Investigators play an important role across many different industry, government and private sectors. From criminal investigators investigating crimes to government investigators conducting regulatory investigations into breaches of legislation, to workplace investigators conducting HR related investigations into misconduct. And, there’s also private investigators conducting enquiries into insurance claims, missing persons, legal claims, fraud and the like.


Some say that the goal of an investigator is to find the “truth.” But what is the “truth” and who’s truth is it? It can be problematic to think of this as a goal of an investigator.


The goal of any investigation is to gather evidence and make judgements based only on that evidence. This will differ depending on what standard of proof you’re applying. Read about the standard of proof here. There’s also a lot of other matters to take into account in terms of evidence, including its type (i.e. circumstantial, direct) reliability, admissibility and other important considerations.


Another goal of any investigation is to “think with the end in mind.” While not a prescriptive rule – or even one that’s taught – it’s important to turn one’s mind to what the evidence and associated judgements will look like if a matter proceeded to its highest level. These could include:


For criminal matters: the magistrates, district, supreme, Coroners or high court. For regulatory matters: various legal and administrative tribunals, internal reviews and for Workplace/HR matters: Fair Work Commission and various industrial tribunals.


The questions is; how will your evidence (the way you gathered it and the judgements you made about it) be ultimately judged? Other considerations for you as an investigator when thinking with the end in mind include:


  • Have you gathered all the evidence?
  • Have you gathered and assessed inculpatory and exculpatory evidence?
  • Have you gathered evidence lawfully and in line with best practice (or policy/procedures)?
  • Have you properly assessed the evidence and applied the various rules concerning things like admissibility, relevant, reliability and (in the case of workplace matters) the Briginshaw rules?
  • Have you applied the important rules of procedural fairness?
  • Have you identified and spoken to all relevant witnesses (and if they are not relevant, have you provided evidence of why)?
  • Are your judgements supported by the evidence gathered? Is this clear?


There are many more things to tick off when thinking with the end in mind. Ultimately, think of sitting in a witness box answering questions about what you did, or didn’t do. Think about the answers you would give. Similarly, as an investigator, think about the questions a prosecutor/lawyer would ask about a brief/file you have put up for consideration. Are there any gaps? Is it clear to follow how you have come to the conclusions you have?


Of course, many conducted investigations are not going to result in anything close to courts, tribunals and other forums. But it’s good practice to start (and continue) with the end in mind. Investigation planning is a crucial phase, but a competent investigation will always review a plan and adjust accordingly. Many things change. Constant review and analysis is paramount.


Acclaimed educator and author Stephen Covey (think “The 7 habits of highly effective people”) said,


To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.


The true measure of whether an investigation has been successful or not is not its ultimate outcome (i.e. someone is prosecuted), but whether another appropriately skilled investigator would have come to the same conclusion, based on the same evidence.


Beginning with the end in mind will achieve consistent and reliable results and ensure your investigation is the best it can be.