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Science Integrity Policy guidelines: Communication and Dissemination of Research and Scientific Information

If you have questions about the internal documents mentioned below, contact the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Science Integrity section at aafc.scienceintegrity-integritescientifique.aac@canada.ca.

1. Effective date

These guidelines take effect on March 11, 2020. This is an evergreen document.

2. Context

These guidelines are issued pursuant to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Science Integrity Policy (subsequently referred to as the AAFC SIP), adopted on January 1, 2019. These guidelines are to be read in conjunction with the following AAFC guidelines:

3. Purpose

Federal research is an asset of the Crown and should be treated as such. Appropriate data management practices should be applied to preserve and communicate the results.

These guidelines are intended to assist AAFC employees at all levels in implementing the public communication of research and scientific information (s. 7.4) and dissemination of research and scientific findings (s. 7.5) provisions of the AAFC SIP.

In particular, they are intended to assist employees in making fair, reasonable, transparent, and accountable decisions regarding communication and dissemination of research and scientific information that respect the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Directive on the Management of Communications, and the AAFC Policy on Science and Technology Publications. These guidelines are also intended to assist employees in recognizing and upholding:

4. Communication of research and scientific information

4.1 Non-technical information

Non-technical information consists of research or scientific content designed for a lay audience, irrespective of the medium (audio, video, in print or on-line, including social media). The purpose of any such communication (hereafter public communications) is to make the audience aware of, or better informed about, the research or scientific dimensions of issues of public interest or import. Often the target audience will have a limited ability to critically evaluate the research or scientific merits of the information.

Public communication of non–technical research or scientific information may include, but is not restricted to:

Public communication of non-technical information is addressed in s. 7.4 (Public communication of research and scientific information) of the AAFC SIP.

4.2 Technical information

Technical communications consist of the dissemination of research or scientific content designed for a knowledgeable audience, irrespective of the medium (audio, video, in print or on-line, including social media). The purpose of any such communication is to convey research or scientific information to audiences that are usually in a position to judge—at least to some degree—the research or scientific merits of the information. For the purposes of this guideline, there are three types of technical information or communication.

4.2.1 Peer-reviewed publications

Publication of peer-reviewed science and technology information in bona fide scientific journals, books and peer-reviewed conference proceedings fall under the AAFC Policy on Science and Technology Publications and is not covered in these guidelines.

4.2.2 Other technical communication

Other technical publications may include non-peer reviewed publications or communications that summarize research or scientific work and associated analyses, interpretations and/or recommendations and may pertain directly to federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters.

Dissemination of non-peer-reviewed technical information is addressed in s. 7.5 (Dissemination of research and scientific findings) of the AAFC SIP.

4.2.3 Datasets

A dataset is any organized collection of data in a computational format, defined by a theme or category that reflects what is being measured/observed/monitored. The presentation of the data in the application is enabled through metadata.Endnote 1

4.3 Considerations

Researchers and scientists should ensure that both public communications and dissemination of non-peer-reviewed technical information:

In all communication and dissemination activities, researchers and scientists must respect:

Furthermore, researchers and scientists should:

In the management of research and science, AAFC should:

4.4 Review by researchers and scientists of AAFC public communications

AAFC researchers or scientists must be given a reasonable opportunity to review drafts of AAFC public communications that describe or reference their work in order to ensure that their work is accurately described and interpreted. They should discuss with their supervisor, manager, or whoever is responsible for drafting the communication, any revisions to the content. In cases where an agreement is not reached, the researcher(s) or scientist(s) should immediately, in writing, notify their manager(s), supervisor(s) or other relevant personnel of:

4.5 Communication of non-scientific matters

Comments or recommendations on, or discussions about, federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters made in research or scientific publications or public communications may result in contravening either the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or the Directive on the Management of Communications.

A comment or recommendation on, or discussion about, federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters in a public or non-peer-reviewed technical communication is a statement by researchers or scientists that:

Examples of such statements may be found in Appendix A.

4.6 Duty of Loyalty

A particularly important issue is whether communications include statements that violate public servants’ Duty of Loyalty, which requires that public servants exercise restraint in being critical of government decisions so as to ensure that the public service is perceived as impartial, nonpartisan and effective. However, the Duty of Loyalty is not absolute and must be balanced against other considerations, including AAFC employee’s freedom of expression. Moreover, the federal government has made a commitment to open scienceEndnote 5 and, in so doing, supports the importance of researchers and scientists being able to publicly communicate their research results.

Public trust in government depends in part upon the concrete demonstration of its willingness to acknowledge, consider and respond constructively to research or scientific evidence, especially that which might be perceived as inconsistent with legislative, regulatory or policy undertakings. As such, the failure to entertain criticism, and to respond constructively to it, may well undermine precisely that which the Duty of Loyalty is designed to achieve, viz, to support the public’s perception of an impartial and non-partisan federal public service.

In evaluating the risk of a statement contravening the Duty of Loyalty, AAFC employees should consider the factors shown in Table 2 below.

Table 2. Factors affecting the risk of a statement contravening the Duty of Loyalty
Factor Description Risk of contravening Duty of Loyalty
Statement truth The extent to which the evidence supports the factual claims in the statement Decreases with increasing strength of evidence
Efforts made to establish statement truth The extent of the effort made to establish the truth of the factual claims in the statement Decreases with increasing effort
Efforts in internal resolution The effort made to address or resolve the criticism(s) through internal consultation, discussion or mediation Decreases with increasing effort
Position and visibility of the employee The extent to which the employee making the statement(s) is in a position of authority or is a recognized public presence Increases with increasing authority and extent of public visibility
Imputation of motives The extent to which the statement explicitly or implicitly imputes motives to federal government institutions or employees Increases with motive imputation, especially the imputation of ulterior motives
Compromising perceived impartiality The extent to which the statement is perceived as indicating a lack of impartiality Increases with increasing risk of perception of impartiality
Adapted from Duty of Loyalty.

4.7 Use of research and scientific information in federal government decision making

In all communications, researchers and scientists should recognize and appreciate that:

4.8 Other research or science conducted by AAFC employees

AAFC researchers and scientists may undertake research or scientific study apart from that conducted as part of their employment responsibilities—for example, studies conducted out of personal interest or in the context of the employee’s affiliation with an external institution. In such situations, the provisions of the AAFC SIP s. 7.4 or s. 7.5 will normally apply when the research or science is conducted:

If the research or science is not subject to s. 7.4 or 7.5 of the AAFC SIP, then researchers and scientists may still use their AAFC affiliations as part of their biographical information in any research or scientific publication or public communication provided they state explicitly that:

Researchers or scientists should ensure that their managers, supervisors and other relevant personnel are informed about these activities even in cases where the activities are not subject to s. 7.4 or 7.5 of the AAFC SIP. Outside employment or activities that are likely to give rise to a real, apparent or potential conflict of interest situation must be disclosed, in adherence to the Values and Ethics Code for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

5. Definitions

In implementing the communication and dissemination provisions of the AAFC SIP, employees are encouraged to adopt and use the descriptions and interpretations in Table 3.

Table 3. Description and interpretation of terms and phrases employed in the AAFC SIP
AAFC SIP phrase AAFC SIP article Description and interpretation
Science and research 7.4.3

Science: the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural world through application of one or more elements of the scientific method. In the context of the AAFC SIP, it is understood to include both fundamental and applied natural, physical, biomedical and social science, as well as engineering and mathematicsEndnote 6.

Research: any undertaking intended to extend knowledge through a disciplined inquiry or systematic investigationEndnote 7.

For the purposes of the SIP:

  • “their research” is research conducted by the employee who is making the communication, either individually or as part of a research collaboration involving other federal government employees or non-federal government researchers/scientists.
  • “science” is information obtained through application of one or more elements of the scientific method, that is, information pertaining to scientific questions; hypotheses; experimental or study measurements, designs, protocols or methods; scientific results (including observations, estimates or described patterns) and/or their interpretation and implications. “Science” need not refer to scientific research in which the employee has personally been involved.

In implementing the AAFC SIP, employees should be careful to distinguish between information sources and the type of information obtained from the source(s) in question. Research or scientific information can be generated and provided by persons who are not professional researchers or scientists, for example, persons engaged in citizen science programs, amateur naturalists, or indigenous knowledge holders.

Classified or sensitive research or scientific information 7.4.4
  • Information fulfilling one or more of the exclusion provisions of the Access to Information Act, especially s. 68 (Exclusions)
  • Information fulfilling one or more of the exemption provisions of the Security of Information Act, specifically ss. 13-26
  • Care should be taken in interpreting exemptions under s. 20 (Third Party Information) of the Access to Information Act, especially 20(1) (b)-(d) and even more especially, s. 20(6). For the purposes of the SIP, there is a strong presumption that third party information of direct relevance to public health, public safety or protection of the environment will not be considered sensitive or classified unless there is strong evidence that the public interest value of this information does not clearly outweigh potential financial risks or prejudices to, or contractual obligations of, the third party in question.
  • Information that would normally be considered prejudicial to the safety or interests of Canada as defined under the Security of Information Act, especially ss. 2(3), 3(1), 4(1) and 19(1)
  • Information for which public disclosure is prohibited or restricted pursuant to existing laws, regulations or policies, or as part of formal or informal agreements or contractual arrangementsEndnote 8
  • Information on projects identified by AAFC-STB’s Office of Intellection Property and Commercialization as restricted due to the inclusion of a confidentiality clause
Lead time

7.4.5

7.4.6

Researchers or scientists should notify their manager/supervisor about a planned formal public communication event with a “sufficiently long lead time” (e.g. public talks or lectures) as soon as practical after the date on which they agree to participate in the event or, if not possible, then as soon as practical after the event.

Researchers or scientists should notify their manager/supervisor and Public Affairs Branch about formal public communication events with a “short lead time” that effectively preclude prior notification (e.g. media calls or interviews) as soon as practical after the event

Reasonable opportunity to review 7.4.9 A reasonable opportunity for AAFC researchers or scientists to review drafts of AAFC public communications that describe or reference their work shall be considered to be as soon as practical prior to the release of the communication.
Notifying supervisor/manager

7.4.5

7.4.6

Researchers and scientists should send an email to their supervisor/manager with the date and time of the event; their role in the event; the title of their presentation, if relevant; and a copy of their speaking notes, speech or presentation if available.

Appendix A

This appendix provides some hypothetical statements that would be considered to be comments on or discussions about federal statutory, regulatory or policy matters, and as such may contravene one or more policies. In these examples, “Y” denotes some federal government institution, person or elected official, “X” some undertaking or decision by a federal institution, person or elected official. The set of examples is meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive.

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