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Self Administered Interview

What is the SAI?

The Self-Administered interview, or SAI©, is an investigative tool that can be used quickly and efficiently to elicit comprehensive initial statements from witnesses.

It takes the form of a standardised protocol of clear instructions, retrieval facilitation techniques, and open questions that guide witnesses through the process of producing their own statement without the need for a trained interviewer to be present. It is therefore ideal for use when restricted resources mean that a traditional interview is not possible.

“Probably the most valuable additional tool placed at our disposal in the world of investigative interviewing since the adoption of the ‘PEACE’ model in the early 1990s...”

Force Specialist Investigative Interview Manager and Advisor
Greater Manchester Police, UK

Why was the SAI developed?

The SAI was originally developed to address the serious challenge faced by investigators when an incident occurs for which there are numerous eyewitnesses.

Any of these witnesses may hold potentially vital information about the incident and descriptions of the perpetrators i.e., information that will provide both critical leads for the investigation or compelling evidence in a trial.

However, investigators do not always have the resources in terms of time, expertise, or personnel to conduct detailed interviews with many witnesses shortly after an incident.

The quality of eyewitness accounts is time-critical. As the delay between witnessing and a formal investigative interview increases, so too does that amount of information forgotten. Another important threat to accurate witness recall over time is contamination of the original memory by inaccurate information encountered between witnessing the event and providing the police with an account of the incident. Information encountered from co-witnesses, friends, family, local, national, and social media, can all pose a serious threat to witness recall accuracy.

The SAI© provides a means for obtaining high quality evidence from witnesses at the scene of an incident, or shortly afterwards, with minimal drain on resources. Not only that, the act of completing an SAI© protects a witness’s memory against forgetting and exposure to post-event information, such that the quality of their evidence is maintained during the time that passes between witnessing an incident and being invited in to give a statement.

In addition to benefits of enhanced witness recall, the tool also enables investigators to ‘prioritise’ witnesses for follow-up interview meaning that key witnesses are less likely to be overlooked and that resources can be appropriately allocated. In addition, the use of a standardised tool to elicit witness accounts limits any suggestion of ‘improper’ interviewing techniques and reduces any pressure from police or other interviewers which might be inadvertently perceived by witnesses.

Studies reveal a 42% incease in valuable detail when using the SAI compared to a free recall interview.

How does the SAI work?

The SAI© is a protocol of instructions and questions, based upon well-established cognitive theories of remembering, that support eyewitnesses when recollecting and recording their memories of an incident.

To facilitate the recollection and reporting of memories, the two most effective components of the Cognitive Interview are used; Mental Reinstatement of Context and Report Everything. Further sections of the SAI© require witnesses to provide as much detail as possible about the appearance of the perpetrator(s), vehicle(s), and other relevant persons, such as other potential witnesses. Non-leading cues are provided in these sections to facilitate recollection. Witnesses are also asked to generate a sketch the general layout of the scene including positions of themselves in relation to other persons present (perpetrators and other witnesses). Instructions throughout request that witnesses complete the SAI© alone and provide the most complete and accurate account possible while avoiding guessing.

Completing an SAI© not only provides investigating officers with useful information, but helps strengthen and preserve the witness’s memory, thus preventing against forgetting and protecting against exposure to potentially misleading post-event information. This is because the act of retrieval enhances the subsequent retention and recall of information. This effect is proposed to occur, at least in part, due to the elaboration and activation of memory traces that can result when retrieval processes are engaged during remembering. Retrieval attempts can also facilitate subsequent remembering by creating different retrieval routes to access the originally encoded information. An early recall attempt can therefore increase the activation level of items of information in memory as well as the associations between them.

Having a ‘strong’ memory for an event offers some protection against exposure to misleading post-event information as people are more likely to notice discrepancies between their original memories for the event and any post-event information received. Research has shown that witnesses who complete an SAI© are less suggestible when face with items of misleading post-event information, or leading questions.

SAI distributed to witnesses at the scene or shortly afterwards

Witnesses complete the SAI independently using proven psychological cues & tools

The act of completing a Self Administered Interview is proven to protect memory

Officers review the completed SAI

Developed, tested and refined over a decade

Used by Police forces and investigators globally

Key research findings

In early tests of the SAI, mock witnesses (comprising a sample of community volunteers of all ages and backgrounds) viewed a simulated crime event and were required to report as much as they could about what they had seen. Witnesses who completed the SAI tool reported 42% more correct details than those participants who were simply asked to report what they had seen.

In subsequent tests, mock witnesses who had completed the SAI tool shortly after witnessing the event provided almost 30% more correct details when interviewed after a delay than those who had not made an earlier recall attempt (Gabbert et al., 2009).

Subsequent research has replicated and extended these findings. Specifically, we have found that mock witnesses who complete an SAI after witnessing a simulated crime remember more information following a delay of one month, than do control participants (who have not completed an SAI) after a delay of one week. Furthermore, mock witnesses who complete an SAI are more resistant to the misleading effects of exposure to post-event information and produce more information in a subsequent cognitive interview (Gabbert et al.).

Ten years on, these initial findings have been replicated and extended by other labs around the world. A recent meta-analysis of studies using the SAI© has confirmed that witness accounts obtained via the SAI© result in more detailed accounts than other reporting formats, and that completing the SAI© soon after an event protects the memory of that event from forgetting and manipulation over time, leading to more detailed subsequent accounts (Horry et al., 2021).

What industry is it suitable for?

Over time, the original SAI© research programme has been significantly extended by the development of new tools to assist specific investigative needs identified by end-users, specifically, missing persons investigations, workplace accidents, and road traffic collisions.

These new SAI© tools have been developed in collaboration with stakeholders and end-users to ensure context-relevant adaptations. For example, the SAI-Missing includes the use of targeted retrieval cues designed to elicit personal details about the missing person, while the SAI-RTC prompts for information about precipitating factors in road traffic collisions. Data from experimental research and live trials with police forces confirm the efficacy and versatility of these new SAI© tools, relative to existing reporting formats. For example, an average increase of 35% for missing person descriptions (Gabbert et al., 2020), and an average increase of 57% for details relating to road traffic incidents, in comparison to the standard forms (Horry et al., 2021).

In sum, the SAI© can add value to any incident investigation, from police, or medical incidents, to industrial accidents, and insurance investigations.

Please see the following pages for more information about the bespoke versions we have developed;

Key Updates

NHS Marauding Terrorist Incidents

We are currently working with the NHS on adapting the Self Administered Interview for marauding terrorist incidents.

SAI used in Aviation Incidents

In 2021 a version of the SAI was developed for aviation incident investigations, and used to great effect following a….

College of Policing endorse SAI

In 2019, the College of Policing released new Authorised Professional Practice (APP) guidelines for frontline police officers on obtaining initial accounts from eyewitnesses, that includes a strategic recommendation that "Interview advisers should consider use of the Self-Administered Interview in single incidents involving high numbers of witnesses”.