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What will the PREPARED values be?

June 2023

Doris Schroeder, Vilma Lukaševičienė, Kate Chatfield, Natalie Evans, Eugenijus Gefenas

Many legal documents and ethics codes include moral values or principles. For instance, dignity, equal rights, freedom, justice and peace are the values introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The TRUST Code (2018) for equitable research partnerships is founded upon fairness, respect, care and honesty and the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity (2010) upon honesty, accountability, professional courtesy and fairness as well as good stewardship. 

PREPARED is developing a values-based research ethics and integrity framework for a rapid and effective research response in times of crisis. This framework includes a code of conduct and related training material. 

The PREPARED team identified four main ways to determine relevant values for any moral framework — risk-based, drafter-based, code-based and citizen-based.

Image source: iStock

Risk based approach:

First, we could focus upon the risks to ethics and integrity that are heightened during times of crisis and determine which values would be compromised or violated if the risk materialized. For instance, if articles based on manipulated data are submitted for publication, the value of honesty is compromised. Or if human participants are enrolled in studies that are highly unlikely to recruit sufficient numbers due to an uncoordinated rush into crisis studies, the values of care and fairness are violated. This approach was used to develop the above mentioned TRUST code. 

The beauty of a risk-based approach is that it ensures alignment between the guidance in the code and the foundational moral values it sets out. When each guidance statement is visibly linked to the values it promotes, adherence increases as people understand not just what they should do but also why they should do it. That’s possible because the values are based on real-world risks and challenges and not added by drafters independent of those risks. In addition, the values are in no way arbitrary, and therefore have significant credibility. For this approach, see the TRUST code book, which has been download over 200,000 times since its publication in 2019.

Drafter-based approach:

Second, the drafters of an ethics code or legal document could agree upon the main values amongst themselves, without reference to external sources. This is likely to have happened with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When the South African President, Jan Christiaan Smuts, suggested the opening lines for the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1945, he made reference to “fundamental human rights” and “the sanctity and ultimate value of human personality”. Yet, the drafters changed sanctity to dignity to achieve the broad consensus required (Tiedemann 2006: 13f).

The second approach, when utilized to develop a framework for research ethics and research integrity, runs the risk of prioritizing the values of the drafters and excluding the values and priorities of other actors. Although we have assembled a diverse group of drafters and included voices frequently marginalised, one group of drafters is unlikely to represent the values and priorities of all stakeholders affected by research in times of crises. Indeed, the framework we are developing is too important to run the risk of reflecting narrowly the values of the research governance community.

Code-based approach:

Third, an analysis of relevant existing ethics codes and documents could reveal the most broadly accepted and used values. A sophisticated search has already been undertaken by Kelly Laas, the Chief Librarian of the largest ethics code collection in the world. It generated 103 ethics documents on global crisis and pandemics, with 36 documents being issued prior to 2020 and almost twice as many (67) since 2020. The set is still being analysed, but it is clear that most documents focus on research ethics and not on research integrity. 

The third approach might be useful as it indirectly garners the expertise of ethics experts from around the world. It is also time efficient as it builds upon existing thought without requiring extensive additional study. However, since existing documents and other codes have drawn upon various means to determine these values, there is no way for us to assess their relevance for and alignment with the real-world ethics and integrity risks that are heightened in times of crisis. The distinct lack of attention to research integrity also indicates that most existing codes focus narrowly on research ethics and neglect the connection and overlap between ethics and integrity challenges during times of crisis.

Citizen-driven approach:

Fourth, we could ask the public or analyse social media data to determine what moral values are deemed most important and should guide action, particularly during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The benefit of the fourth approach is that it links ethics guidance to everyday morality. However, its downside is that social media and other citizen-focused studies tend to generate a very broad range of values, not all of them moral values. Additionally, the generated values might not align well with the ethics and integrity risks that need to be addressed as a priority. 

What will the values of the PREPARED Code be? Watch this space to find out what we decided!