How Can You Manage the Risks of Research Projects to Ensure Success?

This article on managing the risks of research projects is part of our Boosting Your University Marketing Efforts series.

What Is the Relationship Between Risk and Scientific Research?

Recent empirical research conducted by the University of Toronto on the risks of scientific research and scientific research funding revealed that risk management has been identified “as one of most challenging aspects for academic research projects“. Research projects come with a level of inherent uncertainty – we cannot conduct research without accepting an element of risk. First, we need to explore and clarify what we mean by ‘research risks’.

Risks in research, as with most things in life, take many shapes and forms. They tend to be general, rather than research-project-specific. They may affect every person involved. Research risks typically fall under the following categories:

Economic risks

Economic risks include the planned vs. actual costs of a research project to the party/parties funding the research. After all, investments made are tied to the promising results that a scientific research project may reveal and/or prove, not to the research procedure itself. If the research requires the participation of human subjects, the safety and future employability of, as well as the payment to the research subjects that ties back directly to the research project form a major component of research expenditures.

Legal risks

Social and cultural variations between countries and continents often result in major differences. Certain areas of research that are vigorously invested in in one place may be considered unacceptable or immoral in another. Some may even carry criminal and/or civil liabilities for the ones engaging in a research practice.

Physical risks

Trials involving new medicine, activities with a kinesthetic component, or placing subjects in specific social settings are physical risks. All of these are examples of research activities that may bring injury, illness, pain, physical discomfort, or disease to subjects. In some extreme cases, violence, and the protection of research subjects from it must also be accounted for.

Confidentiality risks

If your research involves human subjects, it is paramount that you operate with maximum confidentiality in mind. In research, confidentiality is assumed, so as the investigator, you must shield your research subjects from invasions of privacy and always maintain their personal dignity. You should always encrypt the data as early in the process as possible, and collect, handle, and store that data in a safe way. The more sensitive the research topic is, the more emphasis you have on maintaining maximum confidentiality for your research subjects. Failure to do so can have devastating legal, financial, and reputational consequences for yourself, the research subjects, and those funding the research.

Psychological risks

Your research must not make research subjects feel anxious, depressed, depreciated, unwanted, attacked, or judged. The subjects should not feel like they must alter their behaviors by internalizing guilt, a direct or indirect consequence of their participation in a research project. You must never make your subjects feel deceived, or experience sleep or sensory deprivation without their explicit consent.

Social risks

If you conduct research with social components such as interactions between subjects or between subjects and non-subjects you will need to consider social risks. You must eliminate situations that may cause embarrassment and loss of self-respect or respect for others. While human behavior is wildly unpredictable, proper planning can help you create the safest conditions possible.

Replication-related risks

This concerns the integrity and storage of research data, as well as the methodology used to conduct your research. You must provide adequate details about the research procedures so that future researchers can replicate your research to verify its authenticity and astuteness. This primarily concerns the research methodology, the data you collected, and the results produced.

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Which Reasons Contribute to the Risks Associated with Scientific Research and Scientific Research Funding?

Before we delve into the most-cited reasons that make scientific research risky, we must recognize that there are inherent uncertainties and complexities that make research projects difficult to manage by design. The reasons chronicled in the literature that led to the aforementioned risks can be grouped into ten categories. The most common barriers for project managers in identifying risks associated with the research they conduct are the following, according to the Project Management Institute:

Overcoming the barriers of risk identification findings

How Can You Eliminate, Minimize, or Mitigate Risks Associated with Scientific Research?

Minimizing risk takes a blend of thoroughness and preparation to accomplish. Even when you follow every guideline, best practice, legal, scientific, and ethical obligation, risk can never be eliminated entirely. So, you need to go for the next best things – minimization and mitigation. Here is an indicative list, which is by no means exhaustive, of best practices to follow:

1. Always get written and verbal consent ahead of time.

Most of the research risks we mention in this article can be avoided when you obtain explicit written and verbal consent of their acknowledgement by research subjects. Popularly referred to as informed consent, it is divided into disclosure of information, competency of the patient to make a decision, and voluntary nature of the decision. For further information on the matter, read the University of Oxford’s guidance page.

2. Decide how you will collect data, where you will store it, and restrict your collection of data to what is strictly needed.

Establish a secure way of collecting data, and collect it in an anonymous way, if possible. Then, use your best judgement and think critically about what constitutes strictly necessary data, and what can be left uncollected. Finally, decide if you must store the data in the first place and, if so, code it and restrict access to it to authorized personnel only.

3. Perform the minimum number of procedures necessary to collect the information you need.

Similar to collecting data, there is no better way to minimize your exposure to risk than by limiting the number of procedures involving subjects. Again, exercise caution and narrow down the number of subject-research touch points to the minimum.

4. Ensure the research conducted is slightly below your expertise.

Advised by the American Psychological Association as part of their research ethics principles, conducting research below your level of expertise is crucial to its success. Research projects are the last place where you should push the envelope. Such an attitude would greatly increase the number of risks involved and the likelihood of their occurrence.

5. Use a project management tool, like Lytho, to eliminate the risks associated with poor project planning.

As identified by the Project Management Institute, cited earlier in this article, one of the major contributors to research risks is poor planning. Consider using a project management tool, like Lytho, to plan your research projects better. Keep track of every aspect of your research project, maintain confidentiality and compliance with data protection laws, and ensure a smoother process for everyone involved.

Lytho’s Mission Is to Support Your Efforts by Helping You Minimize Research Risks in 2023

Are you ready to plan your research projects in a way that will boost success rates and reduce the risks involved for your university? You’ve come to the right place. We at Lytho help you streamline your entire workflow and harmonize all collateral under a single, uniform platform. Our Creative Operations solution makes allocating and managing resources and stakeholders a breeze. Let us help you ramp up your research project planning and efforts. Successfully mitigate unnecessary risks stemming from poor planning with Lytho.

Feel free to reach out to us by scheduling a demo and learning how our creative solutions can boost the effectiveness of your creative projects. We look forward to speaking with you!