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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Using Focus Groups To Understand Research IntegrityAcross Disciplines]

  • 00:17

    MADS P. SORENSEN: Hi.My name is Mads.I'm a Senior Researcher at the Danish Centerfor Studies in Research and Research Policy at AarhusUniversity in Denmark.I have a background in history of ideas,but I have been working with qualitative social sciencestudies for the last 10 to 15 years.My research is primarily focused on research integrity

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: and metascience, but also social theory and history of ideas.And I co-cordinate SOPs4RI and I have alsobeen leading the focus group study.

  • 00:53

    TINE RAVN: My name is Tine Ravn, and I'man Assistant Professor at the Danish Center for Studiesin Research and Research policy at Aarhus University.And I am a Sociologist by training.I apply and have taught qualitative methods includingfocus group techniques.And in the SOPs4RI projects, I was

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: involved in the design and implementation of the focusgroup study.[What was the aim of the focus group study?]

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    MADS P. SORENSEN: A key question in the SOPs4RIis to understand disciplinary differences in the perceptionof and need for research integritysupport from the organizations that researcherswork within, but also from the organizationsthat they are funded by.Another question we were eager to learn more aboutwas whether researchers from different fields

  • 01:50

    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: experienced the same or different kinds of challengeswhen it comes to responsible research practices.In order to get to know more about these similaritiesand differences, we designed a comprehensive focus group studywith 30 focus group interviews conducted across eightEuropean countries and across all main areas of research;

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences includingtechnical science, and medical science includingbiomedical science.Half of the focus groups focused on whatuniversities and other research performing organizationscan do to support researchers.The other half of the focus groups

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: focused on what funders can do.[How was the study designed?]We started out by making a detailed roadmap for the work with tasks, deadlines, and namesof the persons responsible.This gives you an overview of the research process

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: from design to publications, and makes it possiblefor you to monitor where you are in the processand how stressed you should be.Here after, we started designing the focus group studyin detail.We began with thorough discussions within our groupon what we wanted to get out of the study,

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: defining the research questions, and asking how we could utilizethe focus group methods in the best possible way in accordancewith our research objectives.And the focus group method is especially beneficialwhen the objective is to explore and producedata and variation in arguments, negotiations,

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: and interpretations of complex and uncharted themes,such as the ones we were working with in SOPs4RIon research integrity practices and procedures.From here, we went on to create a sampling strategy.Who did we want to include as participantsin our study and why?

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: We made a strategy for the recruitment processand we wrote invitation letters.Here after, we started designing the interviews,creating questions and probes in the moderator guide,as well as designing a sorting exercise that we wantedto use in the interviews, to be able to compare perceptions

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: of importance of different research integrity topicsacross main areas of research.We also wrote a privacy policy for data collectorsin the interviews as well as a consent form for participantsto sign before the interviews.All this material was then assembled

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: in a protocol for the study that we pre-registeredat the Open Science Framework.[Were there any research ethics considerations for the focusgroups?]When it comes to research ethics,different countries have different rulesfor ethical reviews.In Denmark, research ethics committees

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: have traditionally only covered medical research.However, due to increasing demandsfor ethical approvals by international fundersor collaborators, Danish Universitieshave established institutional research ethics committeesto assess and approve empirical research that collects data

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: from volunteer study participants.Since we conducted our interviewsin eight different European countriesthat all have different rules--some require ethical approvals others don't--we applied for ethical approval of the focus groupstudy at Aarhus University where we are based.We use a modified version of our study protocol

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: for the review process and acquired the approvalquite quickly.In addition to this approval, we alsohad to get a national approval in Croatia, where someof the interviews took place.The protocol and the approvals from Aarhus Universitycould be used for this approval.The focus group participants were

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: informed about ethical issues such as confidentiality,withdrawal from the study, and handlingof personal data in the consent form and privacy policy.Our focus group study posed a small riskof discovering sensitive information,for instance, concerning research misconduct casesor problems with how specific institutions handle

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    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: research integrity issues.By signing the informed consent form,the participants agreed to maintain the confidentialityof the information discussed by all participantsduring the focus group sessions.[How did you collect the focus group data?]

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    TINE RAVN: Collecting focus group data in just one countrycan be really challenging.And the shared amount of logisticsalone can easily make you break into a sweat.And in this case, the study focusgroup interviews were carried outin eight different countries.So in Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium,Croatia, Italy, and Greece, and they

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: were distributed among SOPs4RI partnersfrom six different countries.But using moderators with insightinto national and local conditionssuch as institutional context and funding structuresare actually vital for guiding the individual focus groupdiscussion.And also important in that, these contextual understandingunderpin the credibility and validity

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: of the analytical findings.At the same time, multiple moderatorsalso increase heterogeneity into the research processand into design.So to mitigate potential variation thatcould reduce the explanatory forceand subsequent comparative efforts,we developed a very detailed and structured research processscript and moderator guide to enhance homogeneity

  • 07:59

    TINE RAVN [continued]: in the design, and also enhance the validation of the results.The interviews were primarily situatedat partner universities to take advantage of institutional backup, local gatekeepers, and local knowledge, whichfacilitated the recruitment and data collection process.All in all, we had planned 32 interviews.And 22 interviews were carried out face

  • 08:21

    TINE RAVN [continued]: to face as planned, whereas eight interviews hadto be performed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.And two interviews had to be canceled for the same reason.[How did you analyze the focus group data?]Prior to analyzing our focus group data,we just transcribe all interviews

  • 08:42

    TINE RAVN [continued]: according to common guidelines to enhanceaccuracy and reliability.And all interview transcriptions were anonymized and handledin alignment with the GDPR.And also, in keeping with the fair data principlesto anonymize interview transcriptswill be made available on the project's OSF sites.Subsequently, we coded all of the transcribed interviews

  • 09:04

    TINE RAVN [continued]: in the software program, NVivo, which is designed to facilitatedata management analysis and reporting,and interviews were coded through the processof first and second cycle coding.As the main objective of the focusgroup study was to understand and prioritizeindividual research integrity topics,and add new topics and concepts to the emerging

  • 09:25

    TINE RAVN [continued]: landscape of research integrity culture within researchand funding organization.In our analytical strategy, we prioritizedwithin-case analysis of each topic included in the study.Still, we also conducted a thematic cross-case comparisonand analysis that focus on identifying differencesand similarities across the main field of research

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: and across different contexts as well.And we displayed the analysis through heat mapsthat visualized the importance of research integrity topicsacross the four main areas of research.[What are the key findings?]So as you can easily imagine, 30 focus group interviews

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: generate a significant amount of data and research finding.And some of the key findings that we learned from this studyare that; interviews across the focus group all emphasizeand agree that research institutions shouldensure a high standard of research integrity.They should create a sound research environmentwith fair procedures for appointments and promotions.They should establish ethics and research integrity structures.

  • 10:32

    TINE RAVN [continued]: They should also ensure appropriate trainingof researchers at all levels.And prepare relevant guidelines for improvingresearch integrity for different disciplines.Funding organizations also have an important roleto play in promoting responsible research practices.For instance, should their own evaluationand funding procedures and through requestingthat research organizations have clear policies, governance

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: structures, and guidelines in place.On the basis of the study findings,we recommend that research and funding organizations developa coherent plan for how they want to implement, fosterand sustain research integrity.And such a plan should take into considerationthat there really is a need for discipline-specific researchintegrity support, and guidance.

  • 11:16

    TINE RAVN [continued]: Also across disciplines, research organizationin the countries, researchers alreadyfeel that they have to deal with too much bureaucracywhen it comes to research integrity.So it is important to avoid a parallel systemand unnecessary paperwork.In other words, it's necessary to prioritizethe resources available.In this regard, research integrity requirements

  • 11:37

    TINE RAVN [continued]: and tools has to be meaningful, flexible, context-oriented,and practical for researchers.And we also found a contextual variation in funding structuresand institution structures influencethe perception and importance of research integrity topics.For instance, different national legislationand non-legislation, has to be taken into accountwhen formulating policies, governance

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: practices, and guidelines.[What challenges did you face with the study?]In terms of challenges, in a cross-country focus grouplike ours, language can pose a challenge.In the academic world, we assume that everybodyspeak English and almost everybody does.

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    TINE RAVN [continued]: However, it is still people's second or third language.So we did conduct all interviews in Englishto make it possible for all members of our research groupto read the transcripts and work with the data.However, moderators were allowed to give the introductionto the focus group in the national languageif the participant preferred that.The greatest challenge that we facedwas the sudden transition of onsite interviews

  • 12:43

    TINE RAVN [continued]: to online interviews due to the COVID-19 lockdown situation.For these 10 remaining interviews,we succeeded in carrying out eight of them online,and two had to be canceled.And doing focus group interviews onlineis, of course, not ideal.And we had to adapt the interview questions a bitto fit the online format and to increase interactionamong participants, as the interactive nature of the focus

  • 13:05

    TINE RAVN [continued]: group method is very difficult to translateinto an online format.And then there's also the potential technical challenges.I particularly remember one online group,where one participant had to reconnect over and over again.And luckily, we could all have a laugh about it.And all in all, we managed to collect the desired datafrom the online interviews as well.

  • 13:25

    TINE RAVN [continued]: [Conclusion]

  • 13:33

    MADS P. SORENSEN: So to conclude,we can say that careful planning iskey to all research projects.However, focus groups are particularly time consumingin terms of planning and logistics,not least when conducting cross-national study involvinga large number of international partnersand external participants, like in our case.

  • 13:55

    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: The focus group method was a rewarding approachfor researching the research questions in our study.And it allowed us to collect an unprecedented amount of dataon the disciplinary importance, challenges, and prioritizationof a large number of research and integrity topics.

  • 14:16

    MADS P. SORENSEN [continued]: Our findings informs subsequent studies in the SOPs4RI project,and can be used by research and funding organizationswhen they adapt research integrity topics into concretecontext-oriented and discipline sensitive actionsto improve research integrity.

  • 14:53



Mads P. Sørensen, PhD, Senior Researcher, and Tine Ravn, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Danish Center for Studies in Research and Research Policy at Aarhus University, discuss using focus groups to understand research integrity across disciplines, including data collection and analysis, key findings, and challenges with focus group research.

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    Further Reading

    Sørensen, M.P., Mejlgaard, N., Ravn, T., & Et al., (2020).Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity (SOPs4RI): Focus group interviews (WP5). Open Science Framework,

    Further Reading

    Sørensen, M.P., Ravn, T., & Bendtsen, A.K., (2020).D5.1: Protocol for the focus group interviews. SOPs4RI,

    Further Reading

    Sørensen, M.P., Ravn, T., Bendtsen, A.K., & Et al., (2020).D5.2: Report on the Results of the Focus Group Interviews. SOPs4RI,

Methods Map

Research ethics

The field of moral philosophy dealing with the standards by which behaviour should be regulated within research.
Research ethics
Using Focus Groups to Understand Research Integrity Across Disciplines

Mads P. Sørensen, PhD, Senior Researcher, and Tine Ravn, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Danish Center for Studies in Research and Research Policy at Aarhus University, discuss using focus groups to understand research integrity across disciplines, including data collection and analysis, key findings, and challenges with focus group research.

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