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Legal and ethical issues

This page provides information about research ethics, GDPR for researchers and agreements for research funding.

Agreements for research funding

Funding for research projects is always associated with some form of contract or agreement. Preparations and information exchange prior to new research projects may also entail an agreement being signed.

In many cases, a commitment to undertake a research project is made at the level of the academic school, so the agreement is signed by the head of school. This applies to projects of up to SEK 5 million per year (for contract research, this is up to SEK 2 million per year and commission) under the university’s Delegation of Authority. However, in other cases, it is Södertörn University that makes this commitment, e.g. with EU funding, so the contract is signed by the vice-chancellor.

Contact External Relations if you need support.

Agreements must be primarily drawn up, assessed and amended by staff with legal expertise.

The following agreements are those that researchers are most likely to encounter:

  • Simple funding agreements
  • Partnership agreements for major programmes or projects with multiple partners, such as EU projects and FORMAS
  • Contract agreements between researchers/research groups and a public organisation/agency or business
  • Non-disclosure agreements and letters of intent during discussions with partner universities or businesses

Formal party to the agreement

In the following types of agreements for research funding, Södertörn University is the party to the agreement:

  • Major national research programmes, such as Wallenberg or the The Knowledge Foundation (KK-stiftelsen)
  • All EU projects and programmes
  • Contract education and research

The signatory is the vice-chancellor or the head of school with delegated responsibility under the Delegation of Authority.

Signing

Agreements can be made at different levels of Södertörn University’s organisation. The level that is authorised to sign an agreement is regulated by university rules and the Delegation of Authority.

It is vital that agreements are signed by an authorised signatory, otherwise the agreement may be invalid.

Consortium agreements

Large research programmes or projects are often run jointly, with multiple parties who form a consortium. In these cases, a funding contract is drawn up between the financier and one of the parties, while the parties regulate the project and their shared obligations in a consortium agreement.

The consortium agreement primarily regulates the following issues:

  • The allocation of research tasks
  • Financial issues, e.g. internal allocation of research funding
  • Management issues
  • Publication, ownership rights, usufruct and confidentiality
  • Limitations on damages
  • Conflict of laws
  • Conflict resolution

Several of these issues may be covered in an appended project description. However, publication, ownership rights, usufruct and confidentiality may need to be negotiated and regulated separately.

Research misconduct and good research practice

All staff at Södertörn University are responsible for ensuring that good research practice is applied.

Researchers at Södertörn University can contact the Council for Research Ethics if they suspect deviations from good research practice.

Good research practice is the moral praxis that develops when the relevant actors critically reflect on research activities in dialogue with the surrounding community. The principles upon which such praxis rests are described in a range of documents, including the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity External link, opens in new window., which is published by All European Academies, ALLEA.

Research misconduct is a serious deviation from good research practice in the form of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, and which is committed deliberately or through gross negligence in the planning, implementation or reporting of research.

Fabrication is making up results and recording them as if they were real.

Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment or processes or changing, omitting or suppressing data or results without scientific justification.

Plagiarism is using other people’s work and ideas without giving proper credit to the original source.

For actions of this kind to be considered misconduct, they must be serious and committed deliberately or due to gross negligence.

Deviation from good research practice is a broader concept than research misconduct, as it includes other misdemeanours. Examples could be not obtaining informed consent from research subjects, not applying for permission from the Swedish Ethical Review Authority when necessary, breaching regulations on secrecy and archiving, inappropriately obstructing or delaying the work of other researchers, manipulating authorship, or self-plagiarism.

Laws and ordinances that regulate good research practice, and deviations from it, assume that the relevant activity is an example of research and not, for example, care provision, teaching, art, journalism or a market survey. Providing an exact definition of research is difficult, but in the context of research ethics it means knowledge-producing activities that are conducted using scientific methods based on scientific theories, usually at higher education institutions, scientific institutes or other similar environments. Scientific theories and methods are those accepted by the research community, which is a broad definition and should be interpreted as theories and methods used by an established research group. In general, as well as the researcher, there is an entity responsible for research that is ensures compliance with good research practice. In our case, Södertörn University is the entity responsible for research.

In the context of research ethics, research is activity that aims to generate results that will be published in scholarly forums: articles in scholarly journals, monographs and contributions to anthologies. It is difficult to state what exactly counts as a scholarly publication, but the category is broader than articles and book contributions that undergo peer review. In general, essays authored by students at Bachelor’s or Master’s level are not research unless the student or supervisor (or both) intends to publish the results in a form other than the essay itself. The knowledge-generating activities of doctoral students during the production of a thesis are always considered research. The presentation of research and its results outside the research community and teaching (third stream activities) is generally considered popular science (which is not research). The line between scientific and cultural journalism and research can be hard to draw, particularly in the social sciences and humanities but, in general, researchers should ask whether there is an assumption that the journal in which the research is presented is read by other researchers in the field in which they work (apart from the interested general public). If so, it is research.

All staff at Södertörn University are responsible for ensuring that good research practice is applied. If you have suspicions or questions about deviations from good research practice, you must contact the Council for Research Ethics.

If the activity under suspicion is assessed possible research misconduct, the case will be transferred to the National Board for Assessment of Research Misconduct. If the suspicions relate to other deviations from good research practice, the university will process the case internally.

For a more detailed description of the process, see the university’s procedure, Case Management Procedure for Suspected Deviations from Good Research Practice.

GDPR for researchers

There are laws and regulations that researchers must be aware of. Personal data processing/management in research activities is an area that may be perceived as being both complicated and extensive. The information in the collapsible textbox is provided to guide researchers in this area. (This part will be updated with more information.)

Awareness of research data management has increased recently, and researchers are often asked to present a data management plan at the start of a project. Read more on the library’s webpage about research data management during and after the project period External link, opens in new window..

The university’s registry and archive function also provides support regarding which documents need to be registered and archived.

Ethical review

If your research relates to people in some way, your project may need to undergo ethical review. The head of school must be informed about the ethical review and it must be entered in the registry.

The purpose of the legislation is to protect individuals and to respect human dignity. People who participate in a research project must be protected from physical, mental and privacy-related risks. Legal certainty must be protected for researchers and for research subjects. The ethical review weighs any risks in the project against the expected benefit to society. Research that must undergo ethical review is regulated in the Swedish Ethical Review Act (2003:460) External link, opens in new window. and in the Act (2019:1144) External link, opens in new window. on amendments to the Ethical Review Act.

The legislation applies to every part of the research process that is conducted within Sweden, from the recruitment of research subjects to data collection, data processing, analysis and publication of results, etc. Your research must therefore undergo ethical review in Sweden if it is conducted at Södertörn University, even if you collect data in another country. If any of your research is conducted in another country, then that country’s laws and regulations apply.

Research must undergo ethical review if it:

  • involves a physical procedure on a living or dead person
  • is performed using a method that aims to affect a person physically or mentally or entails the risk of such an injury
  • is performed on biological material from a living or dead person that can be traced to that person
  • includes the processing of sensitive personal data
  • includes information about crimes

Under Swedish law, sensitive personal data is:

  • ethnic origin (this also includes questions about what is sometimes called “race”)
  • political opinion (also in the broader sense, not just party politics or involvement)
  • religious or philosophical beliefs
  • membership of a trade union
  • health
  • a person’s sex life or sexual orientation
  • genetic information
  • biometric information that is used to unambiguously identify a person

More information about sensitive personal data can be found on the website of the Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection. External link, opens in new window.

The entity responsible for research (e.g. higher education institution, company or region) has ultimate responsibility for projects that fall under the legislation being subject to ethical review, and that no such research is conducted without approval. Generally, in university activities, the organisational responsibility for this rests with the head of school, who must sign the application.

An ethical review must be conducted regardless of whether your research is externally funded or if you are conducting it as part of your employment. The lead researcher applies for ethical review of a project. In practice, this is often the project manager or a doctoral student’s principal supervisor. However, the doctoral student is listed as the lead researcher on many doctoral projects, but if the lead researcher does not have a doctoral degree, the project must be conducted under the supervision of a researcher with a doctoral degree. The application must state who this is, and, for doctoral students, this is generally the principal supervisor. For doctoral projects, the principal supervisor is also responsible for ensuring that the project undergoes review. It is important that the ethical review is conducted before data collection starts, because a project cannot be reviewed in retrospect.

Projects in the abovementioned areas must undergo ethical review under the Swedish Ethical Review Act (2003:460). Not doing so may lead to fines or, in serious cases, a custodial sentence.

However, even if the project is not subject to the legislation, you can still have your project ethically reviewed and request an advisory statement from the authority. Apart from the legal obligation to have projects that fall under the Swedish Ethical Review Act (2003:460) External link, opens in new window. ethically reviewed, there may be other good reasons for doing so. For example, increasing numbers of international journals and publishers demand that the research on which a publication is based must have undergone ethical review; they could have laws and principles to relate to other than Swedish ones. One way of overcoming these barriers to publication is to apply for ethical review and request an advisory statement. When you contact journals and publishers, this statement can document that the project has undergone ethical review.

Research covered by the Swedish Ethical Review Act may only be conducted if the research subjects have provided informed consent. Consent must be voluntary, explicit and precise in relation to each research project. Consent must always be documented, preferably in writing. Consent is only valid if, prior to the start of data collection, the research subject has received information about the research plan and purpose, project methodology, potential risks or other consequences of participation, and the entity responsible for research for the project. They must also be informed that participation in the study is voluntary and that they can cease participating at any time without providing a reason.

Information about how ethical reviews are conducted is available on the Swedish Ethical Review Authority’s website External link, opens in new window.*. Södertörn University also offers regular internal courses on issues relating to research ethics, including ethical review.

You must also remember that your ethical review and notification of approval must be recorded in the registry at Södertörn University.

*The authority is planning to translate the web page into English, meanwhile they can provide the application documents in English. Note that the documents are only for guiding purpose - the application has to be written in Swedish with the Swedish application documents. Scroll down on the authority's website for information in English.

Below is a list of items you must consider. There is a list of documents that may be useful at the end of the collapsible text.

  1. Check that sensitive personal data will not be processed. If it will be, an ethical review must be conducted by applying to the Swedish Ethical Review Authority.
  2. Decide how the information will be stored and ensure that it is processed securely while work is underway.
  3. In consultation with the archivist, decide which parts of the information will be erased or retained when work is completed.
  4. Fill in the information and consent form.
  5. Inform and collect consent from every single person who will participate in the study, collect the necessary personal data, and process the personal data in accordance with what was decided in steps 1-5 above.
  6. After the project has been completed, erase or archive the personal data material in accordance with what was decided in step 4 above.

Shared responsibility for personal data
Are you collaborating with another higher education institution? Will you be transferring personal data between you? If so, you must draw up an agreement about this.

Useful forms and documents

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Last updated: 2021-09-17 by Gabriela Hinchcliffe Voglio

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