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Frédéric St-Martin: A model to measure whistleblowing effectiveness

I said in the prior post that effectiveness is the most difficult variable to measure among all variables associated with whistleblowing. There is no agreed definition of what whistleblowing effectiveness is and no consensus on a model to measure it.

It is thus very difficult to undertake a comparative analysis of the effectiveness of whistleblowing mechanisms.

So far, researchers used different indicators to measure whistleblowing effectiveness. For instance, Miceli and Near suggested that whistleblowing effectiveness should be measured by the extent to which the wrongdoing has been terminated, at least partly, in a reasonable time frame.

Dworkin and Baucus consider that whistleblowing is effective when the organization launches an investigation into the allegations, and if organizational changes were done based on the disclosure of wrongdoing.

More recently, Apaza and Chang used the three indicators proposed above, but also suggested to broaden the framework for measuring whistleblowing effectiveness by looking at whether reprisals were exercised on whistleblowers.

Defining the concept of “effectiveness” is made more complex by its inherently subjective nature. Therefore, building a model that would allow comparative analysis of whistleblowing mechanisms would require objective quantitative indicators that would lessen the opportunity for subjective interpretations as much as possible.  

Although many researchers focused on whether the wrongdoing was terminated and whether organizational changes were made to ensure that it will not happen again, assessing the effectiveness of whistleblowing mechanisms at detecting and filtering potential cases of wrongdoing may also be very useful. It would capture the detection of appearances of misconduct that could impact the reputation of the organization and affect public trust, even if no wrongdoing was found following a diligent investigation. Moreover, considering the appropriateness of decisions about whether to launch an investigation allows assessing if some mechanisms perform better at distinguishing allegations that are substantiated from those that are not.  

My study on Measuring the Effectiveness of Canadian Whistleblowing Law builds on previous models that seek to assess whistleblowing effectiveness by its impact on organizations. To measure the effectiveness of whistleblowing mechanisms, it proposes to consider whether disclosures of potential wrongdoing led to (1) launching investigations when appropriate, (2) terminating the wrongdoing within a reasonable timeframe, and (3) undertaking corrective actions within and outside the organization when necessary.

The model does not consider whether reprisals were exercised on whistleblowers, as this indicator does not seek to measure the direct impact of whistleblowing on organizations. Moreover, the information reported by whistleblowers who suffered reprisals may lead to investigations that may effectively stop wrongdoing in a reasonable timeframe, and that may promote substantial changes within and outside relevant organizations. Therefore, effective whistleblower protection is separate from whistleblowing effectiveness for the purpose of this study.

In the next post, I’ll discuss which measures appear to be more effective at protecting whistleblowers from reprisals.


Frédéric St-Martin advises a Canadian financial regulator on corporate governance, anti-corruption controls, investigations and the implementation of whistleblower programs. He graduated from the inaugural IACA MACS 2012-2014 program summa cum laude and received the Best Master Thesis Award in December 2014. He also holds a Master in Law from the University of Montreal, as well as a Bachelor of Common Law and Civil Law from the University of Ottawa. He can be reached by email here and through linked here.

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