WITNESS EVIDENCE: CREATING AN ACCURATE RECORD OF INAPPROPRIATE CONDUCT AT WORK: SPOT – AN IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT

I have written before about the book The Memory Illusion. In essence  lawyers need to be concerned about how easy it is for false memories to be created and how fallible the human memory is. The creation of an inaccurate account can sometimes be done at an early stage by inappropriate interviewing, albeit with the best of intentions.  The author of that book, Dr Julia Shaw, is involved in an interesting development that could have far-reaching consequences.  She is part of the team that created “Spot”.  This aims to help create an accurate, and hopefully contemporaneous,  record of inappropriate conduct at work.

“TALKING” TO A MACHINE

Spot is a device whereby someone who wants to record, or report, inappropriate behaviour at work. This is done by an anonymous online  written conversation with a bot. This is programmed to respond to what is written and ask meaningful, but non-judgmental and non-leading follow-up questions.

SOME KEY POINTS

  • Spot is not a person.
  • No human ever reads the conversation (unless asked to do so).
  • It is free to use.

WHY A BOT?

The designers of Spot, explain their use of a bot.

“People are often afraid to report workplace harassment and discrimination and don’t want to talk about it with others at their company. A bot is helpful because:

  • It’ll never judge or assess you.

  • It’s available anytime, anywhere, for as long as you need.

  • It won’t share your conversation with anyone, unless you explicitly tell it to do so”

EVIDENCE

The designers clearly have the need to obtain good quality, contemporaneous evidence, clearly in mind.

“There are 3 main steps to record and report your experience with Spot.

  1. Interview with Spot. Spot asks a series of questions about what you remember. You can answer or skip any question. The chat takes as little as 10 minutes or as long as you need.
  2. View the confidential record of your interview. Email yourself a link to download this timestamped document and keep it safe. It can be used as high-quality evidence if you need it.
  3. Optional reporting. Create an optional report to send to your company. Delete the parts of your interview that you don’t want to share. Spot sends reports from our email server, so you can choose to stay anonymous.”

The Spot reports are PDFs that are securely signed and timestamped. Each has a unique ID number.

 

THE COGNITIVE INTERVIEW

With a memory scientist involved there is clearly great stress on obtaining accurate information.

 

“What evidence is Spot based on?

Spot was designed to ask the same questions as a highly trained memory interviewer. All questions are based on a standard protocol called the Cognitive Interview.

What is the Cognitive Interview?

The Cognitive Interview was developed by scientists to help police reliably extract accounts of important life events. Decades of research show that this technique increases the amount of accurate information and decreases the amount of inaccurate information obtained in an interview.

The Cognitive Interview is currently considered best practice for interviewing people about negative emotional memories.

How does the Cognitive Interview work?

The Cognitive Interview works by first asking you to freely describe what happened, followed by specific questions called ‘probes’ that ask you about the things you mentioned.

Part of what makes this technique effective is the way in which the questions are asked. All questions are open-ended rather than leading the person to a certain response. It takes substantial knowledge to create a high-quality set of questions.

Does the Cognitive Interview know whether my memories are accurate?

No. The Cognitive Interview cannot tell you whether any particular memory is accurate. However, it does encourage you to recall more information and avoids the common mistakes made by human interviewers.

While it helps you to remember as many details as reliably as possible, it cannot undo any false memories that you might already have.”

IT IS AN IMPORTANT INNOVATION IN THE GATHERING OF WITNESS EVIDENCE

The importance of early, and accurate, witness gathering has been stressed many times on this blog.  This is an important development in relation to the collection of evidence in circumstances that can be  extremely difficult by conventional means.  There is a distinct possibility that a judge will prefer evidence gathered by this method to “conventional” statements taken many months, or years, after the event.

WHERE TO LOOK

  • The Spot front page is here 
  • The Frequently Asked Questions page is here.