Parrhesia Inc (PI), is focussed on the practice, protection, and promotion of the human rights of whistleblowers in the UK, by producing high-level research that can be used by practitioners and policymakers alike.
We are a new, charitable, whistleblowing think-tank, emerging out of the research work carried out by whistleblower practitioners and academics.
What is parrhesia?
Parrhesia is an Ancient Greek term meaning “to speak freely” implying not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at great personal risk. It was viewed as a fundamental tenet of democracy. We believe that parrhesia is a fundamental part of a modern democracy; that without truth, transparency and accountability, democracy dies.
Those who speak truth-to-power have always faced consequences for it. Even today, those who speak-out about corruption, malpractice, incompetence, human trafficking and modern slavery, organised crime, and misconduct in public office, face severe consequences to their employment, health, finances, family and reputation. This retaliation is usually deliberate, public, and meant to undermine, stigmatise, and silence them – serving as a warning to others who might think of doing the same. We believe this retaliation is fundamentally wrong and serves to undermine the fabric of our society. We believe that those who speak in the spirit of parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, should be protected and those who attack them should be held to account and sanctioned.
What are we trying to achieve?
The whistleblowing community of practice in the UK is fragmented and uncoordinated, without an over-arching body that draws together researchers, NGOs, lawyers, policymakers, other charities, business and those with lived experience. As a result, there is little in terms of a research and policy agenda, debate can be poorly informed, and best practice is not widely shared. What legislation the UK has to protect whistleblowers, is over twenty years old, and does not protect everyone who speaks-up.
This means the UK falls behind other countries in how it looks after those that try to do the right thing. We believe that policy and debate need to be better informed, by bringing together the different parts of the community and conducting research at the highest level.
How are we going to do it?
We will build an authoritative body of knowledge and evidence, through research on whistleblowers’ human rights issues, which can be used to provide technical advice to government and others. We will monitor abuses of whistleblowers’ human rights, contribute to the sound administration of the law, propose reform where there are demonstrable deficiencies, and comment on proposed legislation.
We will do this by being a facilitator: a forum for all those working in the field to come together and share best practice and ideas. We will work with others to reduce detriment, collaborate on projects, and seek consensus across the community of practice in order to further our collective purpose.
To achieve this we will initially focus on the following three aims:
- Aim 1 to champion evidence-based policy making.
- Aim 2 to be the consensus builder among the community of practice: bringing people together.
- Aim 3 to be, and to be seen to be, the respected voice of authority and influence, the thought leaders, at the policy table.
Aim 1 – to champion evidence-based policy making
Current position and why our aim is important
There is a growing field of research about whistleblowing, its causes, effects and the benefits it brings. There is nascent recognition that it is an inter-disciplinary topic, but there exists no focus for the co-ordination of research which can provide a single source of reputable evidence to assist in the formulation of policy.
What success would look like
PI established as the co-ordinating body for access to whistleblowing areas of research interest, providing the mechanisms through which independent academic research can be channelled to answer the questions posed by policymakers.
Aim 2 – to be the consensus builder among the community of practice: bringing people together
Through our Board of Trustees, Academic Council, and Policy Advisory Group, we will hold seminars, closed roundtable discussions, and create partnerships with other NGOs and organisations working in the field. By inviting like-minded actors from the community-of-practice to be part of our Policy Advisory Group, where they will be part of our fora for discussion and debate, we will be better able to prioritise the areas of research and identify the unmet policy needs most relevant to those who are closest to whistleblowing.
Current position and why our aim is important
There are always different views on how new structures should be shaped and remedial measures implemented. However, solutions are best achieved through consensus of opinion and a readiness to compromise to achieve the overall aim. Equally important is the identification of potential obstacles and points of resistance, with ideas about how to surmount them. In the UK, there are lots of good people, with years of experience, and honed expertise, isolated from each other because they work in different parts of the sector.
Future direction/what success would look like
We will establish and curate cross-disciplinary Challenge Panels and Seminars to offer constructive critique, analysing and developing concepts which can then be used to make decisions, solve problems and offer evidence in the formulation of policy.
Among stakeholders there will be a cycle of consensus: continually changing and updated, facilitated by us, leading to prioritised research aims, agreed solutions to problems and issues needing to be addressed. All this information will mean we can act as the critical friend to policy makers, offering better understanding of the position of whistleblowers.
Aim 3 – to be, and to be seen to be, the voice of authority and influence, the thought leaders, at the policy table
Current position and why this is important
There are a lot of competing voices in what is a small sector. There is a lack of consensus and examples of infighting which have proven to be counterproductive during attempts to support individual whistleblowers, attain wider aims, or engage with policymakers.
The lack of consensus, even on where areas of basic need lie, hampers the ability of the sector as a whole to improve outcomes for whistleblowers.
Future direction/what success would look like
We will be the trusted, independent, collaborator in the formation and application of effective legislation to protect the human rights of those who speak-out about wrongdoing. We will be the go-to body for evidence-based policy advice, and our opinion will carry weight. We will, by default, have a seat at the table during policy discussions and we will be able to speak, with authority, for breadth of the sector which we represent.
Not only will we be trusted by those making policy, but by those needing the policy to be made. We will act only on evidence, rather than our own opinion; we will be politically neutral, and act only within our scope, and above all, we will be transparent in our dealings with everyone and our motives will be clearly documented and expressed.
These aims, ultimately, feed into our overriding objectives, of which there are four:
- Strat 1 – The establishment of an independent statutory body for the protection of whistleblowers.
- Strat 2 – An online reference library for articles on whistleblowing protection and human rights.
- Strat 3 – Creation of an academic journal focussed on whistleblower research.
- Strat 4 – To assist in making the UK the leading country in the world for whistleblower protection.
In the short term (in our first year) we have registered as a charitable body and are now building on our initial funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. In parallel with this we are refining our governance structures, including building a strong Board of Trustees which has both a varied skill set and diverse background. By the end of the first year we will have changed our name to the Parrhesia Institute. Also by the end of the year, the trustees who are working as executive officers for the charity in the start-up phase will have resigned their positions as trustees, creating a complete separation between the board and the executive.
We are identifying leading academics in the complementary disciplines (eg politics, philosophy, economics, psychology, and sociology) that surround the traditional core whistleblowing research areas (eg law, business ethics, and organisational psychology). From this group we will strengthen our Academic Council, whose role is to advise our research work into sector best-practice, identify gaps in the literature, discuss ways to support policy makers in research, and help assess proposals submitted to us.
In the medium term (2-3 years) we will have secured funding and drawn in experts from the field to explore topics pertinent to the establishment of an independent statutory authority for the protection of whistleblowers. For example, there will be input from business, comparisons with other international bodies, psychological well-being, and discussions about the types of statutory powers needed.
While there are many competing interests and different priorities in all areas, where there is agreement on key issues, we will seek to use it to move debate forward.
We will broaden our Policy Advisory Group, already formed of key people from important stakeholder organisations and those with complementary expertise, to help direct this work. We will contribute to the sound administration and development of the law, by drawing together our experts’ views and propose reform. We will build an authoritative body of knowledge and evidence to provide technical advice to the Government and others by combining the views of the Academic Council and Policy Advisory Group. In turn, policymakers will come to us for accessible expert practical and academic opinion on advice.
In the long term (4-5 years) we establish a journal and will be positioned as the central resource for literature on all matters related to parrhesia, and the complementary disciplines which surround the traditional core whistleblowing research areas. Once the independent statutory authority has been established, we will monitor its work and continue to build evidence to advise the body, and others, on the best approach to ensure protection for whistleblowers.
Who will do the work?
PI will be led by Ian Foxley as CEO and Wendy Addison as CFO who will be responsible for the work and for recruiting, managing, and supervising (subject to funding) a communications officer, website manager, a funding and relationship manager and a Research Assistant/ Academic Council Secretary.
Parrhesia’s strategy, implementation, financial planning and governance will be overseen by its Board of Trustees, as will the work of the C-suite who will report directly to the board.
Parrhesia Inc will build a website that will document the work it does and act as a resource for the public on these issues. Additionally, it will disseminate thought leadership through blogs and reports, eventually founding an academic journal specific to the field of whistleblowing.
Parrhesia Inc will fill a crucial niche in the UK whistleblowing landscape by drawing together the expertise across the sector and taking it to a new level. We will develop concrete, highly credible, evidence-based proposals for reform and generate momentum through strong collaboration with other NGOs, participation in NGO networks, and by forging strong relationships with lawyers, law enforcement, parliamentarians, and the media.
We will review our strategy annually with the board, evaluating what has worked and what has not, and producing an annual report to detail the work we have done and our in-depth evaluation of it.