Some General Principles of Complaint Investigation
The following principles should given how we go about collecting information under our policy:
- Organize the Investigation to Obtain Credible Information
- Begin as soon as possible and finish as soon as possible.
- Identify the information needed from interviews and records or documents.
- Maintain a businesslike manner and treat persons considerately and respectfully.
- Take complete notes. Explain the need for copious notes. [Most people have a tendency to be ill-at-ease and circumspect when copious notes are being made. However, try to ease their mind.]
- Seek first hand information rather than accepting hearsay or partial information.
- Reconstruct events mentally, probe any inconsistencies and clarify seemingly implausible events.
- Take care to avoid showing emotions or betraying an attitude about the person or what he or she is saying. Do not try to discourage any person from providing information.
- Avoid commenting on whether the person's account is plausible, unbelievable, etc.
- Stimulate memory, when possible.
- Interview each person in an environment in which the person is comfortable.
- Encourage persons to talk about specifics in order to get the facts and find out exactly what happened.
- Avoid leading questions such as, "You would want the person disciplined wouldn't you?"
- Avoid making assumptions about what a person means by a particular statement. ASK!!!
- Don't make judgements as to the credibility or lack thereof based on clothing, personal hygiene, race, gender, position, etc.
- Don't offer advice or an opinion to the complainant, respondent or any witness regarding any person or matter under investigation.
- Don't try to influence the result of an investigation for personal reasons.
- Avoid debating or arguing with the person being interviewed.
- Assess the credibility of all involved. Assessing credibility requires a careful evaluation of information. During interviews, ask questions that require the person to explain their motivation for the information the person provides. Look for consistency or inconsistencies in a person's statements. Corroborate information from others of certain facts which would give credence to one person over another. Review consistency between the person's statements and another person's statement and seek additional details which support or refute an allegation or a denial.
- Analyze the Information and Reach a Conclusion
Analysis actually begins early in the investigation and continues as information is obtained during the investigation. Versions of what happened are often different, so the reviewer must decide which have more credence. Objective proof of charges, such as the testimony of reliable witnesses, is most persuasive. Unfortunately, in some cases, objective proof of a violation is not obtained. In such cases, the reviewers must determine to what extent the alleged behavior is likely to have occurred and whether it fits the definition of a violation of the policy. It is also necessary to evaluate whether any of the statements obtained could be false and whether any of those making statements have any motivation to be untruthful.
- Write a Clear, Concise and Objective Report of Findings
A report should organize and present the information in a tone that does not unnecessarily generate defensiveness and opposition. All factual data and findings in reports must be supported by enough objective evidence in the file to persuade the readers of the importance of the findings, the reasonableness of the conclusions and the desirability of the readers accepting any recommendations. Each report should be organized so that the all the investigators have to say on an issue is covered in one place. Reports must be no longer than necessary to communicate the information the investigators seek to convey. Conclusions should be stated rather than left for the readers to infer.
Sources: Adapted from, "How to Investigate Complaints, AMACOM, 1992 and GAO Report Writing Manual