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  • John Kingston

Investigation tools

Every now and then I am asked: “is ‘x’ a good tool?”. My NRI colleagues and I wrote about this some years ago. One conclusion was that all tools make poor masters. I later met an inspector who was very much the master of the tools he used. For every investigation, he would create new tools to help him—a practice from his former days as a laboratory scientist. This gave him what we should all look for in investigation tools: confidence in the completeness of the investigation and clarity about its findings and lines of enquiry. Using tools helped him to deliver investigations that would withstand close scrutiny in the courtroom and by his own bosses. Not everyone has the resources to make their own tools, but highly usable tools are a very good second best. However, Even the ostensibly ‘right tool for the job’ can be more of a hindrance than a help (more about that in a paper that NRI published in 2020). Meeting that inspector brought home to me that mastery is not just about skill with the tool, it’s about deep understanding of the principles which underlie it and, crucially, agency about the goals of the investigation and how to reach them. In investigations, agency almost never means autonomy, but it does mean having a voice about means and ends. ‘Is it a good tool?’, maybe; but only if used in conditions that empower the user.

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