How Associations Support Members With Research Standards

glasses on a pile of research papers April 19, 2017

Associations provide guidance on a variety of professional practices, including data collection. ASAE Foundation research looked at how associations ensure that the research performed in their industry or profession is conducted responsibly to produce reliable data.

Almost everyone is doing research these days. As data becomes easier to collect and share, businesses, professionals, and consumers count on data-based research to inform all kinds of decisions. But how can a user of research know whether it was performed responsibly and produced trustworthy results? What steps can—and should—associations take to promote ethical research for good data in their fields?

The ASAE Foundation took on those questions in its own study. The results, published in Responsible Conduct of Research: The Roles Associations Play in Promoting Research Integrity, illustrate numerous steps for associations seeking to support effective research practices in the professions and industries they serve.

For the study, the ASAE Foundation worked with McKinley Advisors to contact association leaders likely to have a vested interest in research ethics. Ultimately, 95 percent of study participants were from associations representing members who conduct research. It is not surprising, then, that 70 percent of these respondents believe, without qualification, that associations have a role to play in promoting research integrity. However, what that role looks like varies from association to association.

The different fields associations represent have different research needs. While the study collected examples of association activities related to diverse research issues, including human subject research, animal subject research, authorship and publications, and research misconduct, two areas—conflict of interest and data management—were especially common concerns.

The simplest way for association leaders to promote conflict-of-interest standards is to create and share statements and policies that clearly define possible conflicts for researchers.

Tackling Conflict of Interest

Research often involves a variety of parties, including researchers and support staff, funders, publishers, and others. Associations may establish clear language and guidelines to ensure that their members know how to avoid (or avoid the perception of) financial or professional pressures, conflicts of commitment (competing demands between time and loyalty), or personal or intellectual conflicts.

The simplest way for association leaders to promote conflict-of-interest standards is to create and share statements and policies that clearly define possible conflicts for researchers. These statements should clarify expectations and establish transparency for members with regard to research journal standards, association committee requirements, the association's own policies (such as funding requirements for sponsored research), and any other areas where members or other external parties may encounter conflicts of interest.

Managing Data

While research professionals have long had to deal with the challenges of data management, professionals in all fields—including association management—increasingly collect data for a variety of purposes. It is important to ensure that intellectual property is stored, protected, and used in an appropriate way, particularly data collected on people, which may include sensitive or confidential information.

The key to good data management is education, and associations are uniquely positioned to support that effort. Many associations in the study created resources to address data management issues, including guidelines, standards, and educational programs that provide direct assistance to members. These resources must be regularly updated to account for advances in data collection and storage—for example, to address the use of video or recordings. Other associations have enforceable codes or standards that members agree to follow, hold seminars on privacy topics, and even offer privacy audits to members.

Associations have a role in protecting their members, and that role includes ensuring research integrity. Whether your association represents researchers or your members do more informal information gathering as part of committee work, good research practices ensure that neither the members nor the data are compromised.