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How Research Organizations Avoid Conflict of Interest

How Research Organizations Avoid Conflict of Interest

By The ETR Team | August 31, 2023

When it comes to evaluating and disseminating research, many organizations will often play multiple roles in the process. For example, in the field of public health, organizations may develop a new product or curriculum, serve as the evaluator to test the effectiveness, or take the lead in disseminating the findings or product to a large-scale audience. In any of these roles, there is a potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a conflict of interest “is a situation in which financial or other personal considerations have the potential to compromise or bias professional judgment and objectivity… a conflict of interest implies only the potential for bias, not the likelihood.”

Is a Conflict of Interest Always Bad?  

The potential for conflicts of interest exists across all scientific disciplines. It is important to note that a conflict of interest is not the same as research misconduct, which may involve fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, and that having a conflict of interest is not in itself unethical. According to the American Psychological Association, conflicts of interest “are not inherently negative; rather, the way in which the conflict is handled makes the difference.” Having processes in place to identify and address conflicts of interest is essential to ensure they do not pose a significant risk.

Maintaining Integrity 

Conflicts of interest that go unnoticed or unreported can threaten the integrity of the individuals and organizations involved. Additionally, the integrity of the scientific process can also be undermined. Conflicts of personal, financial, or organizational interest should always be disclosed in an effort to eliminate potential or perceived bias. Some best practices to consider: 

  • Have training and support in place to educate staff on conflicts of interest 
  • Have policies in place on how to disclose potential or perceived conflicts of interest 
  • Have policies in place on how to mitigate or resolve potential or perceived conflicts of interest 
  • Regularly review your work for any conflicts of interest

ETR’s Standards of Practice

Organizations such as ETR have a long-standing history as experts in conducting research and evaluation, developing science-based materials and curricula, and disseminating these resources to an international audience. As an agency that values integrity, we proactively ensure that any possible situations are identified and communicated with stakeholders and that adequate firewalls or alternative solutions are implemented to reduce bias. As part of our regular practice, ETR has the following in place:

  • A Financial Conflicts of Interest (FCOI) policy with established standards, aligned with federal regulation, that provides a reasonable expectation that the design, conduct, and reporting of research performed under grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements will be free from bias  
  • A required staff training and FOCI disclosure form 
  • An FCOI Management Plan to assess and disclose any real or perceived conflicts of interest 
  • A required CITI training on research, ethics, and compliance for all research and evaluation staff 

ETR’s extensive experience in research, evaluation, and contract management allows us to be flexible and responsive while maintaining high standards and serving as a respected partner in the field. 

Additional Resources 

Looking for additional information on avoiding conflict of interest? We recommend the following resources:  

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