August 29, 2007

Study: Experts No Better at Predicting Dispute Outcomes

A study published by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences finds that experts are little better than novices in predicting the outcome of conflicts. Researchers compared the accuracy of 106 forecasts by experts and 169 forecasts by novices in eight real conflicts and found that neither group's forecasts were much more accurate than simply guessing. Although the experts were confident in the accuracy of their forecasts, the study's authors concluded that expert judgment should not be used for predicting decisions that people will make in conflicts. (; Report and Commentary; INFORMS.) (Despite the title of the study, "The Ombudsman: Value of Expertise for Forecasting Decisions in Conflicts," there is no discussion of ombuds as dispute experts.)

This research gives ombuds one more excuse when pressed for an opinion: "My guess is a good as yours."

Why Your Website Needs a Photo

Dina Lynch, mediator and former ombuds, counts herself as an occasional member of the "Photo-Haters Club." You, too, might be a member if you've ever thought:
  • I must admit I hate having my picture taken.
  • I take a terrible photo.
  • I don't need a headshot
  • I'm an [ombuds] not a movie star
  • It doesn't make a difference if my picture is there or not.
So if your website doesn't feature your picture, Dina urges you to change your mind. As she explains, this is a bad move "because people do business with people they like and trust, not highly polished, professional brochures or websites." Dispute resolution "is a trust based business so marketing should help increase that connection of trust, not deplete it." (Mediation Mensch.) It's good advice for ombuds.

(Related post Website Photo Mistakes to Avoid.)

August 28, 2007

Job Posting: Howard County Schools

The Howard County (MD) Public School System is looking for a new ombudsman, following the resignation of Robin Shell, the district's first ombuds. (Shell founded the ombuds office in January 2005 and resigned in June 2007. ) The ombuds reports directly to the Board of Education and serves as a neutral party for parents, staff and community members seeking equitable, reasonable and timely resolution of concerns. The ombuds also provides professional support to the Board of Education. This is a part-time (3 days/week), year-round position, with a salary range of $30,240-$54,084. Applications are due September 14. (HCPSS Job Posting; HCPSS Policy Statement re Ombuds; HCPSS Ombuds Report, July 2006; HCPSS Org Chart; Howard County Times.)

Series on The Negotiator's Fieldbook

Gini Nelson – who blogs about science, ethics and spirit in conflict resolution – is beginning a multi-part review of The Negotiator’s Fieldbook: The Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator, by Christopher Honeyman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider. Nelson describes the book as "a highly acclaimed and innovative resource for all conflict specialists." (Gini Nelson’s Engaging Conflicts.)

This is a resource I have been putting off reading, so I'm looking forward to Gini's review.

August 23, 2007

More Details Emerge Regarding DC School Ombuds

Although the DC Public Schools have not yet selected its ombuds, more information about the ombuds program has become public. According to the Washington Post, the new Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education will be staffed by three people: the director and lead ombuds, who will earn $92,700 to $139,050 a year; an associate ombudsman, who is expected to earn $85,000 a year; and an administrator, who will be paid $50,000 a year. The office has an initial budget of $440,000. In addition to providing dispute resolution assistance, the ombuds office will be expected to implement a database to track complaints and issues, and to provide frequent reports to the mayor, deputy mayor for education, chancellor, and State Board of Education. (Washington Post.)

So far, this all sounds good.

(Prior post DC Schools Close to Hiring Ombuds.)

New Mexico State University to Open Ombuds Office

At the Fall Convocation, NMSU President Mike Martin announced the university will start an ombudsman office to give faculty and students a less-formal route to deal with grievances. "We hope by having a structure to do this we avoid some of the unnecessary tensions that sometimes come when we have differences of opinion or differences of direction," he said. (Las Cruces Sun-News.)

What's somewhat confusing is that NMSU had a website for an ombuds office as recently as August 9. (Google cache of NMSU Office of the Ombudsman.) Maybe "reopening" would be more accurate.

August 22, 2007

Ombuds Endorsed for APA

The Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs of the American Psychological Association has recommended the organization create an ombuds program. According to its report on Projects/Initiatives of High Priority for 2007:
CEMA strongly supports the development of an independent resource such as a Cultural Ombudsman or mediator within the APA organizational structure. The ombudsman would be an independent resource who would serve as a facilitator or mediator in situations when there is a grievance or conflict rooted in competing interests of diverse groups.

(APA Office of Minority Affairs Communique, see p. 22.)

The world's largest association of psychologists has endorsed university ombuds programs, so it will be interesting to see how it responds to this recommendation. (APA Monitor.)

August 21, 2007

DC Schools Close to Hiring Ombuds

As the Washington DC Public School District scrambles to address administrative backlogs and prepare for the first day of classes, the newly-created ombuds position remains unfilled. However, Mayor Adrian Fenty said a five-member panel is reviewing candidates and one would be chosen soon. "There is no way in the world I'm going to sacrifice quality to meet the deadline because this person has to be excellent," Fenty said. (Washington Times.)

Although the DCPS website is largely under construction, already there is information about the ombuds program. (
DCPS FAQ re Ombudsman.)

(Prior posts DC Mayor's School Plan Includes Ombuds; Job Posting: DC Schools Ombuds.)

August 15, 2007

Superintendent of New Orleans Schools to Hire Ombuds

Paul G. Vallas, the new superintendent of the Recovery School District of New Orleans, says he is "going to create an ombudsman’s office to assist teachers and resolve problems." There is good reason to take this seriously: Vallas oversaw the creation of ombuds programs while he was CEO of the school districts in Chicago and Philadelphia. (Education Week, free subscription required.)

August 14, 2007

Texas State Bar Considers Ombuds Office

A committee appointed by the Texas Supreme Court has concluded its review of the state's lawyer disciplinary system and recommended systemic changes. In its 25-page report, the Grievance Oversight Committee urges, among other things, that the State Bar board establish an ombudsman's office to help complainants with issues related to filing complaints. According to the GOC's report, the ombuds would not report to the disciplinary agency and have the power to "investigate" complaints, but there are few other details. (Texas Lawyer; GOC's 2007 Report, see page 9, § III.B.3.b., and Attachment 1, p. 3.)

Maricopa Community Colleges Appoint Ombuds

Elizabeth Karabatsos, a Phoenix mediator with experience as an ombuds for a large aerospace manufacturer, has been contracted to provide ombuds services for employees of the Maricopa Commuity College District. (MCCD News.)

(Prior posts Panel Recommends Ombuds for Maricopa Community College District; Maricopa County Approves Plan for College Ombuds; Arizona College District Seeks Vendor for Ombuds Services.)

August 13, 2007

Insights from Executive Coaching

Bob Weiss, a mediator and executive coach, recommends attorneys question their clients to improve self-awareness and reveal options beyond legal solutions. Weiss offers the following examples of meaningful questions:
  • What important outcomes would be achieved if the parties could rebuild trust?
  • Do you think the other person is defensive because of fears about your intentions?
  • Could your statements have been perceived as disrespectful?
  • What are the positive results of the relationship which would be jeopardized if the dispute continues for a long time?
  • Is the conflict caused by different talents and interests that are actually complementary strengths which offer greater choice and benefits for customers?
(Wisconsin Law Review via

Although these questions can be risky for attorneys, they are just the kind of questions ombuds should ask.

Study: Complaining Makes it Worse

According to MSNBC, new research indicates that talking your problems to death can make you feel even worse. A study conducted by Amanda Rose, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, found that teenage girls who vented to each other about their problems were more likely to develop depression and anxiety. To keep the complaining from becoming a problem, experts suggest talking to someone who will recommend a solution. Psychologists also warn against ranting over and over to the same audience because of the inevitable toll on friendships. (MSNBC; Developmental Psychology.)

It's always nice when research confirms ombuds' instincts.

August 12, 2007

KU Ombuds a Top "Mover and Shaker"

Kellie Harmon, who was just appointed promoted to University Ombuds for Kansas University a few weeks ago, has been recognized as one of "the under-the-radar people who contribute to the workings of the campus on a day-to-day basis." On the list of the ten movers and shakers who rarely make headlines, Harmon was number eight. (Lawrence Journal.)

Ombuds Workshop in Edinburgh

Mediator and author of Mediation Principles, Process, Practice, Miryana Nesic will lead a half-day workshop, "Managing Conflict in Organisations: the Role of the Ombuds," in Edinburgh, Scotland. The course is offered by Core Solutions Group, which offers ADR training and mediations throughout the UK and Europe, takes place on September 6 and costs about $650. (Registration info.)

August 11, 2007

MassHealth to Create Ombuds

As the result of a new state law requiring every adult to be insured, the Medicaid program for Massachusetts has been overwhelmed by people seeking state-subsidized health insurance. The numbers of applications have so overwhelmed MassHealth offices that some uninsured have been forced to wait months for coverage. Health care advocates say paperwork is getting lost and applicants are getting contradictory information about whether they qualify. n response to these problems, the state agency is implementing remedial measures and has promised to setting up an ombuds office to help resolve individual problems. (Boston Globe; Boston Herald.)

So far, details of the proposed ombuds program have not been made public.

August 07, 2007

Advice for Negotiating Workplace Disputes

Jeffrey Krivis, an experienced mediator and adjunct professor at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, offers suggestions for supervisors dealing with conflicts between employees.
  1. Understand the basic structure of a negotiation;
  2. Stagger the presentations to shift the balance of power and keep the parties off balance;
  3. Check the reliability of your information;
  4. Appeal to the parties on an emotional level to help them understand each other’s position;
  5. Think creatively about ways people can cooperate rather than clash;
  6. Deliver bad news with pacing and patience;
  7. Use the “one-step” approach—prepare a proposed agreement based on the ideas of all the parties;
  8. Sweeten the agreement with an apology, an acknowledgment of misunderstanding or some other symbolic gesture;
  9. Trust your intuition and see where it takes you; and
  10. Finally, realize that every conflict can’t be solved.
His article is instructive for ombuds and a valuable resource for mediation training programs. (

New Research Shows Strong Growth in Number of University Ombuds

A study conducted by Mary Newhart, a masters candidate at the IRL School at Cornell University, identified 201 ombuds currently practicing at U.S. colleges and universities. Prior published estimates ranged from 120 to 150. In addition, 42% of survey respondents said their offices had been established after 2000. Newhart's research supports anecdotal observations that ombuds in higher education are moving from more traditional advocacy roles to conflict management specialists conforming to IOA standards. A full copy of her thesis is available for download. (Ecommons@Cornell.)

This sort of research is long overdue. The data will surely be useful for institutions considering creating an ombuds office and established ombuds defending their existence.

August 03, 2007

Update: Senate Approves FOIA Bill, Including Ombuds

On a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved legislation to strengthen the open-government requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Among other provisions, the bill would create an ombuds to mediate FOIA disputes. The bill now advances to the House for consideration. (Miami Herald.)

(Prior posts House Panel Approves Bill That Would Create Federal FOIA Ombuds; Are Ombuds the Solution to FOIA Disputes?; Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Put on Secret Senate Hold.)