Tartu Ülikooli eetikakeskus

Estonian research ethics regulations are revised in a new research project

The Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) and Centre for Ethics at the University of Tartu have started a joint project to develop recommendations to create a national system for monitoring and supporting ethics in scientific research. The results of this study will provide background knowledge and suggestions for initiating policy changes in the system of Estonian research ethics, to increase transparency, independence, and connections to European ethics organisations. The study is commissioned by the Estonian Research Council.

Liina Eek, RITA Programme Manager, said that currently, Estonia does not have a national independent organisation for research ethics that would coordinate and develop that field. However, several organisations conduct research in research ethics, provide support and feedback to researchers on ethics of research projects, and organise national and international meetings on ethics in science. “Estonian Research Council initiated this project because Estonia is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have an independent organisation for research ethics,” Eek pointed out. She added that the questions about sustainability and funding recently raised by ethic committees also gave reason to start with this project.

The project manager and head of the CASS Siim Espenberg suggested that such research would provide background knowledge and suggestions for initiating policy changes in the system of Estonian research ethics. “As the officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs pointed out, conducting research and research ethics need a wholesome approach. Our study has started at a right time,” Espenberg added. He explained that the work of current (ethics related) organisations will be analysed, needs of various stakeholders are going to be mapped and suitable role models in research ethics will be selected for Estonia during the study.

As a first big step, the head of the Centre for Ethics and junior research fellows in ethics visited the World Conference on Research Integrity in Hong Kong. The conference with its 700 participants gave a good overview of good research integrity practices in Asia, Australia, Europe, Canada and the USA, said Prof. Margit Sutrop, the head of the Centre for Ethics. “Estonia could learn the most from the experience of Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and the USA,” confirmed Prof. Sutrop with the inspiration gained from the conference.

The results of the study could influence the funding of Estonian research, the logistics of centres of research ethics, implementation processes of research integrity, its comprehensibility and transparency. The results could also help to address other ethical and legal questions (e.g. corruption) that have risen with conducting ethical research. Recommendations about organizing the system of ethics committees will be provided after the study.

The study is commissioned by Estonian Research Council. The study is funded by European Regional Development Fund from RITA programme and project “Developing Estonian National System for Monitoring and Supporting Ethics in Scientific Research”.

Additional information:
Siim Espenberg, project manager, the head of CASS, siim.espenberg [ät]

Margit Sutrop, head of the Centre for Ethics, margit.sutrop [ät]

Liina Eek, RITA programme manager, liina.eek [ät]