Managing conflicts of interest is particularly important for a large publicly funded research project such as the Human Brain Project. It should not be reduced to a simplistic and narrow compliance requirement; instead, it should be considered through a wider lens as an exercise that encourages reflection on how an individual’s different activities and commitments can overlap, resulting sometimes in situations where interests or loyalties are or appear to be conflicting with each other.
Only by setting the highest standards for ourselves can we maintain trust in science and truly serve society; excellence in research can only be achieved if it embeds responsibility and integrity by design and throughout the management of our projects. Transparency is a vital component to building trust with society and to ensure accountability and responsibility.
Building upon the experience from the previous years and following recommendations and discussions with the HBP Ethics Advisory Board, it became clear that the HBP needed to rethink its approach to Conflicts of Interests: calling for a new HBP framework, that becomes part of a broader research culture building upon reflective practices across the board.
As a first step in that direction, the HBP has developed a policy on transparency and management of interests, along with a new annual Declaration of Interests form that provide clear guidance to HBP members on how to address and pre-empt such situations. This policy aims at providing a formal ground for the management of interests, as well as relevant comprehensive considerations on research integrity, transparency, and scientific best practices. They result from a reflection on how to implement safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest and to promote a culture of disclosure, transparency and responsibility. We also adopted a preventive approach that strongly supports positive resolution of conflicts of interest.
The notion of research culture became more and more important in designing this new framework; a culture of reflective practices, one that aims at preventing rather than disciplining and that does not blame people for mistakes but instead encourage them to come forward in an honest and transparent way. The policy and form have also been developed targeting specifically the researchers working on the HBP thus adopting a user-centric angle and language.
Finally, the exercise provided the opportunity to empower individuals and chairpersons, reminding everyone about individual responsibility and accountability in thriving for excellent science for society.
Want to know more? Read about research integrity on the HBP website, or download our policy on transparency and management of interests.