Research investigates whistleblowing processes in public sector

Mumbai: Results of a ground-breaking study into the strength of whistleblowing processes in the public sector have been released..

The research was unveiled at the Office of the Ombudsman by members of the research team from Victoria University of Wellington and the State Services Commission and research lead, whistleblowing expert Professor A J Brown, from Griffith University in Australia.

The study—which is the first phase of the world-leading, trans-Tasman ‘Whistling While They Work 2’ research project—ranks the strength of whistleblowing practices in 65 New Zealand public sector organisations and many more Australian organisations. It provides the first benchmarks for organisations from both countries to assess strengths and weaknesses of their processes for employee-reported wrongdoing.

Victoria University’s Associate Professor Michael Macaulay, the sole New Zealand academic on the research project, is pleased by the high participation rate of the public sector in the project as it “confirms the importance our public sector leaders are placing on whistleblowing and integrity issues”.

“Recently we’ve seen how dealing with protected disclosures is crucial to the integrity of our public sector. This research will give us the information we need to strengthen processes around whistleblowing and mitigate against some of the problems.

“The results indicate there are likely issues at an agency level, possibly an inconsistent approach to dealing with misconduct issues. The study also seems to suggest there may be weaknesses with the system as a whole, particularly at a legislative level. For example, it raises questions around the usability and the relevance of the New Zealand Protected Disclosures Act, which is designed to help agencies effectively and safely facilitate whistleblowing in the workplace.”

Alongside today’s release was the New Zealand launch of the second phase of the research project, the [email protected] survey, open to all public, private and not-for-profit organisations.

The next survey is what Associate Professor Macaulay describes as the “heart and soul of the project” as it asks employers across New Zealand and Australia to survey staff using the Workplace Experiences and Relationships Questionnaire (WERQ).

“This survey will explore at a significant depth across all types of organisations, the problems they face, their current processes and outcomes, and what innovations they’re using to respond to wrongdoing concerns from staff. It will also highlight organisations’ ethical climate, leadership and psychological safety around whistleblowing.

“We really hope to get organisations from all sectors to participate in the survey. The information will be hugely valuable and will highlight any differences between how sectors and individual industries treat and respond to whistleblowing.”

Project lead Professor A J Brown says robust whistleblowing procedures are a highly effective way to uncover wrongdoing or problems in the workplace, but in organisations around the world “there is no clear guidance on tools and systems to encourage and protect whistleblowing in the workplace”.

“But through our research, we’re aiming to improve managerial responses to whistleblowing in the workplace and maximise its benefits for corporate governance and integrity.”

The project is led by Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy and includes researchers from the University of Sydney, Australian National University, Victoria University of Wellington, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, CPA Australia and the New Zealand State Services Commission.

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