Introducing and establishing boot camps for research ethics and research integrity training

Experts serving on research ethics committees and integrity boards need to periodically update their knowledge and competences. Guidelines and procedures may be updates or new types of challenges may have emerged placing committee and board members in the position where the find that they need updating off their knowledge. For instance, the GDPR, open science or new technologies may have posed challenges.  While experienced board and committee members may find training on these topics useful, there are generally few if any training opportunities focusing specifically on the implications of these themes on the work of boards and committees. This is where the boot camp format comes in handy, as it can be organized around intensive work on a selected topic utilizing real or realistic cases. A boot camp is organized typically by colleagues for colleagues allowing experts to get together and ponder the consequences of new operating procedures, new legislation or conceptual definitions, for example.[1]

What is a boot camp?

A research integrity/research ethics boot camp takes its inspiration from a similar concept in the U.S., namely the U.S. RIO Boot Camp. In the model boot camp, a chosen case is exercised from a variety of perspectives in collegially facilitated workshops over a few intensive days. The US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) offers training to local research integrity officers (RIOs). Research integrity officers take part in investigations, and data and materials collected in an investigation can be used as evidence in court. Therefore, as the mandate of the RIO boot camp participants is different than for European participants, the boot camp model needs adaptation to a European context. The ENERI projects has created two prototypes for boot camps, one on research ethics and one on research integrity. 

In the US RIO Boot Camp participants work on a single case, which is then analysed, role played and discussed from a number of different integrity angles. This approach provides the opportunity to get to depth with a case and practice RIO competences while engaging with the mutual task. If the target group is heterogeneous, e.g. the participants represent contexts with different guidelines and procedures, then roleplaying activities directly related to procedures may be challenging to organize. In a highly diverse group of participants, it may not be possible to create the training based on the idea of a specific set of regulations or a single proper procedure. By default, the discussions will be diverse, explorative and rather comparative in nature. However, this may also enrich the learning experience for the participants.

Boot camp trainers are typically expert members of ethics committees or integrity boards just as the participants would be. This collegial training model is appropriate when the individuals participating in the training are also the best experts to think of how the theme will influence the work of boards and committees.

Whom is boot camp for?

From the perspective of building ethics and integrity infrastructure, there are particularly two professional audiences who may benefit from boot camp –type training:

  • Expert target groups, such as members of research ethics committees and research integrity boards dealing with allegations of research misconduct or do ethics reviews. The members of boards and committees need to update their competences periodically, and a boot camp be a suitable model for expert training when the participants are short on time and benefit from a relatively short but intensive, and above all, a collaborative learning process.
  • Research integrity advisers, who advise and support researchers and other employees in higher education institutions and research institutions on responsible research conduct and processes related to handling allegations of scientific misconduct. Research integrity advisers will need basic training for their task, but benefit also from periodically updating their competences. The boot camp offers the opportunity to work on case that are relevant for advisers and to share and identify good practices on advising and supporting.

What is the focus of a boot camp?

A boot camp may focus on core themes relevant for the target group, e.g. Codes of Conduct, conflict of interest, authorship and plagiarism, GDPR, building a culture of integrity, or ethics review. A boot camp involves intensive work on one or a few cases with a common focus. If a boot camp is organized for a national or institutional audience, there may be good opportunities to organize the learning activities around a common set of guidelines and procedures. The discussion around cases and their solutions are likely to be more coherent. However, even if a boot camp involves participants who follow different guidelines and procedures the learning process can be fruitful despite a variety possible solutions and outcomes of the process as identified by the participants. Despite heterogeneity of contexts and guidelines, participants may identify common solutions at different systemic levels and best practices.

What view of learning is a boot camp based on?

A boot camp utilizes activating learning methods, including work on cases/dilemmas in smaller groups. This can be done in different ways. There can be one or two cases, which are dealt with from specific perspectives (e.g. an imaginary but realistic case about an authorship dispute, which is viewed through the perspectives of guidelines on authorship, plagiarism, conflict of interest, and dissemination practices). Alternatively, there could be transversal theme, e.g. researching minors, which runs as a core topic through a number of cases that are analysed and discussed in the training.

A variety of learning activities can be utilized, such as:

  • small-group sessions around cases where groups deal with their assigned case, but report the outcomes to the whole group;
  • small-group sessions around a mutual case where outcomes are compared and group solutions complement each other; or
  • simulation of assigned case in which participants take on roles that the play out while other participants observe. It is important to notice that the observer role is not a passive one. Observers may be asked to monitor and report their perceptions or evaluation of the role-play.

A boot camp includes activating working methods (group work, simulation) to engage participants. Learner-centred methods facilitate higher-quality learning, i.e. deeper level learning and conceptual change (Martin et al., 2000; Kember & Kwan, 2000). Role-play and simulation encourage participants to take an active role in the learning process. Role-plays and simulations also mimic real and realistic situations, and thus the transferability of the insights gained to contexts outside the training, is high. Transfer of knowledge is relevant for adult learners who are goal-oriented. Simulation and role-play have been shown to be effective learning activities to teach ethics and integrity-related content (Wheeler, 2006; Wright-Maley, 2015). Professional target groups may have a need to share experiences and good practices, and the boot camp training format provides opportunity for that.

Who can organize a boot camp?

Organisers of boot camps can be

  • national boards and committees for research ethics and research integrity,
  • higher education and research organizations, or
  • professional associations.


Kember D, Kwan KP (2000) Lecturers’ approaches to teaching and their relationship to conceptions of good teaching. Instr Sci 28(5):469–490.

Martin E, Prosser M, Trigwell K, Ramsden P, Benjamin J (2000) What university teachers teach and how they teach it. Instr Sci 28:387–412.

Wheeler SM (2006) Role-playing games and simulations for international issues courses. J Polit Sci Educ 2(3):331–347.

Wright-Maley C (2015) Beyond the “Babel problem”: defining simulations for the social studies. JSSR 39(2):63–77.


[1] We have borrowed the term "bootcamp" from the U.S. RIO Bootcamp concept, where bootcamp refers to intensive and collegial professional training. The term has also been used to describe military training, but this is not to be confused with how the term is used in ENERI.