Conflicts of the interested: understanding and engaging 'non-financial' interests in systematic reviews

Background: non-financial interests range from personal, political and religious beliefs to expertise, theoretical commitments, and the desire for an enhanced reputation and career advancement. A current debate in health research is whether the focus on financial conflicts of interest overlooks 'non-financial' interests that could put scientific judgment at equal or greater risk of bias. Many biomedical organizations, including Cochrane, are considering broadening the definition of interests to include non-financial interests. The difficulty lies in the fact that these are vaguely and variably defined, and their association with risk of bias is unclear. Also, some experts are concerned that the focus on non-financial interests may distract from the management of financial interests and open the door to industry interference. This workshop aims to provide editors, review authors and consumers with empirically and theoretically grounded tools to identify and address non-financial interests in ways that are practical, transparent and equitable, promoting transparency and accountability. 

Objectives: in the course of the workshop, participants will: 1) identify the range and possible impact of non-financial interests relevant to the systematic review process; 2) evaluate when a non-financial relationship creates a conflict of interest; and 3) identify approaches to addressing non-financial interests in ways that promote transparency, equity and accountability. 

Description: we will present case studies drawn from our empirical qualitative research to illustrate the nature and influence of non-financial interests that commonly arise within the systematic review process. We will invite participants to share and reflect on related experiences from their work. Facilitated by two experts in conflicts of interest, we will stimulate debate and discussion about the associated practical and ethical concerns. When does an interest create a conflict of interest? How do these interests impact the integrity of systematic reviews? What are the privacy and equity considerations related to disclosure and management? We will draw on novel conceptual tools from the social sciences to suggest additional methods for managing non-financial interests that go beyond disclosure and promote inclusion rather than recusal. Participants will apply these tools to the case studies presented. We will conclude with discussion about facilitators and barriers to the practical application of these tools in the systematic review and editorial processes.


Grundy Q1, Akl E2, Foxlee R3, Bero L4
1 University of Toronto, Canada
2 American University of Beirut, Lebanon
3 Cochrane Editorial and Methods Department, UK
4 The University of Sydney, Australia

Target audience: 

Editors, review authors, researchers in the area of conflicts of interest and bias


Tuesday 22 October 2019 - 14:00 to 15:30