Ethics in academia LARP

Background

In Norway, the ethical committees in academia were established in 1990 by the Ministry of Education and Research, and include:

  • The National Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics (NEM)
  • The National Committee for Research Ethics in Science and Technology (NENT)
  • The National Committee for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences and the Humanities (NESH)
  • The National Committee for Research Ethics on Human Remains
  • The Norwegian Advisory Board on Ethical Aspects of Patenting
  • The National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct.

The ethical guidelines “Research ethics in science and technology” and “Research ethics in the social sciences, humanities, law and theology” were established in 2008 and in 2011 respectively, and the current version is from June 2016. It is the duty of each university and science institution to ensure that these guidelines are well communicated and to ensure that they are understood, adopted and followed by the employees. A post on the common virtual “Wall” (Tavla) or an e-mail with a link to the new version of the guidelines is not enough. The only scientific staff that we are sure have good knowledge of these guidelines are the PhDs who have an obligatory course in Philosophy and Ethics of Science at all universities in Norway. At our faculty, I have made several attempts to invite research group leaders and research groups to open lectures for all scientists on the ethical guidelines, but the attendance has never exceeded 20 scientists.

Live-action role-playing games (LARPs) have turned out to be an increasingly popular and easy way of engaging university staff and students, and LARPs are used both in teaching and in social contexts. I’m currently involved in writing a LARP where the main objective is to ensure that university staff and students at all levels understands what the ethical guidelines are, and what type of situations they apply to. The learning outcome of the LARP will be directly related to the following topics:

  • Research ethics
  • The obligations of research to society, scientific integrity, truthfulness and accountability
  • Uncertainty, risk, and the precautionary principle
  • Protection of research subjects and respect for individuals
  • Respect for groups and institutions
  • Protection of animals used in research
  • The relationship between research and other knowledge-bearers and forms of knowledge
  • Commissioned research, openness and conflicts of interest
  • Whistle-blowing and ethical responsibility
  • Dissemination of research to the general public

The background for the plots in the LARP will draw on recent science and developments in the fields of the respective faculties that the ethical guidelines apply to, and the scientific content will be further developed in cooperation with the writing team at UiT.

The game

The setting is an evening party hosted by the University after a one-day conference. The background for the conference is the recent merger of two faculties (Law and business school, Faculty of biology, fisheries and pharmacy), and their industry contacts have also been invited. The event has been organized to calm down the employees after a conflict related to the reorganization of the university and institute sector.

We will create at least two plot threads relevant for each of the 10 bullet points above. All ethics rules will be violated by at least one character in the game, and each character breaks at least one ethical rule. For instance, one character may be a stickler for scientific integrity, but at the same time, the character has inappropriate relations with his or her student, or has falsified expense reports. The players will be given information and motivation that will make it possible for them to uncover the ethical violations of other characters in the game, while at the same time they are trying to hide -, or minimize the importance of their own violations. An important challenge in the game will be the establishment of an ethics committee for the new faculty, where finding suitable candidates will be a challenge, to put it mildly.

The plan is to have the background outline done during autumn 2017 and have preliminary blue sheets (general background for the game, distributed to all players) as well as some of the plots described prior to the Peaky workshop spring 2018. We will start with 12 characters and will expand the game to a 22 player game after the workshop. Two experienced game writers have already signed on to join us in developing and writing this game during Peaky, and it very likely that more will join; a writing team for a game this size is normally 5-6 people. The first version of this game will be run on the Sunday during the Spring Peaky weekend April 2018. We will adjust and further develop the game according to experiences and input from the players, and another test run will be in Tromsø the same spring after adding more characters to the game. We wish to have the game available for educational purposes in September 2018, and then do the final adjustments before distributing the game to interested parties outside the writing group.

Debrief

The debrief of the game will have to be carefully planned to ensure the best learning outcome. There will be a template for each player to fill inn and a common oral evaluation at game end. We also plan to send a questionnaire prior to the game and one month after the game to measure the knowledge gained through the game.

 

References

EC 2005 The European Charter for Researchers – The Code of Conduct for the recruitment of Researchers.

Guidelines for research ethics in science and technology: https://www.etikkom.no/en/ethical-guidelines-for-research/guidelines-for-research-ethics-in-science-and-technology/

Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Humanities, Law and Theology: https://www.etikkom.no/en/ethical-guidelines-for-research/guidelines-for-research-ethics-in-the-social-sciences–humanities-law-and-theology/