Whistleblowing is when employees or other members of organisations speak up about wrongdoing within or by the organisation to people who can — or should — do something about it.

The Whistling While They Work (WWTW) project, led by Professor A J Brown of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University, is investigating employee and managerial experience in Australia and New Zealand to identify the factors that influence good and bad responses to whistleblowing across a wide range of organisations.

Professor A J Brown

The project provides a clearer basis for evaluation and improvement in organisational procedures, better public policy, and more informed approaches to the reform or introduction of whistleblower protection laws. This is the first research program to systematically compare the levels, responses and outcomes of whistleblowing in multiple organisations, and it continues to yield impactful results.

The outcomes of successive groundbreaking Whistling While They Work projects, conducted from 2005 to today, have significantly influenced public interest disclosure (whistleblowing) legislation in Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. Also, results of the research have been presented at the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services public inquiry on whistleblower protections in the corporate, public, and not-for-profit sectors.

Professor Brown and his team’s research has led to whistleblowing being recognised internationally as an anti-corruption tool while contributing to similar research and legislative changes in the UK and New Zealand. The 2014 Senate Economic References Committee inquiry into the performance of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission — the forerunner of the 2018 royal commission into banking — drew substantially from the research about “the need for a comprehensive approach to corporate whistleblower protections in Australia”.

Whistleblowing is now acknowledged as one of the most important processes by which governments and corporations are kept accountable to society. Even when not formally acknowledged, the impact of the WWTW program is as important to the future and welfare of whistleblowers as to the organisations in which they work.