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A toolbox for promoting responsible conduct in research-creation

Research-creation involves researchers who are also pursuing creative activities such as music, dance or design.


In the last 10 years, we have seen a concerted move in Canada to integrate discussions about research ethics and research integrity under the broader label of “responsible conduct of research,” or RCR, following similar moves in the U.S. and Europe. For example, the Federal Secretariat on Research Ethics – likely best known for overseeing the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (2014) – was rebranded as the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research, and they are also responsible for the arguably less well known but equally important Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research (2016). In Quebec, the provincial granting agency – the Fonds de Recherche du Quebec (FRQ) – made a similar move in 2014 with the creation of a unified policy on RCR that applied to all research institutions in the province receiving funds from the agency. And they supported this with the development of awareness-raising tools for the research community, including a grant competition to develop tools specific to issues of RCR in the emerging field of research-creation.

Research-creation combines academic research and creative activities, and is defined as

any research process or approach that fosters creation and aims at producing new esthetic, theoretical, methodological, epistemological or technical knowledge. All of these processes and approaches must include, to varying degrees (depending on the practices and temporalities specific to each project): 1) artistic or creative activities (design, experimentation, production, etc.) and 2) the problematization of these activities (critical and theoretical analysis of the creative process, conceptualisation, etc.).

A heterogeneous field, research-creation is composed of researchers who are also, for example, practising artists, musicians, dancers or designers, and whose scholarly activities are closely mingled with the production of artefacts and art pieces (e.g. installations, plays, documentaries, design interventions and digital applications). As such, researcher-creators have to meet dual-expertise requirements that may sometimes conflict (e.g. differing norms of performance and excellence in science and art), and so may encounter very different challenges from their colleagues in the rest of academia. Yet, very little was known about how these researchers experienced RCR issues, what differences there might be, or how the Canadian research-creation community responded to institutional RCR policies or provincial/national guidelines.

With support from the FRQ, we conducted a two-year (2016-2018) empirical ethics research project exploring the responsible conduct of research-creation (which we called RCRC), and which led to the development of a novel and practical toolbox to promote this (in French and English). We used five methods to integrate multiple perspectives and so better understand and present the RCRC issues:

1) a scoping review of the academic literature;

2) an international online survey of research-creation practitioners, evaluators and commentators;

3) a group discussion with the research-creation community about its perceptions of RCR;

4) a co-design tool creation workshop with the research-creation and RCR communities;

5) and a review of institutional policies regarding their integration of creative practices.

Our initial hypothesis was that research-creation practitioners would be concerned with the same general RCR issues as in the broader research community, i.e., conflicts of interests and commitments, data management, dissemination and evaluation. But, instead, we found that the main obstacles encountered emerged from the definition of research-creation itself and the postures adopted by researcher-creators (are they researchers, creators, or both?). Moreover, despite the fact that RCR is becoming more prominent in the Canadian academic policy literature, our empirical research demonstrated that, in practice, researcher-creators were still much more concerned with ethics, and this most often had to do with challenges concerning research ethics – that is, approval by research ethics boards (REBs) who could not understand the specificities of research-creation projects.

As a result, we re-oriented somewhat our focus to ensure that our resulting toolbox would help build understanding of RCRC both by research-creation practitioners as well as members of the RCR community (including REB members). And we did this by taking an approach that involved accompanying the research-creation and RCR communities in a shared reflection on RCRC. The resulting toolbox includes a report outlining the main findings from our empirical study and four detachable tools:

1) an RCR checklist aimed at researcher-creators;

2) institutional recommendations for RCRC;

3) twelve misconduct case studies specific to research-creation practices; and

4) a podcast on conflicts of interest and commitments. Finally, rather than adopting a “top-down” approach common in RCR that started with institutional policies and worked down to procedures, our project showed the pertinence of taking a “bottom-up” approach to promote practice-specific reflections in research-creation about RCR issues. It also allowed us to identify “creative” practices as pathways to RCRC.

While this project was specific to research-creation, it was clear that researcher-creators encountered issues that were also shared by their colleagues in more “traditional” areas of research. As such, our innovative Toolbox in RCRC can hopefully serve as a useful starting point for researchers in other fields, so that they too can build awareness and be better prepared to address the RCR issues that they encounter in their specific areas of research and practice.

Bryn Williams-Jones is a professor and director of the bioethics program, school of public health, Université de Montréal; François-Joseph Lapointe is a professor in the department of biological sciences, faculty of arts and sciences, U de M; Philippe Gauthier is an associate professor in the faculty of environmental design, U de M; Cynthia Noury is a PhD candidate, school of media, faculty of communication, Université du Québec à Montréal; Marianne Cloutier is a postdoctoral researcher, department of biological sciences at U de M; and Marie-Christine Roy is project coordinator, bioethics program, U de M.

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