Funding research is an element of nearly all our grant making programs and strategies—running a wide gamut that encompasses everything from ascertaining who takes advantage of the Bay Area’s diverse performing arts to quantifying women’s contributions to the economies of sub-Saharan Africa.
Research matters because knowledge is a powerful force for change, and high-quality evidence and analyses are indispensable to sound decision-making. The Hewlett Foundation thus has a vital interest in ensuring that the research we fund is both rigorously done and widely shared—which is why, for example, we decided last year to openly license our own work and to require grantees who receive project-based funding to openly license the work so produced.
We are equally concerned that any research we generate or support be done according to the highest ethical standards, especially when it involves living subjects. And while one might assume that this could or should take for granted, we think it important to say so clearly and unequivocally. Beginning this month, then, we will be adding language to our grant agreements stating that grantees doing research with human subjects “must have appropriate standards to ensure compliance with generally accepted research ethics,” through the use of institutional review boards, informed consent policies, and the like. We are, in addition, asking grantees to warrant that such rules and processes will be followed and will require that grant dollars be returned if either of these conditions is not met.
These changes are not meant to impose needless burdens on our grantees. To the contrary, the new language states expressly that we do not wish to “micromanage or seek to interfere in the implementation of grants”—which is why we have not specified a particular review process beyond requiring that the one in place meet generally accepted ethical norms. Each grantee organization should be free, within that constraint, to develop the rules and processes that best suit its culture and capacity. By affirmatively stating our expectation that appropriate rules and review processes are in place and be followed, however, we hope to signal the importance of research ethics.