What is ethics?
Ethics asks ‘what is a good society and how do we achieve it’? It comes to grips with what is right and wrong and what kinds of lives we should lead individually and collectively. The responsibilities that people have towards each other and the ecosystem they inhabit lie at the foundation of an ethical society.
Ethics is also defined by the way we approach a problem, or the perspective we use to decide how to act, and to understand complex ethical issues in society.
What do ethics have to do with research?
Ethics enables us to:
- understand the potential good or harm of research
- promote the fair treatment of others
- acknowledge rights of participants to information, privacy and anonymity
- give responsibility to researchers to act with integrity
Many different research disciplines and institutions display distinct behavioural ‘norms’ or acceptable behaviours which are aligned to their group’s particular goals. In relation to research, ethical norms may govern conduct, serve the aims or goals of the research, apply to the people who undertake research, and extend to collaborators and to wider society.
What is the role of academic institutes?
Academic institutes have a role to play in enabling positive change in society. This happens through ongoing actions and interactions with industry, policy makers and non-governmental organisations. Together they undertake activities where no individual participant possesses the ability to single-handedly bring about a desired change in society.
When it comes to mobilising ‘knowledge, capabilities and resources between partners’ and wider society, often there can be a ‘blurring of boundaries between the researchers and the researched’. This may lead to additional ethical considerations in carrying out transdisciplinary and co-created research.
In line with Newcastle University’s identity as a ‘World-class Civic University’ the Institute for Sustainability seeks to respond to and enable positive change in society and its environment. It recognises that in supporting interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and co-created research, we may need to explore ethical considerations beyond disciplinary points of view.
Ethics in practice
The Institute for Sustainability supports research that contributes towards a sustainable way of life. This goal prioritises its research and impact activities in sustainability. Research activities undertaken by Newcastle University researchers and partners will fit this overarching criterion. This is a key aspect of how we competitively evaluate projects requesting support from the Institute.
This stance is taken into consideration within our processes e.g., in the allocation of research funding, provision of research support and in external collaborations. Note that in all instances the Institute for Sustainability acts within the ethical governance of Newcastle University.
How do we allocate funding?
Allocation of funding occurs through a transparent, competitive funding process. Funding decisions are made through consensus by a panel which includes the Institute Director, Associate Directors, Institute Manager, Researcher Coordinators, and external experts as deemed necessary. For each funding call a scoring criteria is provided alongside funding call documentation. This states all criteria against which the funding applications will be assessed.
These criteria include:
- alignment with the stated institute strategy and research challenges
- potential for impact
Provision of research support
Provision of research support is applied for through our ‘Package of Services’. Requests for support are assessed on an individual basis for ‘alignment with the Institute’s Strategy’ and Institute team capacity. In all instances these relationships are mediated in line with the University’s governance system. Through our package of services we support groups of researchers in their initiatives exploring the ethical aspects of sustainability related interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary research e.g. supporting PEALS in their project entitled ‘Science, ethics and citizenship: how might we improve the practice and governance of scientific research to enhance community benefit?’.
NU Estate Support Services Environmental Sustainability Policy
The Institute for Sustainability supports the Environmental Sustainability Policy and Biodiversity Policy of NU Estate. The Policy commits the university to growing and developing in a sustainable manner. This policy includes integrating environmental management, reducing energy and associated carbon emissions, promoting sustainable travel options and empowering and motivating staff, students and relevant stakeholders through environmental education and communication.
In alliance with NU Estate the Institute has supported the demonstration project Smartfusion that is building upon existing urban freight development strategies to make them more sustainable. On campus the Delivery Consolidation scheme part of the project uses electric vehicles to help the University cut its carbon footprint and reduce the number of delivery vehicles on campus. It is a prime example of how Newcastle University is leading in sustainability initiatives to improve society and the environment.
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Chilvers, J. and J. Evans (2009). "Understanding networks at the science–policy interface." Geoforum 40(3): 355-362.
Coenen, L. (2007). "The role of universities in the regional innovation systems of the North East of England and Scania, Sweden: providing missing links?" Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 25(6): 803-821.
Mauser, W., et al. (2013). "Transdisciplinary global change research: the co-creation of knowledge for sustainability." Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5(3–4): 420-431.
Trencher, G., et al. (2014). "University partnerships for co-designing and co-producing urban sustainability." Global Environmental Change 28(0): 153-165.