Over the past ten years, the Organizational Ombuds field has advanced considerably and is now much closer to a profession than it was at the turn of the millennium. Here are the top events of the past decade:
1. UCOA and TOA Merge -- In 2005, the University and College Ombuds Association joined The Ombudsman Association to form the International Ombudsman Association, the primary professional body for Organizational Ombuds.
2. Canadian Ombuds Flourish -- The Forum of Canadian Ombuds was established in 2001 and has grown steadily as Ombuds programs of various types are created by government agencies, universities and businesses. FCO joined with the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudsmen (which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2008) and IOA for a joint conference in 2009.
3. The Lawyers Weigh In -- The American Bar Association issued revised "Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombuds Offices" in 2004, to the profound consternation of practicing Ombuds. Nonetheless, the uninvited advice has been used by many as a tool for persuading policymakers.
4. Federal Ombuds Get Organized -- The Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen held its first all day conference in 2002 and collaborated on the Guide for Federal Employee Ombuds in 2006. COFO has emerged as a robust organization for the growing number of Ombuds working in federal agencies and departments.
5. Leading Organizations Create Programs -- Many prominent businesses and non-profits created Organizational Ombuds programs since 2000, including Coca-Cola, the United Nations, the American Red Cross and dozens of universities.
6. Landmark Offices Close -- On the downside, several institutions shut down their Ombuds offices as the recession deepened in 2008 and 2009. Most notably, the California Institute of Technology closed the office that gave rise to one of the most significant court decisions for the profession.
7. Certification Becomes a Reality -- After nearly a decade of discussion and debate that began with TOA, IOA rolled out a certification program in 2009.
8. Concept Expands Beyond the US -- Although the Organizational Ombuds concept is most prevalent in the United States it has become more accepted in other countries. IOA incorporated 'international' in its title and committed to regular trainings and conferences abroad. The United Nations reorganized its conflict resolution system to include an Organizational Ombuds component; a move that has been followed by other affiliated NGOs including ILO, WIPO and WHO. Many corporations now have Ombuds serving employees internationally.
9. California Caucus Struggles -- The California Caucus of College and University Ombudsmen, the oldest organization of Ombuds and first publisher of a dedicated journal, has seen declining attendance at its annual meeting. As the decade closed, CCCUO was seeking its niche in a changed landscape.
10. A European Association Emerges -- The European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education began holding annual meetings in 2002 and has become a leading organization for university Ombuds around the world, not just Europe.
Viewed in the long term, these highlights point the way toward a bright future for Organizational Ombuds. Happy New Year, everyone!