1), first published in 2012. This was re-worked in 2019 and is currently out for consultation (4) to craft the third version, due for release towards the end of 2024. In this document, the five elements of research integrity are given as honesty, rigour, transparency, care and respect, and accountability. Whilst there are variations in each country or region’s document, the underlying messages are very similar.

There is little disagreement that a high-quality research environment and positive culture enables those within it to work with integrity. And the evidence, including Wellcome’s review of research culture in 2020 (5), shows that research culture needs improving. But why do we care? We care, not only because behaving professionally, inclusively and courteously should be a given and creates an environment researchers want to work in, but conducting research well maintains the robustness of the research record, and trust in the sector. In turn, this all makes the advancement of knowledge and its translation to real-world impact faster and more effective.

The wide range of factors that influence the quality of a research environment means that actions to improve culture and integrity need to be system-wide, which relies on all parties to play their role. In support of this approach, the Concordat outlines expectations of those in each of three key elements in the UK research ecosystem: researchers themselves, research organisations and research funders. A funder’s role is two-fold - to set expectations of researchers and organisations it funds and to ensure its own funding processes are run with integrity. Wellcome is a signatory to the Concordat and uses it to guide its own ways of working (6), ensuring we are clear on what we expect of others and how we act if research misconduct is witnessed (7) (cases are reported in our annual statement on research integrity (6) ). Adherence to the Concordat is linked to our grant conditions and we expect researchers to complete training in the responsible conduct of research (8).

However, funders cannot and do not work in isolation in their efforts to strengthen research integrity. The sector needs to know what it is dealing with, deal with it well and deal with it transparently. This can be challenging as there are no robust and agreed measures to monitor research integrity. To help inform the debate, defining indicators of research integrity (9) is one area the newly formed UK Committee on Research Integrity (10) (‘the Committee’, hosted by UK Research and Innovation) has been exploring. The REF Steering Group (11) has also launched a project to determine indicators for the people, culture and environment (12) strand of the REF, emphasising the prominence now placed on this area at a national level.

It is important to tackle things well when issues arise and the UK relies on a self-regulation model, with the employer being responsible for handling allegations. Different countries manage allegations differently and a second major project being run by the Committee is to explore the various models round the globe (13). Learning from different approaches and experiences of other countries will provide evidence to base a recommendation on whether the UK needs to change how it manages cases.

Finally, we need to encourage more openness. The revision of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 brought about an increase in nervousness to share information about allegations between organisations and funders. Recognising the difficulty organisations have in determining whether or how to share personal data, as well as the right funders to have to protect their investments, there is a cross-sector project under way to provide additional guidance on data sharing in research misconduct cases. This is being developed by a group consisting of UKRI, the University and College Employers Association (UCEA), the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and Wellcome. The launch of the guidance is planned for the autumn.

The system approach not only requires directly tackling integrity, but also addressing the underlying issues that negatively impact the research environment. Many of the drivers are complex, such as the desire to show impact, the publish or perish culture and organisations needing to bring funding in, be it for research directly or to support the organisation itself. The last few years have shown an increase in the engagement of all parties to make progress, but the system-wide changes required need persistence.

The UK is rightly held in high regard for the quality of its research output. The success of the current drive to improve how research is conducted will be key to ensure the UK’s position is maintained.


1. UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity

2. Singapore Statement

3. European Code of Conduct,and%20for%20all%20research%20settings.

4. Consultation for updating of the UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity

5. Wellcome Culture Review

6. Wellcome’s Responsible Conduct of Research guidance

7. Wellcome’s Research Misconduct policy

8. Wellcome’s Continuing Professional Development policy

9. UKCoRI Exploring indicators of research integrity project,or%20a%20mixture%20of%20approaches.

10. UKCoRI

11. REF Steering Group

12. Inclusion of Culture in the REF

13. UKCoRI Managing Research Misconduct project