Planning an investigation

Faso Aishath Updated by Faso Aishath

  • An investigation plan should be completed for every investigation.  
  • The plan helps investigators focus on the issue/s to be investigated, identify the evidence to be collected and avoid obstacles. 
  • The plan should provide a roadmap for the investigation. As such, it does not need to be a detailed document. 


No matter what type of investigation the NHRI is about to undertake, careful planning at the outset is essential for a thorough, efficient and effective investigation.  

Preparing an investigation plan helps the team to:  

  • Establish exactly what is – and what is not – being investigated  
  • Identify where the evidence might be  
  • Set out what problems might arise and the strategies to deal with them  
  • Determine what resources are required to complete the investigation within a reasonable time.  

An investigation plan should provide a clear roadmap for the investigation. The length will depend on the scope, volume and complexity of the issues under investigation. 

However, it does not need to be overly detailed and it should not create an additional burden for the investigation team. 

The plan should be reviewed and updated as the investigation progresses.  



The investigation plan should set out as precisely as possible exactly what is being investigated. It may be a specific allegation or series of allegations or it may be an issue that has been identified for an “own motion” (suo moto) investigation.  

For the NHRI to act, the issue must have a human rights dimension. That should be clearly identified. If any apparent systemic issues have been identified, those issues should be articulated and an indication given as to whether they will be investigated. 


The plan should describe the overall approach that will guide the conduct of the investigation. What is the strategy? How is it anticipated that the investigation will unfold? What investigative steps will be taken and in what order? 

The plan should also set out who should be spoken to and what documentary, physical and digital evidence should be gathered.  


A list should be made of who the investigator will likely want to speak to during the investigation, as well as where those individuals are physically located. If possible, the method for conducting the interviews should also be described.  


The investigation plan should set out what documents may be relevant to the investigation? Who has them? Where are they? How many are likely to be exist? How will they be obtained? And who will be responsible for reviewing them, once they have been obtained?  

Physical and digital evidence  

If physical evidence is a consideration, it will be necessary to work out where it is, how it is going to be secured, whether a “chain of custody” needs to be established and whether expert assistance is needed to preserve and examine it. The same questions should be applied to any digital evidence that will be gathered. 



Investigators should attempt to identify any and all possible difficulties that may arise during the investigation, as well as the possible solutions to avoid or address those obstacles. 

Common challenges that investigators can face relate to: 

  • Lack of cooperation  
  • Fear of reprisal 
  • Culture and language 
  • Access to sources of evidence 
  • Destruction or tampering with evidence 
  • Collusion between witnesses. 



It is important to assess whether the resources available for the investigation are sufficient for the importance of the issue being investigated. If there are insufficient resources to investigate the issue thoroughly and within a reasonable time, the NHRI should consider whether or not to begin the investigation. 

The plan should set out:  

  • Number of investigators and support staff required (consider the skills required and the diversity of the team) 
  • Research requirements  
  • Forensic and other experts  
  • Legal advice  
  • Travel and related costs  
  • Translation services  
  • Transcription services.  



Some investigations will be conducted away from public scrutiny. In other cases, the NHRI may seek to draw attention to the investigation, especially if it will ask for input from people who have information relevant to the matter. 

The investigations plan should address any relevant communication requirements, such as:  

  • Announcing the investigation  
  • Managing any information that it receives  
  • Updating stakeholders on the progress of the investigation (without compromising the integrity of the investigation) 
  • Ensuring all other parties who should know about the investigation are kept informed of its progress.  

A large-scale investigation or national inquiry may also need a dedicated communications strategy. This will include a range of actions, such as preparing media releases, holding media conferences, providing updated information on the NHRI website and using social media platforms. 



Setting targets helps place discipline on the investigation. It provides a timeline that investigators can refer to as the investigation progresses.  

Set out realistic goals for completing each stage of the investigation; for example, obtaining and reviewing digital evidence, locating and interviewing witnesses, holding public consultations, assessing the evidence and preparing the final report.  


Chapter , Undertaking Effective Investigations: A Guide for National Human Rights Institutions (APF, revised 2018) 


How did we do?

Identifying issues and deciding whether to investigate

Investigative interviewing