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Griffith University’s three year research project into the nature of whistleblowing across the public and private sectors in New Zealand and Australia offers starting insight into the nature of whistleblowing Down Under.
The related research document, Whistleblowing: New rules, new policies, new vision [pdf] draws on interviews with 46 public, private and not-for-profit sector organisations in Australia and New Zealand, with a total of 17,778 individual responses collected. It’s one of the world’s largest studies into whistleblowing, and the first large-scale project to focus on management of whistleblowing across business and government.
Let’s take a look at some of the key findings of the document:
Public vs Private
According to the research, there is a surprising similarity in the basic nature and dynamics of whistleblowing between public and private sector respondents.
“Reporting rates in the public sector organisations were only slightly higher than in the private sector (74% vs 69%), neither sector used external reporting paths to a great degree, and both sectors only used a mixture of reporting paths when there was a mixture of wrongdoing types.”
“This underscores that questions of how best to manage whistleblowing are not likely to be answered by the sector involved but by organisational and management dynamics that cut across all types of organisations.”
According to the research, reporting is widely supported. Contrary to many stereotypes, reporting led to positive investigation outcomes and organisational changes and reforms in a large proportion of cases.
…but rarely for the whistleblower themselves
Outcomes for whistleblowers are, however, far less positive.
“Reporters responded that they were treated badly by their management or colleagues in 42 per cent of cases. Public sector whistleblowers were mistreated in almost exactly the same proportions as recorded a decade ago by the first WWTW project. Reporters experienced negative repercussions in up to 81 percent of cases.
Recognising ‘mixed’ public interest and grievance wrongdoing types, and the significance of ‘collateral’ or informal detrimental effects (not just reprisals) seems key to achieving better reporter outcomes.
AU vs NZ
Results reveal little comparatively little variation in terms of the prevalence of different forms
of wrongdoing observed between Australian and New Zealand public sector jurisdictions, although New Zealand respondents did report the prevalence of workplace bullying at a slightly higher rate.
Organisational policies and whistleblower treatment
The presence or absence of particular types of official policies and procedures – at least as these are reported by organisations – do not in themselves affect whistleblower outcomes. There seems to be no clear, direct relationship between the official policies that organisations claim to have, and the organisational support that individuals who report wrongdoing actually experience.
Preventing detrimental whistleblowing outcomes
Risk factors for higher reporter repercussions and management mistreatment can now be more readily identified, says the report:
“Risk assessment is far less frequent than suggested by many organisations’ claims.”
Private sector organisations were more likely than public sector to have an external hotline company, but less likely to reference external regulatory agencies as reporting avenues for employees (45% of private sector organisations against 95% of public sector organisations), or to refer to any protection for employees if it was necessary for them to go to the media (4% of private sector organisations against 24% of public sector organisations).
What else makes a difference?
“A systematic examination of the role organisational factors play in shaping whistleblowing processes embedded within organisations and the degree to which these, in turn, influence reporter and organisational outcomes,” says the report.
Read the whole document here.