• Our Story

    Our Founding Director, Professor Martine Powell, first became involved in the design and evaluation of investigative interviewer training programs in 1996. At that time, electronic recording of vulnerable witness evidence had just been introduced in Australia (along with the use of these as evidence-in-chief at trial) and organisations were seeking assistance in the implementation of new training curriculum. While research on child investigative interviewing was still in its infancy, Martine’s background in child education, clinical psychology and eyewitness testimony research made her an obvious candidate for support.

    Over the next decade Martine immersed herself in the child abuse investigation field. Her focus was on building strong relationships with industry partners, educating professionals about memory and language processes, establishing a broad understanding of how the justice system works and developing improved evidence-based practices in interview process and training.

    Martine’s input throughout Australia was widespread and multi-faceted. By 2006 she had collaborated with over 70 organisations and eight professional groups (police, psychologists, social workers, prosecutors, judicial officers, teachers, and medical practitioners) across seven jurisdictions.

    Martine became the go-to person for advice on vulnerable witness interviewing. However, she was becoming increasingly disconcerted by the limited progress arising from reforms. Despite considerable investments, and growing consensus about what constitutes best-practice interviewing, there was a major gap between what experts recommended and what was usually practiced in the workplace. This gap was not exclusive to Australia – it had revealed itself in almost every interviewer performance evaluation across the globe.

    There are many reasons for the gap between recommendations and practice. Martine’s research highlighted two main contributors. The first was the training format. Training was typically delivered in a classroom, with one or more instructors overseeing a large cohort of trainees, who had to complete the course within a contained block of time (a few days or weeks). This format makes it exceptionally difficult to provide trainees with the individual support needed to master such a complex skill as interviewing. Gains are generally short-lived and the majority of budgets are spent on salaries and transport to get people into the classroom, rather than on course design, delivery and evaluation.

    The second concern was organisational and jurisdictional isolation. Most interviewing research was being conducted by academics who were operating outside of police forces, in networks separated from policy-makers and executive. Police and human service organisations were independently responsible for writing their training programs, and training co-ordinators were assigned from within organisations, rotated regularly, and they had little knowledge of the eyewitness memory and human learning literature.

    For Martine and her collaborators, changing the method of course delivery and enhancing cross-discipline and jurisdictional sharing of expertise and resources were of paramount importance. The goal was to centralise world-class resources and services. Bringing resources directly to industry’s doorstep would enable professionals to package quality courses to suit their own requirements while keeping abreast of progress.

    The watershed period for the evolution of a new method of training came around 2010. With demonstrated success in several e-learning activities, large-scale e-learning programs were created and evaluated across several jurisdictions. The development of the new system was a lengthy process spanning many years and involving the assistance of people from many backgrounds and disciplines. Professional actors were trained to play the role of interviewees and a system was created where practice in interviewing could be provided to trainees over Skype. Forums of Crown Prosecutors were scheduled to inform the development of new and improved interview protocols, and a secure, web-based learning environment was established, enabling the learning progress of individual trainees to be easily tracked. Postgraduate students and research fellows coordinated programs to develop new, improved techniques. Computer analysts were recruited to assist with new systems of evaluation, and film directors were employed to assist in creating dozens of short instructional films.

    The radically new approach, built on the concept of working together with industry partners, is defined by four distinctive elements:

    • Mastery of all practical interview skills occurs at the trainee interviewer’s own pace.
    • Genuine partnership between academia and industry is established through co-location of academics and industry-based training staff.
    • Flexible protocols acknowledge the similarities and differences between jurisdictions.
    • Evaluation policies support the need for continual review and improvement of interviewing and organisational processes.

    The demonstrated success of this collaborative effort (evaluated using a variety of measures) has led to the rapid expansion of the training model across the globe and into other domains, such as police interviewing of adults, medical and general health communication and family court interviewing. Irrespective of the discipline, the ultimate goal is to provide a system where each interviewee can be assured of the same level of service, and one which is at the forefront of developments in the field. There is still some way to go, but gains over the past few years have been exceptionally rapid.

    Our rapid growth evolves from a shift in thinking across industry about how good interviewing evolves. Good interviewing cannot be attributed to isolated elements, such as the protocol, the training curriculum, the legislation or the provisions available to assist interviewees. Good interviewing – and subsequently fairer decisions that arise from it – results primarily from the health of the training ‘ecosystem’. We refer to this ecosystem as a network of skilled people who are genuinely open to collaboration, and to empirically-guided innovation and improved practices. Nurturing such an ecosystem was the impetus for the development of our Centre for Investigative Interviewing.