Research Consultancy (collaborative proposal)

Dear IGDORE researchers and trainees,

I open this thread to start interacting and discussing altogether on a topic that is becoming prominent in our institution: Research Consultancy services provided by IGDORE affiliates.

Within IGDORE Global Board, we have been discussing this project extensively during the last months. This thread conveys our general proposal and aims at involving affiliated researchers and trainees in the shaping of this ambitious project. We believe that only a bottom-up process can ensure that we get on the good track with our consultancy services.

This is a work in progress! We encourage everybody to give their contribution on any aspect of the project. For this purpose, I have structured the thread into sections, highlighting the issues that would mostly benefit from a collective discussion (we may create separate threads for some topics, if required).

Here a short summary of the different topics:

  1. Project aims and scope
  2. Legal and economic structure
  3. List of provided services
  4. Services costs
  5. Ethics and mission

Feel free to contribute by commenting here or by contacting me personally (enrico.fucci@igdore.org).

IGDORE Consultancy

1. Project aims and scope

Our aim is to create a network of highly trained freelance research consultants. Independent scientists and research trainees affiliated with IGDORE will have the opportunity to make themselves available to work in short, medium, and long-term projects that require the collaboration of an expert in a specific field or the support from specialists in different tasks.

Different types of private and public entities will have the opportunity to hire IGDORE consultants from any part of the world and at fares that will be negotiated based on their economic status, mission, and ethical values.

The project objectives are:

  1. Provide independent scientists with a source of income in the absence of or in parallel to ongoing research projects.
  2. Provide independent scientists with the possibility of engaging in different forms of research, not tailored around a personal project, without committing to an office job.
  3. Finance IGDORE management and initiatives in education.
  4. Bring the ethics of scientific openness outside traditional research environments (e.g. public agencies, private companies, NGOs)

2. General legal and economic structure of IGDORE consultancy

Consultancy services will be provided through a direct relation between the consultant and the client. IGDORE will serve as:

  • portal for clients to navigate available services and get in contact with suitable consultants or teams
  • promoter for consultants to find projects
  • negotiator of fees, work standards, and ethics with a client
  • institution which certifies the competence and credibility of consultants

When a project becomes available, IGDORE contacts a consultant, reviews the project together with them, and proposes a project cost based on previously established models (including a fee towards IGDORE). The consultant and the client are then put in contact and work independently from IGDORE supervision.

This model (freelance consultants with IGDORE acting as an agency/network) requires affiliated researchers and trainees to set themselves up as freelance consultants in their own country of residence and manage their own accounting and taxes.

We know that some of you are already providing similar services and/or are already structured as independent workers in your countries. If possible, we would like you to get in touch with us and provide details on how you structured yourself as independent worker in your country. Together we could create guides for other researchers to easily set themselves up as freelancers in different countries. Thus, your contribution on this topic is essential!

We also know that in some countries it might be especially difficult to work as freelance consultant or to open a small business to legally justify such activity. We would like to help researchers who may encounter this problem by providing advice and guides. We are currently evaluating different options, such as the possibility for a researcher to be hired by IGDORE on a short-term contract (the hiring company is based in Sweden), but we are eager to receive contributions, ideas, and insight on this issue.

About the fee to IGDORE

For all external projects*, a consultant will pay a fee to IGDORE (which will be already integrated in the project cost proposed to the client). These fees will cover the services provided by IGDORE, contribute to its general management and to its investments in other projects. From a more ethical and humanistic perspective, these fees represent one of possible contributions from affiliated researchers to IGDORE existence. IGDORE is a non-profit organisation, but has several costs associated to its functioning (not to talk about possible investments in projects that are in line with IGDORE mission and vision!). Right now, the mere existence of IGDORE is not economically sustainable. We therefore encourage researchers and trainees to see consultancy fees as a way to sustain IGODRE mission and development.

The proposed fee is 20% of the project cost (hence, the final cost = actual project cost + 20% IGDORE fee).

Affiliated researchers who make use of consultancy services (such as research assistance) will not pay any fee to IGDORE, but just the direct cost of the service.

3. Structuring and listing of available services

IGDORE counts several highly skilled affiliated researchers and trainees who belong to disparate scientific fields, and aims to target different types of organisations (public, private, NGOs, associations, etc.). In this landscape, the range of services that we can provide is very wide. However, we need to find ways to structure our knowledge and skills so that it is clear for clients what we do and how. A proposal is to identify few macro-areas and sub-services. Different areas and services might share specific skills and activities. Here a possible categorization:

SCIENTIFIC OPENNESS SUPPORT

This area of services is very much in line with IGDORE’s mission. Types of services are:

  • Training in open and replicable science practices
  • Theoretical and technical support on one or more practices (e.g. pre-registering a study, make data publicly available, publishing in open access journals and preprints)
  • Support for the publication of data articles
  • Review of existing work to certify the absence of questionable research practices

PROJECT DESIGN AND EVALUATION

A high level of expertise in empirical science is a very desirable and often needed element in the conception and evaluation of different projects. IGDORE consultants can be involved in the design, development, and evaluation of research and applicative programs in various fields and types of organisations. Here are some examples:

  • Help with the design and evaluation of applicative (or research) programs in the social domain by collaborating with NGOs, associations, and governmental agencies. Such programs often lack empirical and rigorous procedures. Approaching such programs as experimental paradigms (or clinical trials) could dramatically increase their efficacy and feasibility. Researchers can help establish alternative hypotheses, outcome variables, and evaluative strategies by implementing both quantitative and qualitative research methods.To my knowledge, research skills are more and more requested in this field. In my opinion, it would represent a good market for IGDORE with respect to the number of clients as well as to promote and being in line with IGDORE vision and ethics.

  • Support research programs aimed at implementing governmental or supranational policies (this is a very wide field and consultancy services are very much required; however, there are many dedicated agencies for that).

  • Help in marketing studies, products evaluation, etc. Mostly private companies’ contracts (not my favourite, but some can be very interesting and working for the private sector can have its advantages).

These are just a few examples. Feel free to contribute with any ideas. Overall, we should just convey the message that we are a very large pool of highly trained researchers who can contribute in various programs with their knowledge of scientific methods and research skills.

DATA ANALYSIS

This is a service that is also included in the previous section, but data analysis can also be standalone when data are already acquired. Different fields require different types of data analysis, and within a field analyses are performed at various levels of complexity. Again, a good solution could be to just think of possible scenarios rather than specific activities. For instance:

  • Analyse datasets for research groups in traditional academic settings. As you may know, many research projects end up with big amounts of data that sit in drawers of PIs for years (if not decades…). This is because a research group cannot hire enough researchers to work on all possible projects. Often, interns are encouraged to do this job, but the time of an internship is not always enough, and the result is half-analysed data. Therefore, an external consultant who can take care of data analysis and eventually leading a publication process could be a very interesting service.

Again, this is an example; feel free to add your contribution on this topic. Especially, we would like to know what types and levels of expertise in statistics and programming languages are shared by IGDORE affiliates. It would be very useful if each of us could provide a list for their skills in these two subjects (you will probably be prompted to do so via email soon).

OTHER SERVICES

IGDORE can offer other specific and/or smaller services that can be performed by research assistants or researchers that are available for these contracts. Available services would include:

  • Transcriptions
  • Translations of scientific/technical texts
  • Data management
  • Data collection
  • Simple analyses (e.g. questionnaires scoring)

All IGDORE services can be provided by single researchers. However, for contracts and/or projects that require multiple skills and a bigger workforce, IGDORE can facilitate the creation of a team of consultants (e.g., a couple of researchers and research assistants).

Your contribution on this section 3 is much appreciated. Please let us know if you already provide consultancy services, what kind, and the way they are structured. Any contribution on the proposed services and their structuring is also welcome.

4. Services cost

How much should an IGDORE researcher get paid for a consultancy contract? This is a question that, right now, has no easy answer. IGDORE aims at providing contract to researchers for many different services. For some of them the general market value is missing. Moreover, IGDORE affiliates reside in several different countries with different fiscal laws.

The aim is to propose costs that are competitive, but that can also satisfy IGDORE affiliates, no matter their country of residence. For this purpose, we are scouting the market to identify average costs of some services. Meanwhile, we would like you to contribute to this process by letting us know how much you charge in your existing services or how much you would like to charge for a specific service through IGDORE (it can be an hourly rate or a project-based cost). This could give rise to an open discussion here on the forum. However, feel free to communicate with us privately about this matter.

Finally, the cost of IGDORE services will be negotiated with the client depending on the nature of their organisation (private, public, NGOs), their economic status and country of residency, as well as their ethics and scopes. IGDORE wants to favour entities that follow the principles of open and reproducible science and allow those organisations that have little funding to access high quality consultancy if the outcomes can have a positive social impact.

5. Scientific Openness and Ethics

How do we make sure to provide consultancy services to a broad audience while sticking to IGDORE mission and values? IGDORE requires its researchers to follow a code of conduct and this should be implemented also when working as a consultant. As you may have noticed, most of the proposed services leave space for the implementation of open, reproducible, and ethical research as a consultant. This should be a strength of IGDORE consultancy services: by collaborating in different projects, we can help the establishment of the values on which IGDORE is based in different fields and social domains.

Not all projects will give the possibility to implement the whole range of values and practices promoted by IGDORE. For instance, working for a private company might not allow for a completely open distribution of research results. However, this company might be doing highly ethical work. Some degree of flexibility will be required to handle different projects and allow IGDORE consultants to actually get contracts. However, we should be able to refuse contracts that do not adhere to IGDORE values.

Which type of contracts should IGDORE accept or refuse? What are our degrees of flexibility and on which specific issues? Your contribution on this topic is very appreciated.

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This project is very interesting and I’m happy to see more organisations forming around research consultancy.

I am currently doing independent consulting from Brazil through a limited sole-tradership (EIRELI) I incorporated here (I’m also hoping to start some independent research projects, but that’s another story).

Incorporating a company and international business banking in Brazil is pain and while I looked for ways to avoid it, it’s pretty much the only way to export services and reliably avoid double taxation (and total tax is only 11% which kind of makes up for difficulties).

Fees: 20% seems a little steep, but using the consulting model it may make it more reasonable to add the cost onto what the client pays, rather than taking it out of what the consultant receives. It looks like the services IDGORE will provide is better than other platforms though (finding and vetting clients and promoting consultants is valuable), so the fee may be justified.

For reference, Kolabtree also charges 20%, but in the marketplace model I feel that I need to bid what I think my service is worth, and then expect Kolabtree to take 20% from that. Having used Kolabtree to bid on several projects, do one project, and crash another project (which they didn’t help with much), I also think their 20% fee is too much for what their matching/platform provides. The main problem I have is that clients there don’t usually have a research background and aren’t very ‘serious’, and also don’t like to pay much.

Services: The services I’ve been providing have mostly been data-analysis for 3D images and physiology recordings, but I’ve also done some preliminary literature reviews and simulation/modelling.

Sometimes I just provide a summary report with figures/description, other clients want me to provide code they can use later on, and most academic clients want me to contribute to the publication of the work as an author.

Cost: I currently bill about 200 Euro a day to academic institutions in Sweden and Germany that I am working with. I’ve been told this is too low by industry consultants, but if I work it out to a monthly equivalent then it is higher than stipended and salaried (after-tax) postdocs would receive at the institutions I’m working with, and in one case I know it is a lot less than the PI would have to pay to employ a postdoc with overheads. In conversation with PIs, I’ve usually heard that they would expect to pay a research consultant as much as postdoc at their institution receives - I think this would almost always be too low, particularly for short jobs. A useful service IGDORE could provide would be to establish a recommended rate range for specific jobs.

I’ve generally had/am doing quite long-term projects with academic clients (say one to six months full-time equivalent, but max 10 days/month on a project) and am usually acting as a part-time remote postdoc.

I’ve also done a bit of work with two start-up companies, and with these, I billed hourly at a similar rate for one (in retrospect that was way too low, but the guy was pre-investment and it was my first consulting job) and charged a fixed fee to the other that worked out to about 300 Euro a day (this was a bit of risk, my best case estimate looked like it would put my rate around 450/day, but it could easily have taken me longer and dropped below 200).

Happy to talk more about this, and I linked this to a few other people I know doing scientific consulting.

P.S. I just joined this forum and haven’t joined IGDORE yet - I probably should.

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Sounds all like a good concept, thanks for putting this together andopening the discussion among us IGDORE affiliates. Would it make sense to have a concept document that we can collaboratively work on in Google Docs as we outline each our experiences and suggestions in this forum thread?

I work as a freelance consultant in [open] science communication and [open] science management… What we can add to the list of services could be:

  • editorial work & proof-reading of theses and research article manuscripts
  • slide show design for research results presentations
  • open science practices by discipline and project specificity
  • F.A.I.R. data management
  • Public Relations in Science

IGDORE is also perfectly suited to give Early Career Researchers in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia the opportunity to gain an income as consultants and service providers in any of the mentioned areas, so that they can gain working experience in fields of work relevant to their research interests and sustain their continued studies (e.g. Masters and Doctoral degree).

IGDORE could also establish engagement in policy making.

As for the degree of openness: Open Science does not imply that the whole research process must be made available for free at any stage of the project - but managed and archived as freely and accessible as feasible and in line with any data privacy and data security as determined by the specific project in question. For this we need to have a detailed guideline along which we design and postulate the IGDORE requirements in line with our vision and mission and corresponding to the wider Open Science community values. So yes - every client and every client’s project will

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Yes, please join us :slight_smile: You sound like a great asset to the IGDORE community

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Thank you for inviting me in this discussion.

As a trainee, it would be a great opportunity to join in a research consultancy, data collection or research project assistance. Then, as a young researcher to gain a career to be independent scientist, this is so important yet hard chance in the same time to start this career in Indonesia. IGDORE affiliation is a breakthrough for myself as personal to explore the opportunity in open science and research. Personally, I was in charged in collaboration project related ecological research and urban landscape management with stakeholders (local and provincial government in Indonesia). Hopefully, there will be a standard of particular skills that should be got for a trainee through online workshop or any platform by checked online worksheet (or with any way) so that we are ready to get a project (short/long term project).

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Thank you all for your valuable contributions. I keep this post UP to see if we can get more contributions from reseachers/trainees and I will come back with a more detailed proposal.

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Another thing that I think could be a useful part of this is providing some kind of professional liability/indemnity/errors and omissions insurance, and also doing contract review.

I don’t have business insurance currently and while I don’t think the university groups I work with expect it, I have wondered if I should have this when doing data analysis for companies. But another group of freelancers I’ve engaged with indicate liability insurance is a must have: https://www.homeworkingclub.com/freelance-insurance/

So far I haven’t worked on anything where I think my mistakes would cause big problems, but I’ve tried to include some protection by asking to include a clause in my contracts similar: ‘Contractor will do the work to a high standard, but as this is research he can’t guarantee his work/interpretation will be error-free and will not be liable for any damages such errors may cause’ This clause could probably be worded better…

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Dear Enrico I’m a little late to this discussion – it’s my first time on this forum, so I’m looking around.

In response to your questions:

  1. I work as an independent consultant in Australia. Currently I am registered as a sole trader, and sometimes I subcontract to other sole traders, with a tailored agreement for each project. I had previously worked in my registered company structure but over time I found that an unnecessary burden.
  2. I provide (a) research-related services in health services and related contexts (qualitative fieldwork and analysis; training in basic research methods; facilitation of research culture in small hospitals/health services; strategic planning for research and research teams) and (b) publishing-related services in public health, academic and publishing settings (including editing and coaching for writers and professional editors). The vast majority of this work is via referral from longstanding clients, my own website (reneeotmar.com.au) and professional lists.
  3. I can see a need and use for a fee for external projects, but a flat 20% fee seems high – as former executive officer for a research centre I can say that administrative fees is a bug-bear for many researchers. I would suggest a sliding scale of 10–15%, tailored according to the size of the project, the size of the project fee and the costs as determined by a detailed budget that includes the consultant researcher’s salary + salary oncosts, which are often ignored. Another suggestion I have is that the benefits of consulting via the IGDORE model should be clearly articulated so that the consultant researcher/s understand what they will be getting from the relationship and where and how the fee will be spent. I think it would be tricky to work out recommended rates for an international cohort of consultants; rates should be determined according to context: location of the consultant, location of the work, type of work, expertise and experience of the consultant. (For example, looking at the rates discussed above by Gavin Taylor, as an Australia-based researcher and in a completely different discipline, I have no idea whether those rates are good, fair or bad.)
  4. At face value I would have no problem being hired on a short-term contract by a Swedish hiring company, but I would need to see the base contract and how it deals with taxation, taxation reporting, insurance, liability, administration/red tape, payment and currency, and related matters.
  5. My research expertise is in qualitative research and also in research ethics (I am a researcher member and deputy chair of a large hospital HREC and also researcher member on a combined HREC for two federal government departments). I have established and managed research funding schemes and have strong expertise and experience in research administration, including gnarly budgets! I also have nearly 30 years experience in working with preparation of academic texts for publication (journals and books) in the academic space as well as in bringing academic texts to more general audiences (referred to as ‘crossover’ works).
  6. Without a doubt, IGDORE should ensure that it only supports projects that fit within its purvue, values and principles. Determining this will require the flexibility you describe, on a case-by-case basis. It could be impossible to make rules about the extent of that flexibility in advance, and at such an early stage of this project. However, it needs to be clear who will be the final arbiter/s until the direction of the project is well established – e.g. that the Global Board of IGDORE makes the final decision, by consensus. The main thing is that IGDORE’s values, principles, vision and mission are clearly articulated and communicated. This response has turned out to be a lot longer than I had intended, but I hope it contributes in a constructive way.
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Welcome to the forum, @reneeotmar! Although I’m not personally involved in this particular project, as a Global Board member do I want to thank you warmly for your input - it is so very appreciated!

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rates should be determined according to context: location of the consultant, location of the work, type of work, expertise and experience of the consultant.

Agreed that the later points are important for setting rates and meeting a given standard of work, but my (somewhat idealistic) hope is that work organised through an international consultancy could set rates independently of the consultant and consultee’s location. At the moment I work from Brazil, but my research training was in Australia and Sweden, and so I feel justified in setting a ‘Northern European’ postdoc rate, particularly while working for clients in that region. Obviously this means that my income is quite high relative to my cost of living at the moment, but if I was living in a Europe I doubt my clients (university research groups) would consider paying me more despite an increased cost of living.

Of course, this also means that I don’t try to try to find clients local Brazilian universities as I know they would couldn’t the rate I get from overseas client (funnily enough Brazil also taxes exported services at half the rate applied to work for national clients). I guess this is how most service exporters prefer to work, but I worry that this also creates another barrier for researchers in low/middle income countries. One option to reduce the inequality be to offer a reduced consulting rate to reserchers from low income countries (like many journals do), although this would have to be subsidized by the revenue from full-free paying clients.

When I was first thinking about rates to charge for scientific consulting I found Helen Kara’s blog useful. She has several posts discussing how and why she sets her rates. Essentially, her rates vary a lot:

In terms of what my day rate actually is: for UK work, it currently varies between £120 (small local charity, work funded from public donations) and £1,000 (rate set by a client for training when the course is full). I charge £800 for a day’s teaching in UK universities, which seems to be pretty much the going rate; £500-£600 to central government or for work funded by central government; £350-£450 to larger charities and funders; and £200-£250 to smaller charities and funders.

And although those rates seem fairly high, total earnings end up being a lot less when taking into account down-time and expenses_

At £400/day on average, in theory I could make £52,800 per year – though that would be pre-tax turnover, not profit. But it is very rarely possible to secure paid work, at my median rate, for every available working day. In reality, last year, my turnover was just over £25,000. … For the last year I’ve been able to afford to pay myself £1,000 per month.

For more information, see:

Another useful piece of advice I found was that work-to-down time ratio for consultants in an agency was usually 50%, and so their rates must be twice as high as a full-time employee in the same field to earn the same amount.

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