Can whistleblowing have a positive effect in fostering innovation (such as better government, business, technologies). If you read the mainstream press then the answer is a (hysterical) no! However, a recent article by Brian Martin suggests that a culture of whistleblowing can be crucial to an effective and innovative culture.
Usually, whistleblowers are flagging issues which they feel require attention. This is quite simple except when structural organisational elements are implicated, such as management. In this case, the whistleblower can find that reprisals and an punishment can be the result.
Organisations which must be, or aspire to be, innovative must have good channels of communication which are not fostered by the psychology which develops around the harassment of whistleblowers.
A free wheeling environment of exchange is at the foundation of innovation and this type of environment is very similar to that which encourages scientific research.
Whistleblowers can be likened to antibodies that fight off disease: by raising the alarm about potentially dangerous practices, they enable responses before the problems become much worse, or even terminal as with the company Enron.
A further example could be the gaming of emissions standards testing by VW. If this issue had been brought to light (internally or externally) by a whistleblower then the massive ramifications for all of the stakeholders could have been avoided.
As Martin suggests, for companies and governments that want to be innovation leaders then perhaps a culture which does not see the whistleblower as the enemy and which fosters open communication is better path.
Photo credit: “iStock.com/john gomez”. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from InnovationAus.