March 15, 2009

FEMA’s Embedded Mediator Cadre Resembles Organizational Ombuds

An article in the newsletter of the Virginia Judicial System ADR program summarizes the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) “cadre.” Established in 2005, the FEMA ADR Cadre employs 20 advisors with a fairly broad and fully developed skill set in conflict resolution, mediation, facilitation and related skills. These ADR Advisors are deployed to assignments in FEMA disaster field offices following the declaration of a major disaster and focus on workplace conflict resolution. Rob Scott, FEMA’s ADR Cadre Manager, concludes that the program most closely resembles the Organizational Ombuds model.
Typically the organizational ombudsman model, like the FEMA ADR Cadre, provides the following services: listening and problem solving, providing information and options, conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, shuttle diplomacy and assisting clients to find the right office within the Agency that can best deal with their problem. Important characteristics of the model include independence of the neutral (they have no conflicting collateral duties or lines of authority; neutrality and impartiality; confidentiality and informality) and that the office cannot accept notice for the Agency and cannot open or process complaints or testify in formal or legal proceedings. And, in contrast to the classical model of ombudsman, the university model prohibits conducting investigations, issuing reports or findings of fact, or creating formal processes to resolve issues. And, in practice, this model requires a high degree of cooperation and collaboration with other key offices in the organization such as the EEO office, HR and training.

The cadre receives two trainings a year. Past trainings have covered conflict coaching and appreciative inquiry. (Virginia Dispute Resolution Services Newsletter; FEMA ADR Home.)

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