IST Programme RESPECT: an IST Programme Project
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The RESPECT project


Context: why a project like RESPECT is needed

In recent years there has been a rapid evolution of socio-economic research relating to the development of a global Information Society.

Several trends have converged to bring about major changes in the roles of socio-economic researchers and in their working practices. In particular:

Developments in IST technologies have introduced new research tools and greatly multiplied the sources of information available. The speed of change combined with the volume of information available makes it increasingly difficult to verify the authenticity, originality, or reliability of data available on the Internet and raises issues of research quality.

These developments also raise issues of intellectual property. The availability of material in digital form (and of technologies for the digitisation of hard copy material) makes plagiarism easier to carry out. Simultaneously the sheer volume of information available makes such plagiarism much more difficult to detect. Even when there is no conscious intention to plagiarise, the increasing pressures on the research community to deliver results speedily creates incentives to ‘borrow’ more widely than was traditionally the case.

The new forms of electronic publishing, or circulation of drafts attached to emails also blur the line between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’. Early drafts of material may reach a much wider audience than that originally intended, and confidential material may inadvertently be made public. This has serious implications for data protection, particularly in the case of qualitative research (such as case studies or Delphic polls) or surveys where analysis is carried out in a highly disaggregated form. A breach of trust between researchers and respondents may thereby be created.

New EU legislation is being introduced in a number of areas that impact on the conduct of IST research, in particular, in the areas of copyright and data protection. These legislative changes can have far reaching effects on the suppliers and users of socio-economic research who need to understand their implications. Furthermore, some legislative changes leave Member States with scope to maintain or adopt their own practices, so differences between countries will remain. It is important these differences are recognised and adhered to, especially given the greater freedom with which information can move between countries.

The rapid social and economic changes that accompany the introduction of IST technologies have burst the limits of the traditional boundaries between socio-economic disciplines. Increasingly there is a need both for interdisciplinarity (involving the development of new concepts, models and methodologies which transcend the barriers between disciplines) and for multidisciplinarity (involving the creation of teams whose members have different areas of expertise and professional backgrounds but who work alongside each other in complementary ways). In order to function effectively both interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity require the development of mutual understanding, commonly agreed guidelines to ensure consistency of practice and acceptable standards.

The success of the European Commission’s funding policy in nurturing transnational research partnerships combined with the rapid expansion of the EU and the global nature of the information society has brought about a situation where ever-increasing amounts of socio-economic research are carried out internationally. This raises issues of international benchmarking. Different national perspectives and cultural traditions have produced very different approaches to socio-economic research in the past. This has been reflected in different university curricula and qualification systems, differences in the definition of some professions and differences in the institutional structure of the socio-economic research community (for instance in the balance between academic, commercial, government and not-for-profit research institutes). These differences create the potential for strong complementarity, synergy and mutual learning within cross-national research teams. However, they may also on occasion lead to misunderstandings, tensions, and variations in research quality and create a risk that instead of exploiting the strengths of each partner, some projects may end up with lowest-common-denominator solutions.

This is the context in which the RESPECT project has been developed, in order to draw up professional and ethical codes for socio-economic research, with a particular (but not exclusive) focus on the research requirements of the IST programme.

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Aims of the project