The following comment refers to this/these guideline(s)
HEIs and non-HEI research institutions appoint at least one independent ombudsperson to whom their members and employees can turn with questions relating to good research practice and in cases of suspected misconduct. They take sufficient care to ensure that people are aware of who the ombudspersons at the institution are. For each ombudsperson there must be a designated substitute in case there is any concern about conflicts of interest or in case the ombudsperson is unable to carry out his or her duties.
Ombudspersons may not serve as members of a central governing body of their institutions while serving in this role. An ombudsperson has a set term of office. A further term of office is permissible. Researchers who are persons of integrity and who have management experience are eligible to be selected as ombudspersons. As neutral and qualified contact persons, they advise on issues relating to good research practice and in suspected cases of scientific misconduct and, where possible, contribute to solution-oriented conflict mediation. Ombudspersons maintain confidentiality in dealing with queries and, if necessary, notify the responsible body at their institution, normally an investigating committee, in the event of suspected cases of misconduct. HEIs and non-HEI research institutions give ombudspersons the support and acceptance they need to carry out their duties. Institutions may initiate additional measures to help facilitate the work of an ombudsperson. HEIs and non-HEI research institutions incorporate in their regulations a right of choice that enables members and employees to contact their institution’s ombudsperson or the national German Research Ombudsman. The German Research Ombudsman is an independent body that provides advice and support on issues relating to good research practice and allegations of inappropriate conduct.
FAQ on ombudpersons
Who do I contact with regard to matters of good research practice or if I suspect research misconduct? What should I consider when making an allegation? What might a typical review of such a suspected case look like?
At what level of escalation can the ombudsperson act in an advisory capacity?
- The ombudsperson is to be consulted for “low-threshold” solutions, i.e. they should be consulted for the purpose of clarification and dialogue or possibly mediation.
- This consultation can only be provided at a low level of escalation.
- Consulting an ombudsperson should not be regarded as a “failure”, on the contrary: contact with an ombudsperson is to be encouraged within an institution.
What person or institution can I contact as an ombudsperson if I have a concrete (anonymised) need for advice regarding an ombudsperson issue?
- another ombudsperson at your own institution
- an ombudsperson at another institution (“networking concept”)
- the German Research Ombudsman
At my institution, how can I offer the right to choose between the local ombudsperson and the nationwide German Research Ombudsman?
Wording should be explicitly included in the regulations on the implementation of guidelines and explanations of the Code of Conduct (regulations/statutes or the like) at the respective institution that there is a right to choose between the local ombudsperson and the nationwide German Research Ombudsman. In this way, the institution can offer a clear choice to those seeking advice.
What methods are suitable for “publicising” ombudspersons?
There are various ways of “publicising” ombudspersons, for example:
- Publication on the website in a place that is easy to find; the search term “ombudsperson” should help here.
- Announcement by means of a posted notice, in the course catalogue, in internal newsletters, on social media.
- Presentation of ombudspersons at suitable events held at the respective institution.
- Reference should be made to ombudspersons in the information brochures provided for newly recruited staff.
- Please always report details of newly appointed ombudspersons and those that have ceased their term of office to the German Research Ombudsman so that the list “Overview of current ombudspersons” is always up-to-date for those seeking advice.
Institutional measures to facilitate the work of ombudspersons
Institutional measures to facilitate the work and activities of ombudspersons include:
- Providing ombudspersons support and flexibility in scheduling by establishing an administrative office for ombudsperson services.
- Reducing the teaching hours of ombudspersons.
- The appointment of several ombudspersons at one institution is also beneficial.
Should ombudspersons hold a doctorate?
Ombudspersons do not necessarily have to hold a doctorate. The office/tasks of ombudsman should be entrusted to persons who are well acquainted with the relevant issues at the respective institution. They should work in research itself or in research-related areas (e.g. science management, research libraries, research data management) and have leadership experience, as well as being approachable and acceptable to staff. For this reason, it may be appropriate to consider different profiles when appointing several ombudspersons.
Who can give me information and tips on setting up my own “ombudsperson office”?
The office of the German Research Ombudsman can provide further information here; in particular, it can refer enquiries to institutions that have already established an office for ombudsperson services.
How can I embed and project the topic of “good research practice” (GRP) within my institution?
- GRP should become a regular subject of dialogue in the institution.
- Various institutional governing bodies should be involved, e.g. the faculty council and senate.
- Awareness of GRP should be raised in the context of appointment negotiations, and GRP expertise should form part of every appointment agreement.
- GRP should be one of the topics addressed at introductory days/events for new professors.
- GRP should be an integral part of higher education; courses on GRP should be fully integrated in the curriculum and should be a prerequisite for enrolment on a master’s degree programme; concepts are to be developed for this purpose.
- Training should also be provided for ombudspersons to enable them to develop their expertise and engage in exchanging their experiences. All in all, the institution should support positive promotion of the position of ombudsperson.
Does the spokesperson of a collaborative research project/network count as a “central governing body”?
No, this regulation does not apply to this group since a person in such a position can usually act independently of the senior management of the respective institution and provide advice in the event of conflict.
Guideline 6 of the Code of Conduct explicitly limits an ombudsperson’s term of office. Does this regulation apply to members of investigating committees, too?
This would be possible and reflect the fundamental notion of avoiding dependency relationships; it is not a mandatory requirement under the Code, however.
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