CAPHRI Quality Assurance system helps foster greater trust in research
“Our focus is on how research is conducted”
Supporting CAPHRI researchers in conducting ethical and high-quality research, leading to greater trust in research results among both other researchers and the general public – that is the power of the CAPHRI Quality Assurance (QA) system, say Laure Wynants and David Shaw enthusiastically.
Laure, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at CAPHRI, has been chair of the QA Committee for the past two years. David is an associate professor of Health, Ethics and Law; in 2019, he was approached to become QA Officer because of his experience in the field. David was happy to take on the position. “My focus as a QA officer isn’t on research output, but on how research is conducted”, he explains. “That said, improvements in the way research is conducted will, of course, ultimately have a positive impact on research results.” Laure nods. “The system helps researchers be clear about the steps they have taken in a given study, from ethical approval and consent to choosing appropriate analysis methods and transparent reporting. I think it’s very important for both other researchers and public trust.”
Website and audits
The QA system consists of two parts: a website and audits. “I began by developing the website, which went live in late 2020. It gives a clear overview of all the rules and regulations research must comply with, making it easier for researchers to get it right”, says David. For example, the website provides guidelines for ethics, data management, privacy, and working with research participants or subjects.
The second part of the QA system consists of research quality audits, performed by David. The purpose of these audits is to determine whether a specific study was conducted in accordance with the guidelines. David understands that researchers may feel apprehensive about audits – but, he stresses, there is no need to be. The audit consists of completing an audit form and a “constructive dialogue”, as David calls his meetings with researchers.
In selecting researchers for an audit, David has access to a database of approved research projects. Sometimes his choice of research is influenced by the subject. “For example, I may give priority to higher-risk studies, such as studies involving children or people with dementia.”
David has conducted 25 audits so far. “I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the level of research quality”, he says. “About 95 per cent of CAPHRI research fully complies with the rules. For the remaining 5 per cent, there is room for improvement in certain areas. Sometimes people just don’t know things. But I haven’t yet encountered any major problems.”
Researchers’ feedback on the audit meetings has been positive across the board. “I’ve noticed that the meetings let researchers see the rules in a new light. You see, they have to jump through a lot of hoops to get their study approved. The meetings help them better understand and appreciate the rules. Additionally, the audit confirms to them that their approach is the right one. Researchers also sometimes offer constructive criticism of the regulations and the QA system. I share their feedback with the QA Committee to discuss how we can improve the system. A better QA system can help improve research quality even more, ultimately resulting in better output.”
Maze of regulations
Apart from the QA system, researchers are bound by the Maastricht UMC+ Research Code and the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The maze of regulations is quite overwhelming, David and Laure agree, “although there is a great deal of overlap”, says Laure. The CAPHRI QA system offers researchers a path through the maze. The website is constantly being updated, with a recent update adding information about support services for registering and storing data. “We aim to make the website as inclusive as possible”, concludes Laure, “to help as many researchers as we can and encourage them to adopt best practices.”
Text: Karin Burhenne