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Essentials in Investigations

We train people to investigate because we know there is no zero harm. Fallible life and fallible systems don’t always go right. Whilst we don’t wish misfortune on anyone it is important that people are prepared to investigate events so that we can learn.

When we look at the standard WHS curriculum in investigations or at the popular packages on the market, it remarkable what is missing. Most investigation methods are constructed from a mechanistic bias with little attention to the essentials of subjectivity, personal bias, perception bias, personality and perception, emergence in cause, problems of reductionism and randomness.

When one opens the standard text for WHS and does analysis on the investigations curriculum it is still dominated by antiquated theory of Bird’s and Heinrich’s Pyramids, matrices, curves and linear assumptions about cause and effect. There is no discussion of:

· The bias of the investigator or the investigator’s personality type.

· Engagement skills required if early at the scene.

· Pastoral skills of listening, understanding trauma and loss.

· Bias and perception of self and witnesses.

· The fundamentals of helping or what helping skills are.

Instead, objectivity of the investigator is assumed and cause and effect is assumed to be rational and ‘common sense’. There is also an assumption that all events have a cause and that ‘root cause’ can be known. This is not how a social psychology of risk views event investigations.

The process of event investigation is a process of ‘discovery, imagination and open questioning’, this is common language used in the social psychology of risk. Indeed, understanding how language and discourse work is essential for listening to the stories and narrative of others. However, the first essential in undertaking investigations from a social psychological perspective is to understand self, personal and cognitive bias, complexities of perception and the nature of subjectivity. Essential to this is developing and understanding of how the mind works (see the video above).

It is important to understand the complexities of motivation in order to listen to others and understand why people do as they do. This is essential in any investigation process. Similarly, skills in open questioning and reflective listening are also essential, especially the skill of suspending agenda (bias). An understanding of visual and special literacy is also an essential, as well knowing how cause can be random and non-linear. Finally all the skills associated with helping and understanding trauma and loss are essential. It simply doesn’t make sense to train people for investigations as if pastoral care skills will not be needed.

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