The Importance of Being Ernest – 7 Tips to Avoid Bias in Your Investigations

Posted - December 4, 2015

Anyone who has attended a course or workshop on investigations will have likely heard the instructor emphasize the importance of being unbiased in your investigation. However, despite this sound advice bias still finds a way to creep into some investigations. The result can be catastrophic for everyone.

In many cases, allegations of bias have been made against investigators or the organizations responsible for the investigation, such as the employer, regulatory body, or even the police. The challenge with this issue is that in many cases people already believe the organization or the investigators are biased. This might be based on actual cases where bias has been proven, or just an impression held by some that there is systemic bias within the organizations responsible for conducting investigations.  This creates a need on the part of investigators and the organizations they represent to not only ensure their investigations are in fact unbiased, but that others see them as unbiased as well.

The following are a few important considerations and steps you can take to ensure your investigations are unbiased:

1.     Explain the process to complainants, respondents, and witnesses at the outset of your dealings with them. This way they understand what will happen and there will be no surprises – surprises are often met with skepticism.

2.     Remember you are no one’s advocate and you must make that clear to the parties involved in the matter you are investigating. Your mantra should be that you are a neutral, impartial, gatherer of facts.   

3.     Be open minded and avoid making conclusions until all the facts have been gathered, as premature conclusions can affect your judgment. Remember that you are in search of the truth and remind people that you have no stake in the outcome of the investigation.

4.     Be careful what you document in your notes by ensuring they reflect objective observations and not subjective interpretations on your part.

5.     Ensure reports are written in a neutral language and that they reflect all of the relevant information available, regardless of whether that information supports or refutes a particular position.  

6.     Document your investigative activities, such as your attempts to locate or contact people, email communications, or conversations with any legal counsel or other outside parties.

7.     Document things you would have normally done, but did not, and the reason why. For example, a person you would have interviewed, but did not, should be listed as a potential witness with the reason why you did not interview them.

I hope this short list of tips is helpful. As I have often said, “People can often accept an outcome that hasn’t gone their way, but they will only do so if they believe the process was fair.”