At NSERC, conflict of interest is a broad term that includes real, potential and perceived conflicts. Some cases of potential and perceived conflict of interest may not always be covered by the Act.
A real conflict of interest would exist if a Committee member were an applicant on a proposal that needed to go before the Committee for a recommendation on funding.
A potential conflict of interest is one that could possibly develop or happen in the future (e.g., a Committee member is considering collaborating with an organization or considering employment with an organization that is seeking significant funding from NSERC, and the Committee is reviewing the proposal).
A perceived conflict of interest exists if there could be a reasonable apprehension that a conflict exists and that the member may not be able to act in an impartial way (e.g., a Committee member is from the same university as an applicant on a proposal that is being considered by the Committee).
NSERC allows for a range of measures (not just recusal) for dealing with different conflict of interest situations (see section below).
The first guardian of ethical behaviour in the event of a conflict of interest is the individual member involved. The onus is on the member to disclose a conflict. The second guardian is the Committee as a whole. Rules of disclosure and procedure can assist members in meeting their obligations, but only if they choose to invoke them and to follow them both to the letter and in the spirit in which they were formulated. Members must openly disclose any real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest and ensure that such conflicts are resolved in the public interest.
Members will be provided with an agenda and/or notified of issues in advance of Committee meetings or activities so as to be able to ascertain whether they are in a real, perceived or potential conflict of interest situation.
When a member is unsure about whether a real, potential or perceived conflict of interest exists, they should consult the Corporate Secretary or President (or delegate) if appropriate.
Where a member ascertains that he or she is in a real, potential or perceived conflict of interest situation, he or she must disclose the conflict in writing to the Corporate Secretary or President (or delegate) who will advise the Committee Chair and the President as required.
Upon receipt of the written disclosure, the President (or delegate) and Chair shall determine whether a real, potential or perceived conflict of interest exists, and determine compliance measures that may be necessary, in agreement with the Committee member. The member will take appropriate action to resolve the conflict in favour of the public interest.
Conflicts of interest that arise unexpectedly during the course of a Committee meeting will be disclosed verbally by the member at the meeting. The President (or delegate) and Chair shall determine whether a real, potential or perceived conflict of interest exists, and determine compliance measures that may be necessary, in agreement with the Committee member.
If an undisclosed real, potential or perceived conflict of interest with respect to a member comes to the attention of the Corporate Secretary, the President or delegate or the Committee Chair, the matter will be addressed as outlined above.
NSERC allows for a range of compliance measures to be taken in cases of conflict of interest. Depending on the nature of the conflict, disclosure may be sufficient. In other cases, members may participate in discussions, but not vote on the decision. If a member is required to withdraw from specific Committee activities or from discussions and/or votes on matters, the official minutes of the meeting shall record the member's absence or abstention from the discussions and/or votes.
The role of the Committee is normally separate from the process of making funding decisions on proposals submitted through NSERC’s established programs. During their Committee term, members may apply as applicants and co-applicants for funding from NSERC’s established programs, but must declare a conflict of interest and recuse themselves from Committee discussions and decisions with respect to their application if the proposal eventually comes before the Committee for a funding recommendation.
Occasionally, the Committee may review and recommend funding for proposals that may have been submitted outside NSERC’s established programs. Members may not apply to NSERC as the principal applicant for such proposals. Members may be co-applicants on such proposals, but must declare a conflict of interest and recuse themselves from the discussion and decision if the proposal comes before the Committee.
Occasionally, members may be asked to participate in a committee that is reviewing an application or nomination (or a set of these).
When a member is acting in such a capacity, the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy of the Federal Research Funding Organizations and the Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Agreement for Review Committee Members, External Reviewers, and Observers will apply.
Members may act as reviewers for proposals within established programs, but do not do so in their capacity as Committee members.
As part of their professional duties outside the Committee, members may be required to sign a grant or award application for another person in support of NSERC funding. If such applications come before the Committee for final recommendation, the member should declare a conflict of interest and recuse himself or herself from discussions or decisions on the matter.
The Corporate Secretary may seek advice from legal counsel and senior management in assessing conflicts and in developing recommendations to the President and Chair on compliance measures for conflict of interest issues.