4. Collaborative research and authorship in anthropology: EASA good practice guidelines
After a lengthy, collaborative process, we have final draft guidelines offering advice on good academic practice when carrying out research and writing in collaboration with others, or as part of a larger research team.
These guidelines offer EASA members advice on good academic practice when carrying out research and writing in collaboration with others, or as part of a larger research team. They are written in recognition that significant sums of European research funding are now being channelled to large interdisciplinary teams and international collaborations. Whilst not every anthropologist will work as part of a research team led by a PI (Principal Investigator), these new modalities and structural hierarchies present new opportunities - and significant challenges - for anthropological practice, collegiality and integrity. Anthropologists at every stage – from research student to senior research professor – will benefit from reflecting on the power dynamics within these relationships.
The guidelines are partly also a response to the increasingly precarious nature of academic employment, as documented in a 2020 EASA report (Fotta et al 2020). Postdocs are often employed in a sequence of short-term research posts within large projects, with little autonomy to develop their own research profile. They can be at risk of bullying and exploitation from PIs, and may not be given support by their institutions. At the same time, like temporary teaching-only staff, they are in competition for permanent positions. For permanent staff, career progression is increasingly linked to measurements of research productivity, income generation, or other forms of audit culture.
A series of research townhalls held by the UK’s Wellcome Trust in 2020 highlighted 12 shared challenges faced by researchers, including the pressure to publish. In these situations, negotiations over fair authorship can be highly sensitive. The code of practice for research issued by UKRIO, for example, includes specific advice on authorship and publication. COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) offers useful resources for agreeing authorship and negotiating authorship conflicts, including detailed advice for new researchers.
In recent years, some anthropologists have been accused of adopting questionable research strategies. This has included including treating colleagues, students or research assistants as data collectors, using co-produced research material without prior consultation or denying others access to fieldnotes. This can be a particular problem in large international projects, as highlighted in the Bukavu manifesto.
At the same time, PIs have sometimes not been given sufficient training, guidance and support by their universities in managing these collaborative projects, or for anticipating intellectual property issues and authorship. PIs should ensure that international project partners are not disadvantaged within formal institutional research agreements, and that all contributions to research are acknowledged.
This document sets out good practice guidelines for anthropologists on negotiating the rights and responsibilities that accompany research collaborations. It aims to be useful for negotiations within research teams and between PIs, universities and funding bodies.
Guidance is offered on negotiating authorship and the status of ethnographic fieldnotes, along with institutional responsibilities for career development and research oversight.
Authorship, Co-authorship and Contributorship
This section sets out good practices for collaborative authorship, recognising that these decisions and negotiations often involve negotiating across differences in power and status.
- Publication, credit and authorship, along with the different roles of collaborators within a research team, should be discussed at the very earliest stage of a research project, recognising that roles and contributions can change. These decisions should be agreed jointly, recorded and communicated to all members of the team.
- Authorship entitlement should be based on significant intellectual or practical contribution to the work. Anyone listed as an author should be prepared to take public responsibility for the accuracy of that work.
- Collectively authored publications should be based on sustained research collaboration, ideally through the whole process of design, fieldwork, analysis and writing. All named authors should make a substantial intellectual or practical contribution to the work.
- The ordering of authors in publications should fairly represent their contribution to the production of the research. All contributions should be acknowledged. The CredIT taxonomy offers one way of listing these different contributions in an authorship statement (see also Allen et al 2019).
- Researchers in anthropology are never to be treated as ‘data collectors’. Instead, they should be listed as contributing to, or as an author of, any publication that utilises their co-produced research materials.
- Every member of a research team has the right to appear as an author of any publication that draws on the research materials they have co-produced. When the work involves the contribution of multiple project participants, they should all appear as authors.
- Where the contributions of team members to a publication coming out of the research are not sufficient to grant rights of authorship, these contributions should still be acknowledged, along with the grant that made the research possible. Assistance with research design or feedback on draft publications is not in itself sufficient to entitle authorship.
- For members of the research team to publish work on the materials and analyses that emerge from the fieldwork of others, they should consult and work closely in the conceptualisation and writing with the member of the research team whose materials and analysis they are drawing upon.
- No members of the research team (including the PIs) are entitled to control or inappropriately influence the interpretative work of others, or to discourage them from publishing. This is crucial to guarantee the intellectual freedom of all researchers.
- Team members should be supported to publish sole-authored work while part of a research team as this is vital for their career development
- Members of the research team should be able to continue to publish work that draws on the research materials they were involved in co-producing after their formal involvement in a research project ends.
In 2018, EASA published its statement on data governance in ethnographic projects (EASA 2018). Its key principle is that anthropological knowledge is always co-produced, embedded in particular social contexts and, as such, ‘cannot be fully owned or controlled by researchers, research participants or third parties’, and standard IP licences or archiving requirements may not be appropriate (see also Pels et al. 2018 and Koning et al. 2019).
These principles highlight how ethnographic research materials - including fieldnotes - are co-produced through relations of trust - between the researcher and her interlocutors - and through the interpretative work of the researcher (Koning et al. 2019: 2). These relations of trust come with implications for the guardianship of ethnographic materials produced within research teams. This is particularly important when ethnographic research is being conducted in an interdisciplinary team with different understandings of research ‘data’.
- Every researcher in a project has a scientific and ethical responsibility to protect the integrity of the ethnographic materials they help to co-produce. This means establishing clear understandings around: how confidentiality will be assured, how materials will be curated, stored, preserved or disposed of, and how/when they will be shared with third parties. This applies to qualitative, quantitative, experimental and visual ethnographic data, as well as to interviews and fieldnotes.
- All members of a research team – including Principal Investigators (PIs) – should agree on the status of ethnographic fieldnotes and other materials that cannot be easily and meaningfully anonymised. E.g. whether or not they will be shared within the team. Given the guardianship responsibility placed upon the authors of fieldnotes, the sharing of fieldnotes within (or beyond) a project should not be assumed.
- Ethnographers have a special duty to consider requests by research participants to share materials, but they also have the right to insist on the continuing confidentiality of materials that cannot be anonymised.
- After a project ends, researchers seeking to continue to use project materials should consult with the research team members who co-produced them.
- Different projects and different agencies have different understanding of how to handle ethnographic materials: some funders will require curation and deposition of data. Whilst EASA welcomes the broad principles of Open Science, the terms guiding the curation and guardianship of ethnographic materials have to be project-specific. It is not possible to determine general rules applicable to every situation.
- PIs should ensure that all members of the research team are given enough time and resources to pursue their career development. This is particularly crucial to early- career researchers who are typically in precarious employment.
- We recommend that, where possible, PIs and universities consider the guidance offered in the UK Research Concordat, signed by all research funders and most UK universities, recommend that researchers should be allocated at least 10 days a year (pro-rata) for their personal and professional development, e.g. for attending conferences, training and publishing independently of the focus of the project.
- PIs and other senior members of the research team should prioritise giving support to early career researchers in producing publications, attending conferences, and engaging in other career-development activities, such as grant writing, that are appropriate to their career needs (this could mean single- or co-authored publications, depending on the discipline).
The rise of team-based research funding environment presents new oversight responsibilities for research organisations and universities:
- Protocols to ensure equitable research collaborations (e.g. around authorship, use of data, intellectual property, data management etc) should be put in place at the very beginning of any project. Existing template authorship agreements may be useful.
- In situations where large interdisciplinary teams are being assembled, it may be appropriate to consult or involve an external facilitator or research manager. This person should be familiar with and take into account the ethical principles and research protocols of different discipline. The facilitator should ensure that the needs of all participants are taken into account, and be available should the ongoing nature of the project require further advice.
- Projects should be closely embedded in the life of a relevant academic unit (e.g. a department) to ensure researchers benefit from the broader research environment. Host institutions should ensure that all researchers are included in that unit’s activities and offer them opportunities for intellectual exchange and development beyond the specific focus of the project.
- Host institutions should provide PIs with initial and ongoing training on how to manage large projects. This should include training on how to effectively mentor early career researchers and on how to create and maintain a healthy working environment in the face of the challenges of precarity. Host institutions should also facilitate dialogue and networking amongst PIs to ensure that the funding and reporting expectations are understood.
- Host institutions should provide training, as appropriate, to PIs and the of a research team on the technicalities of the grant (e.g. reporting mechanisms) so that everyone is clear about their rights and obligations.
- Co-investigators and collaborators involved in a project should be consulted about the reporting process to project funders (e.g. by signing off interim and final reports) and should have independent channels with funders to raise concerns about the project.
- Although PIs should provide early career researchers with ongoing mentorship, an external source of advice and recourse should also be available to them. Researchers should thus have a designated person/mentor within a relevant academic unit but independent of the project, who will act as an impartial source of career development review and advice.
- Funding agencies should require host institutions to provide appropriate support, training and mentorship. Where appropriate these initiatives should be fully costed within grant applications. They should not become an added burden to either academic units or individual members of staff.
Athena’s Angels: This Netherlands based group of four female academics offer advice and guidance to support women in Science
APA : Offers advice on negotiating authorship from Psychology, including useful template contracts
COPE – Committee on Publication Ethics offers valuable guidance on negotiating authorship, including case-studies, webinars, and flowcharts
RIOs - Many European states have established independent research integrity offices (RIOs). Their guidelines on good practice in research should inform guidelines issued by universities and funders.
Allen, Liz, Alison O’Connell, and Veronique Kiermer. 2019. "How can we ensure visibility and diversity in research contributions? How the Contributor Role Taxonomy (CRediT) is helping the shift from authorship to contributorship." Learned Publishing 32 (1):71-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/leap.1210.
Committee on Publication Ethics (2018) How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers. https://doi.org/10.24318/cope.2018.1.1
EASA (2018) EASA’s Statement on Data Governance in Ethnographic Projects. Available at
de Koning, Martijn, Birgit Meyer, Annelies Moors, and Peter Pels. 2019. "Guidelines for anthropological research: Data management, ethics, and integrity." Ethnography 20 (2):170-4. doi: 10.1177/1466138119843312.
Pels, Peter, Igor Boog, J. Henrike Florusbosch, Zane Kripe, Tessa Minter, Metje Postma, Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, et al. 2018. "Data management in anthropology: the next phase in ethics governance?" Social Anthropology 26 (3):391-413. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12526.
Poirier, Lindsay, Kim Fortun, Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn, and Mike Fortun. 2020. "Metadata, Digital Infrastructure, and the Data Ideologies of Cultural Anthropology." In Anthropological data in the digital age : new possibilities - new challenges, edited by Jerome W. Crowder, Michael Fortun, Rachel Besara and Lindsay Poirier. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Acknowledgements and history
These authorship and data management guidelines have been developed in consultation with EASA members and other interested parties, building on a first draft written by Alice Tilche and Rita Astuti, and with input from a number of workshops. At EASA 2018, Alice Tilche and Giacomo Loperfido organised a panel discussion on the ethics and politics of big projects with the support of the PrecAnthro collective. In May 2019, with the support of the LSE Anthropology Department and its RIIF Fund, Alice Tilche and Rita Astuti organised a follow up workshop at the London School of Economics to inform the first draft of these guidelines.
EASA acknowledges the important work of the PrecAnthro collective which made this discussion possible in the first place, along with the support of the Anthropology Department at the LSE and all those who participated in the workshops for their contributions.
A set of draft guidelines were then published in EASA Newsletter 73, and then discussed further at a members’ webinar in November 2020. This final draft is informed by the discussions that took place at these workshops, and seeks to find a consensus position, based on the different views expressed by participants and commentators
1 https://www.vitae.ac.uk/news/copy_of_concordat-strategy-group-report, accessed 02/07/2019