These issues are often found to be the cause of poor investigations:
- Misuse or inefficient use of resources
- Failure or Lack of leadership or suitable mentoring
- Mismanagement of evidence
- Complexity of investigations
- Organisational or individual cultural issues
- Little or no strategic direction
- Lack of experience of investigator
How many of these have you experienced or witnessed? How would you rate your experience?
There is a common theme that underlies all these risk factors and it is not obvious at first because in the quest to solve these problems organisations deal with them discreetly. This common theme is discussed in detail later but first we need a deeper understanding of the issues.
One of the main approaches that organisations embark on is to introduce a Case Management System (CMS) to deal with their issues with improving investigations. Many of today’s law enforcement and regulatory agencies face the challenge of maintaining capacity and capability within an environment of reducing resources and fiscal challenges. The natural and logical reaction to diminished resources is to find a way to ‘do more with less’. This search often finds that to do more with less requires an increase in the efficiency and effectiveness of operational activity (investigations) but at same time maintaining the quality of investigation outcomes.
For many agencies, reacting to treat operational efficiency and effectiveness of investigations sometimes turns out to be a timely and often misguided departure from ‘business as usual’ and at times yields limited results. This is because with the issue of improving efficiency, quality and effectiveness of investigations, many agencies make the assumption that investment in a new “case management system (CMS)” will be the solution.
We call this The Case Management Mirage.
Convinced by the promise of modern technology and the array of task management, data capture, link charting, reporting, time tracking and accountability features on offer, agencies wedge recently acquired new CMS into the operational environment. However, after implementing these new systems (often with resistance from the actual end users) agencies find that their new CMS, has not yielded the promised increased productivity. Although accountability, tracking and reporting of cases has been significantly increased through the CMS, the efficiency and effectiveness of investigations has remained unchanged or in some cases actually deteriorated.
A CMS is unlikely to be able to deal with any of these issues. In fact, the introduction of a CMS may actually reduce efficiency even further as investigators now have to commit a great deal of time entering data into the CMS so that the case reporting features are maintained.
Investigators frustrated with complex or time-consuming data entry requirements will often start to take short cuts on evidence or information management to avoid having to actually use various components of the CMS. These shortcuts or resistance can often lead to further quality control issues.
The diagnosis of this failure will vary from agency to agency and will range from a mismatch of CMS to agency needs, resistance to cultural change, implementation difficulties and a variety of other explanations. But perhaps the true reason, is that the CMS was in fact not doing the job it was designed to do, namely managing the case (case management) when to achieve increased productivity, what it should have been doing was managing the investigation (investigation management).
Case Management VS Investigation Management
Most CMS are focussed on transactional work only. Transactional work is work in which the inputs are well-understood, the outputs are well-understood, and there’s a strong correlation between carrying out a very clear, particular set of actions and consistent transformation of those inputs into corresponding outputs. Transactional work in the context of investigations are areas of complaint recording, task tracking, link analysis, exhibit management, business reporting and other structured activities (as often found in many CMS).
However to increase the efficiency and quality of investigations, case management systems need to also focus on the exploratory work associated with investigations. This is where CMS expose their weakness. Exploratory work is very different in the way that it feels. Exploratory work is often what lurks underneath verbs like “investigate”, “diagnose”, “analyses”, “co-ordinate”, “solve”, “determine”, “arbitrate” and so on. In exploratory work, as the label suggests, the overall experience for both the investigators and other stakeholders is that of a set of possibilities being explored rather than a transactional recipe being followed.
Agencies must ensure they truly understand the characteristics of the harms, risks or issues they are trying to solve and whether they are based within transactional work or exploratory work. Failing to understand these characteristics may lead to the implementation of new processes which improve the transactional work and reporting component of investigations but fail to have any impact on the exploratory work where the true nature of the issues exists.
Agency decision makers should have a clear understanding of the difference between investigation management tools and case management tools if there is a true desire to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and quality of investigations.
As mentioned earlier there is a common theme that underlies the risk factors that lead to poor investigations and that is to have a consistent investigation management methodology based on three overarching objectives:
- It must address the common characteristics of the harms which exist within exploratory work associated with poor investigations.
- It must be intuitive and have clear supportive qualities to the investigator to ensure their commitment to its use and implementation.
- It must provide a consistent, central and strategic investigation management methodology and deter or remove individual silos of investigation management practices.
COMtrac is an Investigation Management solution designed with a best-practice methodology for investigation, evidence and brief management. COMtrac focuses on increasing the efficiency and quality of investigations and briefs of evidence through an investigation and evidence management methodology known as Elementising Evidence. Whilst many case management systems focus on ‘transactional workflows’ associated with case administration (i.e. workflows with defined inputs and outputs), COMtrac is built around the ‘exploratory workflows’ of investigation management and brief of evidence preparation.