Whistling while you work review | WISE Workplace

A summary of the draft report “Whistling while they work: Towards best practice whistleblowing programs in public sector organisations”, presented at the Australian Public Sector Anti-Corruption Conference in Brisbane July 2009 by Peter Roberts, Jane Olsen and A.J.Brown.

This, the second and final report of the Australian Research Council funded Linkage Project, Whistling While they Work: Enhancing the Theory and Practice of Internal Witness Management in Public Sector Organisation (2005-2009) provides a new framework of elements for establishing a successful whistleblower program.

The research was based on the experience of 16 case study agencies.

The report considers Whistleblowing to be:

“the disclosure by organisation members (former and current) of illegal, immoral or illegitimate practices under the control of their employers, to persons or organisations that may be able to effect action and disclosures by organisation members about matters of “public interest” – that is, practices where the suspected or alleged wrongdoing affects more than the personal or private interests of the person making the disclosure”.

There were two key messages to come out of the research:

  1. Organisations should adopt a policy of ‘when in doubt report’ it is acknowledged that this would lead to large volumes of reports that would then need to be handled appropriately and with seriousness however, without the ‘report all’ message, any whistleblowing strategy would fail.
  2. Organisations need to improve on the protection and support for people who make reports. The report outlines five components of an affective whistleblower program developed in conjunction with Standards Australia .

The five key components are:

1. Organisational commitment
Full organisational commitment is needed to encourage reporting , act on reports and protect reporters from adverse consequences. The research showed that the essential ingredients to this organisational commitment were:

  1. A clear statement by senior management and ‘walking the talk’
  2. A credible investigation process
  3. Taking action when wrongdoing is verified
  4. Adequate funding for function.

2. Encouragement of reporting
The report identifies that the major obstacle in reporting is the culture of an organisation coupled with the natural disincentive to make reports.

It recommends that:

  1. Multiple pathways be developed to assist reporting, and the
  2. Development of credible mechanism for assuring anonymity.

3. Assessment and Investigation reports
The report identifies that 97% of all whistleblowing is done internally and most often to managers.

It recommends two key components to effective investigation of reports:

  1. Clear policies that direct managers as to what matters they should handle and when it is appropriate to hand an issue to an internal or external agency for investigation.
  2. That support mechanisms need to be put in place at the time of reporting not later when issues arise. Risk management strategies should be used to identify early whether retaliation or reprisal are likely.

4. Internal witness support and protection.
The report identified this as the single weakest are of most agencies and the report, acknowledges the many challenges that real support presents. It argues that as some agencies have found “the internal support for whistleblowers was not necessarily a totally new or different strategy to other programs for maintaining or restoring healthy relationships within the workplace”

The fifth factor of a new whistleblower program should be

5. The integration of the organisational approach.
Underpinned by organisational commitment each stage of the process needs to be integrated in an holistic approach.