Chapter 13: Learning from the process: improving practice and culture
13.1.Every instance of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour by an employee provides an opportunity for agencies to gather information that can be used to improve processes and culture. Insights can be gained about employee needs and susceptibilities, management strategies, team and workplace cultures and norms, systems and processes, and, ultimately, how integrity is understood and embodied in the agency.
13.2. Agencies are encouraged to gather and consider information about the conduct of their employees in order to guide them in improving both the behaviour of individuals and the culture of the organisation.
13.3. In collecting information, and using databases, agencies should be mindful of their obligations to protect certain information under the Privacy Act and other legislation, and should seek legal advice if in doubt.
13.4. The following approaches may be useful.
13.5. Agencies are encouraged to establish a database of cases, which could range from a case management system to a spreadsheet depending on agency needs and the volume of cases.
13.6. A database can support quality assurance and provide data to senior management on the number and types of:
- behaviours considered
- matters addressed through a misconduct process
- breaches determined
- sanctions imposed
- reviews sought, and the outcomes of any such reviews.
13.7. Using a database to monitor cases and outcomes (including, where possible, management action as well as breach determinations and sanctions) can assist agencies to identify trends—for example, in types and numbers of conduct matters across the agency or in specific cohorts. Databases can also bring to light concerns raised by multiple complainants about the behaviour of a single individual, helping agencies put together disparate evidence to form a more complete picture to inform proportionate action. Databases can also assist in ensuring consistency in handling cases and imposing sanctions.
13.8. As well, databases can assist agencies in responding to any request for information from the Commissioner—for example, in relation to the annual State of the Service Report.
File audits and reviews
13.9. Agencies may periodically conduct file audits of a sample of misconduct files to evaluate the extent to which correct procedures and recordkeeping requirements are being followed. Where procedural or other flaws in investigations have been detected through such audits or reviews, agencies are encouraged to seek legal advice.
13.10. Agencies should also assess the outcomes of reviews conducted by the MPC to identify any concerns about the quality of decision-making in the agency that may point to systemic issues or a need to improve capability.
Census and survey data
13.11. Agencies can use their own agency-specific data from the annual APS Employee Census, or include questions in their own pulse surveys or regular internal surveys, to collect information relating to employee conduct.
13.12. Survey data can assist in establishing the level of employee knowledge and understanding of the APS conduct framework, as well as the overall integrity culture of the agency. For example, the APS Employee Census data includes information relating to:
- the proportion of employees witnessing corruption
- whether witnessed corruption is reported on, and reasons given by employees for not reporting. Analysis of the reasons for not reporting can indicate whether employees feel safe to raise issues, or whether they are concerned about reprisals.
13.13. Bespoke internal survey questions can explore related aspects, such as:
- whether employees are aware of the range of ways to raise behavioural concerns and report misconduct
- if other forms of misconduct are reported, whether or not serious misconduct has been observed in the last 12 months, and views on whether colleagues and managers behave in accordance with the conduct framework.
13.14. As well as collecting and considering data relating directly to the conduct framework, agencies may also consider data that may correlate with trust. The Census collects a range of metrics such as perceptions of organisational support for wellbeing; employee engagement; levels of bullying and harassment; and general impressions of the agency and its leadership.
13.15. Agencies are also encouraged to take account of information arising through informal means. This can include questions employees are raising in staff meetings or on internal online forums, or discussion of challenges in a focus group or team meeting session.
Supporting proportionate responses
13.16. Agencies may wish to consider the following approaches to developing policy and procedural guidance and support on the conduct framework:
- Having advice available to all employees about the management and reporting of suspected misconduct, including internal agency arrangements for reporting suspected misconduct and making public interest disclosures, and regularly reviewing this material to ensure it is up to date, including contact details of agency practitioners and external sources of advice such as the Ethics Advisory Service.
- Ensuring systems are in place to support complainants. Where designated roles or areas exist to accept reports, employees in those areas or roles should have the knowledge and skill to accept reports on sensitive matters. Agency reporting frameworks should ensure complainants are given reasonable expectations in relation to confidentiality, how the matter will be handled, and what information they will be given about the outcome of their complaints.
- Providing managers with support and guidance on responding appropriately and proportionately to unacceptable behaviour, including whether or not to refer a matter for misconduct action, to ensure fairness and consistency in the treatment of conduct concerns. Agencies should ensure managers are resourced and supported to take appropriate management actions in low-risk cases, as well as in cases where misconduct action needs to be supplemented with other workplace interventions.
- Agencies may wish to develop guidance or checklists to support conversations between managers and HR where a manager seeks to refer a matter for misconduct action, including assisting the manager to conduct a risk assessment and consider whether other options may be preferable to a misconduct process.
- Agencies should ensure that behavioural expectations are embedded in the performance management framework, and that supervisors understand their obligations in ensuring effective performance.
Supporting quality decision-making
13.17. Agencies may wish to consider the following approaches for ensuring the quality of decisions about misconduct:
- Processes for ensuring that the decision-maker who determines whether a breach has occurred has the necessary skills, experience, and capability—and providing that decision-maker with support and resources to do their job effectively.
- Having decision support tools for decision-makers, including checklists to ensure that procedural steps have been completed appropriately and good records kept.
- A quality assurance process for misconduct investigations and decisions, independent of the decision-maker, to check for compliance with procedures, consistency of decisions, timeliness, and quality of outcomes.
- Considering whether to have separate breach and sanction decision-makers.
- Limiting the number of people in the agency who hold a delegation to make sanction decisions.
- Keeping central records of sanctions on a database, without including names, to guide decision-makers.
13.18. Agencies should take a deliberate and systematic approach to considering and learning from the information obtained through these channels. This may include regular reports to the agency executive on trends or systemic issues arising from conduct matters.
13.19. Agencies may also wish to consider developing templates, checklists, and sample letters in accordance with agency misconduct procedures and other related policies. These will assist investigators and decision-makers to address more quickly any administrative and procedural fairness issues and provide a consistent approach across the agency.
Supporting integrity awareness and capability
13.20. It is good practice for agencies to conduct periodic training on the APS conduct framework, including its relevance to employees’ day-to-day work, and make written guidance available to all employees. Such training and guidance should be underpinned by agency data on employee conduct, including whether behavioural trends may indicate particular gaps in awareness or capability.
13.21. Training and guidance can also include information on the options for raising and reporting behavioural concerns within the agency. In this context, agencies may find it useful to provide bystander training and guidance to employees to help them raise concerns in the moment, support their peers, and report incidents where appropriate. In doing so, agencies should consider whether their broader culture supports employees to feel safe in raising concerns—and, if not, what can be done to drive change in this regard.
13.22. Case studies are useful for informing and educating employees about appropriate standards of behaviour, risks in the agency’s operational environment, and the ways the agency may respond to various types of conduct that does not meet expectations. Case studies should also showcase instances of good behaviour, including good processes and decision-making in difficult situations.
13.23. Case studies can be used in both stand-alone and on-the-job training, and as resources available on the agency intranet.
13.24. If agencies use real case examples for this purpose, they should take reasonable steps to de-identify material to ensure that a person’s identity cannot be reasonably ascertained. Alternatively, agencies can amalgamate cases or use plausible hypothetical scenarios for training purposes. Case studies prepared by the MPC may also be a useful resource.