PublISHED ON 30 April 2018

UpDATED ON 23 November 2018

How we avoid conflicts of interest

When researchers review researchers in a peer review process, there is a risk of a conflict of interest, that is, suspicion of a bias. Conflict of interest situations can also arise during other stages of the handling of applications. To counteract any conflict of interest, everyone who works with applications at the Swedish Research Council must adhere to the Swedish Administrative Procedure Act and our conflict of interest policy in their work.

The Swedish Administrative Procedure Act and the conflict of interest policy regulate the work

In accordance with the Swedish Administrative Procedure Act, public agencies must be objective and impartial and protect everyone's equality before the law. The law states, among other things, that:

  • A person who is aware of a circumstance that is likely to cause him or her to have a conflict of interest must immediately notify the public agency.
  • A person with a conflict of interest must not participate in the processing of the case or be present when the case is decided.

The Swedish Research Council has developed a conflict of interest policy, where we apply the Swedish Administrative Procedure Act to our activities. The conflict of interest policy describes what everyone who works with applications – reviewers, decision-makers, and the agency's employees – must do to ensure that each application is given an objective and impartial evaluation.

The fact that applications are handled objectively and impartially is important, both for ensuring that the best research ideas receive funding, and for the public and decision-makers to have confidence in research.

The Swedish Research Council’s conflict of interest policyPDF (pdf, 330.8 kB)

Conflict of interest situations can vary

Situations where a conflict of interest may arise are, for example, when an expert reviewer on a panel has themselves applied for a research grant, or when someone closely related to them has made an application, or when they may be affected by the decision in some other way. A conflict of interest situation may also arise when a reviewer has an ongoing or recently concluded close collaboration with the applicant. A doctoral student-supervisor relationship is always considered to be a conflict of interest situation.

Our conflict of interest policy contains more examples of conflict of interest‌ situations, but it is difficult to formulate exhaustive guidelines that cover all the situations where there may be a conflict of interest. All those working with applications must therefore be observant and aware of how different types of relationships can affect the ability to act impartially. There must not be any reason to doubt that an application has been given impartial treatment.

What happens when someone has a conflict of interest?

Those who have a conflict of interest in relation to an application must not handle that application. This applies to everyone involved with applications. When the application in question is handled by a review panel or a scientific council or committee, the person with a conflict of interest must leave the room. The notification of a conflict of interest is recorded in a special protocol.

If a member of a review panel has applied for a research grant, another review panel must handle the application.

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