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Data and Investigation Series: How can organizations collect investigation data?

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This is the second in a series of blog posts that I will be writing on data and investigations.1

To recap, workplace investigations are also an invaluable source of data that organizations can use in a variety of ways – outside of the investigation process – to help their workplaces get into the zone – the optimal workplace that is characterized by respect, civility, tolerance, inclusivity, and no, or few, employment-related legal problems.

In my previous blog post, I discuss why collecting investigation data is important and the types of investigation data that organizations may consider collecting.

In this blog post, I discuss methods for collecting investigation data. In my next blog post, I will look at how organizations can use that data.

Key considerations for data collection

There are two key questions that an organization should consider before deciding how and when to collect investigation data:

    1. First, what data does the organization want to collect? For example, data about complainants, respondents, the complaint itself, the complaint/investigation process, the outcomes of the complaint/investigation, etc.
    2. Second, what does the organization want to do with this data? For example, tracking key performance indicators (e.g., length of time to complete a complaint investigation), long-term analysis of complaint trends, preparing an annual report on complaint/investigation outcomes

These questions are addressed in greater detail in part 1 of this series.

Once an organization knows what it wants to collect and why, it can then determine when to collect that data and which data collection methods to use.

When to collect data

Each stage of an investigation provides an opportunity to collect data. In my opinion, the easiest time to collect data is when it first arises in the investigation process. This reduces the need to review investigation materials repeatedly, thereby increasing efficiency and accuracy.

For example:

    • Information about the complainant, type of complaint, and the subject matter of the complaint should be collected at the start of an investigation (e.g., the complaint intake stage)
    • Information about the respondent should be collected during the respondent’s interview
    • Information about the investigation process (e.g., timeliness, number of hours spent on the investigation) should be tracked throughout the investigation
    • Information about the investigation outcomes and resolution methods should be collected at the conclusion of the investigation

For example, an organization is setting up a complaint investigation process under its respectful workplace policy. The organization wants to know how frequently different types of discrimination are alleged by complainants. The organization plans to include this data in its annual report on harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

One way to collate this information is, when preparing the annual report, to review all complaints received in a calendar and count the number of times each type of discrimination was alleged.

However, it would be more efficient to gather this information at the time the complaint was received and input it into the organization’s data tracking system. This also enables real-time tracking and analysis of data throughout the calendar year, which may help an organization respond more quickly to trends and issues.

Where to find and collect investigation data

The following are key sources of investigation data:

    • Complaint and intake forms
    • Intake meetings
    • Interviews
    • Reports

Data from these sources can be manually entered into a data collection system, like a spreadsheet.

Another option is to use survey, form, and questionnaire tools that automatically collect and collate data from responses. This includes tools like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Microsoft Forms. These survey tools can be used to gather information directly from individuals (such as complainants and respondents) or to collect information from sources like interview notes and reports.

For example, the complaint form could be created using a survey tool which collates the responses from individual complaint forms into a summary of the data.

For another example, information from reports could be used to complete a questionnaire about the investigation’s outcome, such as the number of allegations that were substantiated and the number of policy violations found.

When it comes to data about investigation processes like investigation length and the number of hours spent on an investigation, this information can be tracked using case management systems, docketing systems, and project management tools (like Asana, Trello, or Monday). Another option is to create a tracking spreadsheet using Excel or Google Sheets.

Although I am a fan of using different apps and tools to streamline data collection and analysis, it’s important to note that an organization can still successfully gather and analyze data with a simple spreadsheet application like Excel.

Organizational policies (e.g., privacy policies, harassment and discrimination policies) may require organizations to be clear with individuals about what data is being gathered about them and how it will be used. Additionally, organizational policies may also set out parameters for the use of third-party tools for the collection and storage of the organization’s information. Organizations may wish to conduct a privacy impact assessment or seek advice on how their existing policies or requirements may impact their ability to collect data and which tools they can use to do so.

Best practice: Design investigation processes with data collection in mind

Speaking from my own experience, both as an information management professional and as a workplace investigator, when an organization is setting up its workplace complaint and investigation processes, it should design those processes with data collection in mind – i.e., what data the organization wants to know and what that data will be used for. This includes setting up intake forms and interviews to ask the necessary questions, using tools that make it easy to gather data (like surveys), and creating spreadsheets for tracking essential data points.

Let’s revisit the example of the organization that wants to know about the different types of discrimination allegations it receives. As noted above, an easy way to gather this information is at the start of the investigation through an intake form. The organization’s intake form should ask the complainant to specify what type of allegation they are alleging.

It’s never too late to start gathering investigation data

If your organization already has an investigation process in place but it wants to start gathering investigation data, it’s never too late to start! It’s frequently possible to adapt existing processes to harness the data an organization wants to gather. This may include asking additional questions during interviews, reviewing past reports to manually collect information, or conducting surveys with investigators.

For example, an organization wants to start gathering data about complainants’ work locations. However, its current complaint form does not ask for that information and it is not possible to amend the complaint form immediately. The organization can begin asking for that information during complainant interviews and entering it into a spreadsheet.

The above considerations provide helpful insight into how organizations can collect investigation data. As noted above, in my next blog post I will look at how organizations can use investigation data to the benefit of their workplaces.


1 This blog post is based on a webinar that we did on September 14, 2023, called “Data and Investigations.” If you would like to hear the webinar, please contact us at info@rubinthomlinson.com to request a copy.


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