Prof. Mark Israel (Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services) has kindly given permission for this hypothetical case study to be reproduced.

Simon has been awarded a grant by the UGC.

The research will require him to purchase services from interpreters, travel agents, and employ research assistants. He suspects that he might get the best deal from his wife’s translation agency, his brother’s travel agency, and the daughter of a senior manager at the UGC, who topped the class in the relevant area, is looking for work as a research assistant. How might he act properly in these situations?

Applicable principles

The HKU Policy on Research Integrity states the following in Section 2.5 (‘Disclosure of conflict of interest’):

“In order not to jeopardize the trustworthiness of research results, any relevant or potential conflict of interest – whether personal, financial, academic or political – should be identified and declared.  Conflict of interest should be declared in research proposals, publications or other forms of dissemination of findings, etc.

In reviewing research proposals and editing or reviewing research publications, a reviewer or an editor who has a relevant conflict of interest should abstain from the decision making process.  For potential, minor or unavoidable conflict of interest, it should be unambiguously declared.”

Further, the following is stated in Section 3.4 (‘Non-Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest’):

“Disclosure of any potential conflict of interest is essential for the responsible conduct of research.  Non-disclosure is regarded as unethical behaviour.

A researcher’s affiliation with, or financial involvement in, any organisation or entity with a direct interest in the subject matter, or in the provision of materials for the research, must be included in a full acknowledgement.

ŸMembers of committees responsible for the allocation of research or conference grants should not participate in any way in the determination of their own applications, or normally those of students whom they supervise.

The source of funding for research work should always be acknowledged, unless the donor requests anonymity and such request is approved by the University.”

HKU staff members are also required to make an annual declaration (and update it as and when necessary) via the e-Declaration of Interests (DOI) Form via the HKU Portal. Details about this are available on the HKU HR website. In addition, HKU staff members should be aware of the HKU Code of Practice on Conflict of Interest (log-in required).

See also