Conflicts of interest
The Research Councils have adopted a code of practice for all those who assist in the work of the Councils which embraces the "Seven Principles of Public Life" drawn up by the Nolan Committee and endorsed by Parliament. These Principles refer to selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
An important aspect of this code is the avoidance of any conflicts between personal interests and the interests of the Research Councils to ensure the probity of the decisions made by the AHRC and its representatives. In the context of peer review of research proposals, a conflict of interest might arise as a result of direct, or indirect, personal, academic, financial or working relationships. The acid test is whether a member of the public, knowing the facts of the situation, might reasonably think the judgement could be influenced by the potential conflict of interest.
Conflicts of interest may occur (1) when you are invited to do a review and (2) when you are invited to sit on a panel.
When invited to do a review
It is vital that all reviewers, including technical reviewers, are seen to be completely impartial at all stages of the review process. You should not take part in the review of any proposal where a conflict of interest may be construed.
AHRC officers endeavour to identify conflicts of interest and will not select you as an assessor if there is a clear conflict. Not all conflicts are obvious from the information we have available. If you consider you may have a conflict of interest you must contact the AHRC before proceeding with the review. It is important that you ensure you are eligible to review the proposal before undertaking the review. A list of conflicts that exclude you from assessing a proposal is included below. This is not an exhaustive list: if you are in any doubt about whether or not you should assess a proposal, please contact the Programmes Coordinator who has approached you for this review.
When invited to sit on a panel
It is vital that Panel members are seen to be completely impartial at all stages of the review process. You should not take part in the moderation of any proposal where a conflict of interest could be construed. If you think you might have a conflict, please inform the staff member responsible for your panel at the earliest possible opportunity.
You may still serve on the panel but you will be required to leave the room whilst the proposal(s) for which you have a conflict is / are being discussed. You are permitted to be present for the ranking of all proposals and it will be the responsibility of the chair to ensure that such proposals are not discussed again in detail, to ensure fairness and avoid any potential embarrassment.
You should not be involved in any way with a proposal prior to its submission or once a decision has been taken, e.g. you should not comment on, or help colleagues in preparing a proposal. If you are in any doubt as to whether you have a conflict of interest, you should consult staff working on your panel. If you are approached by applicants to discuss their proposals in any way – whether it be before, during or after the assessment process – you should decline. You are free to talk to applicants about the Council’s structures, policies and modes of operation, so long as the information is in the public domain (e.g. in the Research Funding Guide or on the website). You must not divulge information about individual awards or application statistics, unless the information is already in the public domain (via press release, Annual Reports, etc.).
Examples of conflicts of interests
A conflict of interest occurs for a reviewer or panel member when you:
- are a personal friend or a relative of the applicant,
- are intending to submit or have already submitted a proposal to the same round of the competition for which you are being asked to provide a review. For schemes which operate without closing dates, if you have or are intending to submit a proposal within 3 months of when you are being asked to provide a review,
- are directly involved in the work that the applicant proposes to carry out and / or have assisted the applicant with their application for funding,
- are a current member of staff or a Professor Emeritus / Emerita at the same research organisation as the applicant, or at the proposed host institution for Fellowship proposals? If you are at Cambridge or Oxford University you should not review proposals from any college at your institution. Please note that staff employed by a member institution of London University or University of Wales may review proposals from other member institutions,
- have collaborated on a research project, or worked closely, with the applicant in the last five years,
- have been employed at the same department as the investigator(s) in the last 12 months,
- were the PhD Supervisor for the investigator(s),
- are asked to review an application in which your RO is named as a partner institution,
- have a vested interest in the research, for example you are a general editor of the series to which the work that is the subject of the proposal will contribute, or a curator of a gallery where the work will be exhibited,
- have been approached and agreed to be a member of a committee connected with a research project, for example an advisory group or steering committee, you should not - if approached - also act as a reviewer for that project,
- are invited to sit on a panel which will moderate an application that you have reviewed.
Please note that, the restrictions which apply to the Principal Investigator, in terms of research organisation, past research organisation, past collaborations and any other types of conflicts of interest as mentioned above, apply equally to the Co-Investigator(s) on an application.
This is not an exhaustive list: if you are in any doubt about whether or not you should assess a proposal due to a possible conflict of interest, please contact the Programmes Co-Ordinator who has approached you for a review.
Please also refer to the conflicts of interest section of the AHRC's Code of Practice.