What is an Investigation?

The hunt for a ‘head on a stick’ or an impartial search for verifiable detail?

We asked our CEO, Ian Hynes what Investigation means to him, from the perspective of Intersol Global who focus on training, qualifying, advising on, and conducting investigations across 8 sectors.

Media sensationalism and stereotyping would have you believe the former, qualified, and skilled investigators the latter. Damage caused by the former mindset can potentially be irreparable, life, and career-altering, yet the investigation profession in the UK remains totally unregulated and anybody can set themselves up as an investigator with no qualification or experience.

The word ‘investigation’ has its origins in the Latin ‘investigare’, derived from an old French word of the same name, and ‘investigation’ is closely associated with the Latin ‘vestigium’, meaning trace, footstep, footprint, or track. ‘Vestige’ can refer to a perceptible sign made by something that has now passed (OED).

The journey of a professional investigation demands commitment and energy to enquire in detail, observe carefully, and examine systematically; to examine objectively every trace, footprint, or track. It is a cognitively demanding role.

As our former Chairman, Professor Eric Shepherd advises, “Common to every context of investigation is the commitment of human resource and, increasingly, the application of technology, in the acquisition, management, and use of information to protect the well-being of individuals, groups, institutions, the community and society as a whole by solving or resolving a problematic occurrence or set of circumstances”.

That set of circumstances is the investigation ‘case’, a systematic process from issue to outcome, travelling the investigation journey from information (or intelligence) to evidence and searching diligently for checkable detail on the way. That detail should then be subjected to a scientific test of validity (internal or external, hard facts and soft facts) to establish reliability and truth.

‘Hard facts might be scientific records of the weather at the time of a health and safety incident, verifiable computer records in an audit, concurrent visual and audio evidence in a misconduct case. ‘Soft facts’ might include corroboration or consistency, though such evidence can be precarious and should attract closer scrutiny of origin.

Civil cases that rely on one word against another, serious sexual misconduct, bullying, harassment in the workplace, for example, are particularly challenging and this is what drives our passion at Intersol, putting the investigative meeting (interview) back at the heart of the investigation. In such cases, it is critical that those conducting the meeting are qualified and skilled to do so. So much can be corrupted at this stage by poor questioning, biases, and memory contamination.

Investigations can be reactive, a response to an incident or issue, or proactive, seeking to prevent an incident or issue.

Neither is about seeking to apportion blame from the outset at all costs, notwithstanding detail obtained during the process might identify institutional wrongdoing, shortcomings, or culpability by an individual or individuals.

That ‘investigation journey’ can be unacceptably below standard, fulfil an acceptable professional standard, or be exceptional and outstanding as illustrated. Remembering the potentially damaging impact of poor investigation, what is crucial in all is that the output of the process must be as detailed, accurate, and reliable as possible to best inform decision-making.

In the criminal world investigations are conducted to a very high standard of proof known as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. In the world of civil law and investigation that standard of proof is lowered to what is called ‘balance of probabilities, a concept worthy of a separate article but acknowledged in all our operations so that investigation withstands audit and scrutiny.

In conclusion, the investigation is ultimately the search for the truth of the matter being reviewed. It is a process designed to gather and examine all of the relevant evidence to help reconstruct a past event. For example, when an aircraft crashes, an investigation is undertaken to identify the cause of the accident, what occurred, and any other issues or problems. The results of the investigation are used to help prevent other crashes through policy changes, increased training, inspections, or general information/awareness.

Using a defined investigative process or methodology is critical.

Otherwise, the attempt to track or trace what occurred, when, how, and why, it occurred, could turn into a wild goose chase. Resources are wasted, unreliable decisions made, and lives, careers, and reputations endangered.

Professional investigation walks the critical tightrope of nonjudge-mentality, controlling the investigator’s nemesis, confirmation bias, with empathy and emotional intelligence, assuming nothing, believing nobody, checking everything, and documenting decision-making and rationale.

A senior advisor to the internal audit profession recently said that “an audit was rarely an investigation”. This author is of the view that this couldn’t be further from the truth, reinforces stereotypes, and that “audits are always an investigative process”.

The only vocational qualification in the world

Intersol Global train and qualify you with meaningful level 3 awards to conduct investigation meetings better and can help with advice and conduct of investigations for and with you. They are a Skillsfirst regulated centre delivering the only vocational qualification in the world in investigative interviewing.

Found out how Intersol Global how we can work with you to improve the investigation processes in your workplace www.intersolglobal.com.