Factors in research culture - rotary style working group discussion

From The Embassy of Good Science

Factors in research culture - rotary style working group discussion

Instructions for:TraineeTrainer
In this exercise the group, consisting of researchers, discusses factors in the research culture that foster or threaten the responsible conduct of research. They link the factors to their own practice and come up with ways to deal with the threatening factors and to make use of the fostering factors to foster responsible conduct of their research.
Participants need to have at least some experience with doing research in the academic research climate.
Duration (hours)

What is this about?

The main learning objectives of this exercise are to:

  • Gain insight in the characteristics of the research culture that foster or threaten the responsible conduct of research, and understand the way in which these characteristics have that influence on the integrity of research;
  • Recognise these factors in one’s own work and working culture; and explain how these factors influence one’s own work and decisions;
  • Come up with ways to deal with or make use of these characteristics of the research culture, in such a way that it improves or fosters the integrity of research.

The skills that are practices in this exercise are:

  • Reflection on the work climate;
  • Reflection on the researchers’ own role and responsibility

Practical Tips

Arrange the following practicalities:

  • a room that enables three subgroups with tables large enough for flip-over sheets, or walls free of furniture where flip-over sheets can hang distant from each other with enough space for the subgroups to gather around the sheets (3-5 people per subgroup)
  • three flip-over sheets
  • markers
  • sticky notes / post-its
  • pens or pencils
Collection of factors

Ask the participants to write down factors related to research culture that influence integrity of research on post-its. One factor per sticky note / post-it!

Instruct the participants to put their post-its on three sheets: The research system; The research institution; The individual researcher.

  • If a factor influences to more than one setting (system, institution, individual), the factor is copied to another post-it so it can be on each of the sheets to which it’s relevant.
  • Negative factors on orange or pink post-its; positive factors on green or yellow post-its
  • If a factor is both positive and negative, write it on two post-it of different colours.

Clustering factors

Divide the group into three subgroups. Each subgroup gets one of the sheets and categorises the post-its on that sheet. Participants can ask each other questions about post-its that they don’t understand.

Naming the clusters

The subgroups move clockwise to the next sheet.

  1. First the groups try to understand the grouping of the post-its.
  2. The teacher invites the subgroups to ask each other questions in case the subgroups are not clear them.
  3. The teacher explains what is expected in this step. The assignment is to come up with overarching names for the subgroups. Drawing lines and arrows between clusters of post-its is encouraged.

The broader view (similarities and differences)

The subgroups move clockwise to the next sheet again.

  1. They try to understand the grouping and naming of the post-its.
  2. The teacher invites them to ask questions if necessary, and explains the next assignment: relate what you see on this sheet to what you saw on the other two sheets. Are there similarities or differences? What is different and why?
  3. Plenary discussion of the observed similarities and differences

What can you do?

The teacher picks some categories of post-its to discuss what the PhD candidates can do themselves to influence this aspect of research culture on research integrity.

  • Participants are invited to share experiences. Did they encounter this factor in their work, and how did they or their research team deal with that? What would they do differently next time something like this occurs?
  • Do they know about examples of ways in which researchers or research teams deal with this issue?


Two examples:

  1. Within a large research team, a lot of different wishes and expectations might exist. It might be difficult to balance that. On the other hand, there is also more opportunity for help from various colleagues. The research team can have positive and negative effects. The PhD candidate can influence this by making clear agreements from the start of each project and ensuring that all team members are aware of the agreements and of who has a final say in case of disagreements. Clear notes from each meeting and a log of decisions made, are tools that can be of great help.
  2. The peer review system might take a lot of time, which is a negative factor if time is short. It might also take away the ‘flow’ from ones work. On the other hand, it might yield valuable feedback on your work, and improve the publication. However, sometimes the reviewers can ask for changes that you don’t fully agree with or feel is not in line with the messages of the paper. Some experience that the reviewers request references to work that is not relevant to the paper but is likely to be the reviewers work. Or requests for analyses that are not suitable for the data presented in the paper. The PhD candidates can influence this aspect of research culture in their selection of journals to submit to. For example, submit their papers to journals that apply open peer review, to limit the risk for unfair or biased review, or that have statisticians as reviewers, to ensure the quality of feedback on that aspect.

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