As labour relations professionals, we are required to engage in fact-finding on a regular basis. Good fact-finding ensures that the information upon which we form our conclusions and recommendations is credible, and that our advice is evidence-based.
When planned and executed properly, fact-finding provides a solid foundation for conducting analyses, forming conclusions, generating options and formulating sound recommendations. Fact-finding may involve researching documents or existing records and data, holding focus groups, interviewing witnesses, or using written surveys and questionnaires. The techniques employed will depend on the project or issue under consideration. What is constant across all fact-finding missions is the need for a plan to guide and document your efforts.
Developing a good fact-finding plan starts with figuring out what you need to know – what information do you have to have in order to form an evidence-based opinion. The precursors to good fact-finding include scoping the issue to determine what it is you need to answer, understanding the context within which the issue has arisen, and appreciating the “political” landscape (organizational and personal relationships often play a significant role in shaping a witness’ view of a matter) – all of these things can influence the approach you take to any given fact-finding endeavour.
I like to follow what I call my Golden Rules of Fact-Finding:
- Go to the source. The source may be a person or a record, and while not always readily accessible, you should strive to obtain the best evidence available. Search existing policies and procedures and begin to understand how they affect the issue. Identify unwritten rules or practices that form the context of the issue. Establish a recording protocol to document everything that you have gathered and always obtain original copies of documents and records.
- Stay objective. Do not become unduly swayed by the people involved -- focus on facts, not on opinions or personalities.
- Be persistent. If you are not getting the information that you need, do not get derailed. Determine the root cause of why you are not getting the information. For example, have your sources signed a confidentiality agreement which precludes them from answering discussing the matter? When speaking with sources, if you are not getting the information you need, or they are deflecting your questions, probe them and get to the facts.
- Do not get paralyzed. The art of fact-finding is separating the information that is required from that which is not. Go where the facts take you, however, stay within the mandate of what it is you are investigating. Compartmentalize the facts as you gather them and delve deeper only where necessary. This will help you stay on track and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
- Do not assume. Confirm, confirm, confirm. All of the facts and information that you have gathered must be accurate. This will help you build credibility and support evidence–based decision-making.
- Have a plan and follow it. Think strategically and develop a plan. When you determine what you need to establish and whom you need to talk to before you start, the task of uncovering the facts will progress more smoothly. As you begin to obtain facts, you may branch into new areas of enquiry, be required to clarify previous statements, connect with new sources and review additional documents. Just remember that your plan is a living document and you will need to revisit and review it regularly.
In order to succeed as a trusted, strategic advisor to business executives, today’s labour relations professional requires the ability to separate fact from fiction, and formulate options and recommendations based on evidence. Developing fact-finding skills is critical to ensure success.
About the Author
As a career civil servant, Lori Aselstine has over 33 years of experience in the fields of program management, human resources and labour relations. Lori has worked in all regions of Ontario, in small, medium and large operational ministries, as well as in central agency ministries. Lori has extensive experience conducting complex investigations, developing corporate grievance management/resolution strategies and processes, developing negotiation and bargaining mandates, and managing in a complex union-management environment. As a seasoned LR professional who has conducted hundreds of enquiries, investigations, mediations, arbitrations and negotiations, Lori has established a reputation as a skilled relationship-builder and problem-solver.