IST Programme RESPECT: an IST Programme Project
     home          The Code         User Guide    publications     partners          links          contact     

RESPECT for standards: summary


This report includes a code of professional conduct in socio-economic research, and a database of professional bodies. For a definition of socio-economic research we relied on Ursula Huws’ paper (2002), ‘Socio-Economic Research: Towards a Definition’. Accordingly, socio-economic research includes the following academic disciplines:

  • Anthropology

  • Business studies, industrial relations and management studies

  • Communication sciences

  • Criminology

  • Cultural studies

  • Demography

  • Economics

  • Educational sciences

  • Ethics in social sciences

  • Geography

  • Juridical sciences

  • Political sciences

  • Psychological sciences

  • Sociology

After searching the Internet for a period of time it became clear that professional associations/bodies exist more often in the old and traditional disciplines than in comparable new fields of study. We mostly found academic societies in disciplines like statistics, economics, geography, political science, psychology and sociology, whereas it was rather difficult to find representatives in subjects like socio-technical studies and cultural studies.

Moreover, we quickly discovered that codes are much more common in Anglo-Saxon countries. Therefore we decided to expand the task to include all countries where we were able to find codes in the aforementioned disciplines. After contacting sources overseas, we found and took into consideration codes from countries like Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States. As a result, the following draft code of professional conduct for European socio-economic research draws upon more than 40 existing codes from around the world.

Another challenge was presented by the fact that in the majority of cases, codes included ethical as well as professional issues. This is reflected in such varied names as ‘code of ethics’, ‘code of ethical practice’, ‘code of professional ethics’, ‘code of good professional conduct’, ‘code of conduct’ etc. After a process of clarification with our project partners (especially those working on ethical issues) and despite the fact that some issues have ethical as well as professional implications (eg the subject ‘informed consent’), we tried to focus on what we identified as professional issues.

Perhaps the most difficult task, was to find principles that are general enough to be applicable to all the different academic disciplines involved in socio-economic research, while being specific enough to address all the relevant subjects. The same is true with regard to language: the code’s language should be encompassing enough to account for the complexity, differences and new and unforeseeable developments in socio-economic research, while being precise enough to make the code workable. To meet these requirements, we drew upon the support of representatives of professional organisations as well as researchers with special experience in the field of ethical and professional conduct. They amply shared their experience and knowledge by giving us interviews.

Moreover, we are particularly grateful to the many researchers and respondents from professional organisations and funding agencies that sent us comments and suggestions on the first draft of the code that was distributed for consultation in early summer. We also want to express our thanks to the participants of the RESPECT conference in June in Budapest and the Social Research Association’s Summer Event in July in London, where we presented the first draft of the code. The comments and questions put forward at both occasions provided some very important and useful hints on which issues needed further re-thinking and re-formulation. We hope that the final code that will be presented within the next pages will meet the expectations of the discussants. We, ourselves, have the strong feeling that the accuracy of the code improved markedly as a result of the consultation process.

During our discussions in Budapest it also became clear that this code can only be voluntary and that there are no measures for compulsory enforcement wanted or planned by the European Commission. Hence the following Code of Professional Conduct in Socio-Economic Research is primarily a guideline, or an expression of mutual understanding, of what needs to be accounted for when carrying out socio-economic research in Europe. We nevertheless hope that the code has a positive impact on the quality and integrity of European socio-economic research.