Strategies to improve eyewitness evidence accuracy

The Problem

Workplace investigators strive to gather accurate information from eyewitnesses, but often ineffective policies, inadequate procedures and politics inhibit this process. Investigators are interested in eyewitness evidence accuracy as it is critical to the outcome of the investigation.

In the workplace, employees who believe they have been mistreated and wish to report it typically are asked to provide a written complaint to substantiate their concern. This information is collected to understand the incident and to connect it to existing organizational policies and procedures. This need is true for not only complainants but witnesses as well.  It also assists investigators in conducting an investigation.

The form of the written submission most often is captured in a custom-built internal organization form or offered unguided with suggestions such as “Write it all down.”

This method creates problems as the letter or submission can contain issues such as opinions and libellous statements and lack substantive detail that would support an initial review of the concern. These problems fly in the face of the need to gather timely, accurate, and unbiased evidence. Factors such as bias, expectations, the passage of time, and post-event information can compromise the quality of witness evidence. This speaks to the need for improvements in witness data acquisition in the workplace.

Mary felt that she had been harassed in the workplace a year ago but did not want to raise a concern as she feared for her job. As such, she said nothing. A year later, another person raised a similar complaint, and Mary decided to bring forth her own claim. Over the past year, Mary had spoken to several of her friends about her experience and they were very supportive of her, telling her about their experiences, and demonstrating their anger over how she had been treated. When Mary wrote her letter, it was a recollection of her experience as she had not taken any notes during the experience itself.

Can you see where problems might occur in the evidence Mary provides?

A Solution

Recent research, based on the evidence-based cognitive interview, has developed new methods to engage eyewitnesses. The Self- Administered Interview (SAI) is an evidence-based investigation tool commonly used in policing (Gabbert et al. (2009). It is a standardized protocol of instructions that enables witnesses to provide their statements. It was originally developed to gather information when there were numerous eyewitnesses, and police resources couldn’t meet the demand required to interview multiple witnesses. Research demonstrated that the SAI resulted in witnesses producing more details and increased accuracy information than witnesses using the standard “tell me everything” protocol. Moreover, it helped witnesses be better observers and reporters in subsequent incidents.

More recently, MacLean et al. (2018) created the Self-Administered Interview Tool (SAW-IT) which retained the same features of the SAI but involved an adaptation to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) context. Dr. MacLean’s research demonstrated that the productive qualities of the SAI could be extended into the OHS context using psychological science to support its validity in the workplace.

If the SAI can be used efficiently to gather accurate evidence in criminal activities and the SAI-IT be used in the OHS context, cannot the SAI methodology be used in the workplace for harassment and sexual misconduct allegations? Using bespoke workplace methods to gather information from complainants and witnesses is not optimum. Using evidence-based tools, like the SAW-IT, to gather accurate information from complainants and witnesses. very early in the context of workplace harassment, misconduct, and crime, can create accurate information in the context of investigations.

Falcongate is currently engaged in research to create a tool that could be used in the workplace for misconduct concerns to enhance eyewitness evidence accuracy.

References:

Gabbert, F., Hope, L., & Fisher, R.P. (2009). Protecting eyewitness evidence: Examining the efficacy of a self-administered interview tool. Law and Human Behavior, 334(4), 298-307.

MacLean, C. L., Gabbert, F., & Hope, L. (2019). The Self-Administered Witness Interview Tool (SAW-IT): Enhancing witness recall of workplace incidents. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(6), 1-12 Link

Dr. Bob Acton is a Consulting Psychologist, Licensed Investigator, and Executive Coach. He has considerable experience with workplace investigations and HR advisor consulting about psychologically healthy workplaces, mental health in the workplace, and workplace misconduct. He has a wealth of experience with both coaching leaders and consulting on behavioural problems surrounding mental health particularly within the workplace. He integrates that knowledge and experience into investigations and human resource consultations.  He's worked within many industries including oil and gas, education, legal, government, health, transportation, administration, entertainment and travel.