We are often asked what is meant by “quality culture”. As one of our colleagues put it, “quality culture is the part of the iceberg that is under the water, while the top of the iceberg is the data you see”. For many colleagues, “quality culture” is mainly associated with certain high-level statements declaring an organization’s adherence to the best practices, boring training sessions and paperwork to document “compliance”, etc. As these efforts are not visible from outside, an important test for the quality culture is the transparency of the key processes and decision-making.
One example, frequently discussed in the context of biomedical research, is the pre-specification of how the study results will be interpreted dependent on different patterns of results and what decisions can be made.
Another example, illustrating aspects of quality culture that are more remote from the scientists’ usual areas of focus, was provided in a recent publication that revealed a contract mechanism that could allow Coca-Cola to “quash” findings from some of the health research it funds at public universities in the US and Canada. The study identified several clauses in legal documents that give the company early sight of any findings, combined with the right to “terminate without reason” and walk away with the data and intellectual property.
Most modern research is of collaborative nature and any contractual or other agreement requires at least two parties. We may be disappointed or lacking knowledge about our collaborators’ quality culture but it is in our hands to make the hidden part of the iceberg visible.