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Module 3: Conducting Research Responsibly - Protecting Yourself, Your Research, and Your University

2.4 Recognising conflict of interest

A conflict of interest occurs when the private interests of a researcher interfere, or appear to interfere, with the performance of their official duties. As described in the Managing conflicts of interest in the public sector: guidelines(2004) produced by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission, conflicts of interest can be actual, perceived, or potential:

  • An actual conflict of interest involves a direct conflict between a [researcher’s] current duties and responsibilities and existing private interests.
  • A perceived or apparent conflict of interest can exist where it could be perceived, or appears, that a [researcher’s] private interests could improperly influence the performance of their duties – whether or not this is in fact the case.
  • A potential conflict of interest arises where a [researcher] has private interests that could conflict with their official duties in the future.

Section 7 of the Code describes that conflicts of interest in the research area are common and should be managed to limit their potential to compromise judgments and decisions that should be made impartially. Such a compromise could undermine community trust in research.

Financial conflicts of interest are typically the foremost in the public mind, but other conflicts of interest also occur in research, including personal, professional, and institutional advantages. 

Activity

Identifying a conflict of interest

Think of a research project you are currently undertaking.

In assessing whether you have an actual, reasonably perceived, or potential conflict of interest in relation to this project, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would I or anyone associated with me benefit from or be detrimentally affected by my involvement in this project?
  • Do I have a current or previous personal, professional, or financial relationship or association of any significance with the funder of this project?
  • Do I or a relative, friend, or associate of theirs stand to gain or lose financially as a result of the research project?
  • Have I made any promises or commitments in relation to the research outcomes?
  • Have I received a benefit or hospitality from someone who stands to gain or lose from the outcomes of the project?
  • Could there be any other benefits or factors that could cast doubts on my objectivity regarding reporting the project’s findings?

Activity adapted from Tool 8.1 in the Managing conflicts of interest in the public sector: toolkit(2004), the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (http://www.cmc.qld.gov.au/topics/misconduct/misconduct-prevention/major-risk-areas/conflicts-of-interest/conflicts-of-interest).

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