Conflicts of interest and commitment
Conflicts of interest may arise when a situation has potential to or could appear to influence the design, conduct or reporting of a research project. To keep objectivity and transparency in research, it is necessary to mitigate or eliminate conflicts. Transparency and objectivity are crucial in maintaining the public’s support and trust in the research being performed.
- Financial conflicts of interest occur when an investigator has a financial stake in an entity that is also involved in the research. For example, an investigator may hold stock in a company that is sponsoring the research. It may appear that the investigator could be influenced to report an outcome that would be beneficial to the sponsor and by extension, the investigator.
- Conflicts of commitment can arise when an investigator spends more time away from the primary university position than is allowed to work on activities for another entity. Deliverables or deadlines may not be met as the time required for the project is spent on the other entity. Personal relationships or self-interests can also be perceived as conflicts of commitment when a relative works at a company that is involved in the research.
- Conflicts of belief can occur when an investigator who feels strongly about a subject has potential to bias the result to favor the personal belief. While investigators do their best to remove personal feelings from their research, to an outside observer, it may appear to be biased.
Conflicts management may not always be avoidable, but they can be managed or mitigated. It is important for researchers to be able to recognize when there is potential for conflict and to work with the institution to address the conflict or perception of conflict. Management of a conflict may entail publicly informing everyone working on the project of the conflict, stating the conflict in publications, or having an alternate investigator appointed as the authority for all financial decisions and transactions instead of the conflicted investigator.
Being cognizant of the potential for conflicts allows for solutions to be developed to manage the conflict. It also preserves the public’s trust in research and moves research forward.