December 19, 2010

The Ombuds Year in Review: 2010

In the past year, IOA held its fifth annual conference, an attorney wrote the first guide for Ombuds, U.S. legislation created new federal Ombuds programs, FCO began its own training program, a campus suicide drew attention to the role of Ombuds in bullying cases, Cal Caucus resumed its annual meeting, nearly two dozen new offices opened, other Ombuds were newsworthy, certification became a reality, and several notable Ombuds passed away.

IOA Celebrates its Fifth Anniversary -- The association held its annual conference in New Orleans and nearly 300 Ombuds attended. The event was highlighted by keynote addresses from Dr. Michael Martin, André Marin, Chuck L. Howard, Prof. Sandra Stokes, and Prof. Robert C. Bordone. For the first time, non-attendees were able to follow the conference on Twitter. In addition, the conference featured the winner of IOA's first student writing competition.

ABA Publishes First Legal Guide for Organizational Ombuds -- In January, the American Bar Association released Chuck Howard's The Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles and Operations-A Legal Guide. It which was quickly hailed as the first comprehensive textbook on the profession. Subsequently, Howard embarked on an ad hoc book tour with speaking engagements at: the IOA Annual Conference; East Coast Ombuds Group; Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics; California Caucus of College & University Ombuds; Ombuds of Texas; Coalition of Federal Ombuds Conference; and Princeton University.

Congress Passes Law to Create New Federal Ombuds Offices -- The sweeping reform legislation signed into law by President Obama in July will establish new Ombuds programs for the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of the Investor Advocate, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and for private student loan disputes. The SEC moved first to solicit public commentary and has already received feedback from many Organizational Ombuds and experts. Meanwhile, the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen continued to collaborate with other federal agencies that were establishing Ombuds programs on their own mandates.

FCO Institute Debuts Ombuds Training -- In September, the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman Institute hosted its first ever course on Ombuds fundamentals featuring nearly two dozen Canadian Ombuds. Although intended primarily for new and intermediate-level Classical Ombuds, the two-day program is an important new resource for Organizational Ombuds as well, especially in Canada.
Correction 12/20/10:  The FCO has been offering courses since 2004. In 2010, the FCO Institute was created as an umbrella organization for training, conferences and research.

Tragedy at UVA Highlights Growing Concern Over Bullying -- One of the many stories of bullying reported in the mainstream press involved the Ombuds at the University of Virginia. In August, an editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review took his own life after complaining about workplace bullying. Although the victim allegedly contacted the UVA Ombuds shortly before his death, the Ombuds was steadfast in protecting his confidentiality. Ultimately, an internal audit found that the University took "appropriate actions" in handling the situation and reiterated that it would have had no notice of complaints heard by the Ombuds. The incident highlighted the relationship between Ombuds and bullying, which was further explored in an article for the LERA Newsletter and an entire issue of the Journal of IOA, and at meetings of the Ombuds of Texas, ENOHE-ACCUO, and the Midwest University & College Ombuds.

Cal Caucus Returns Reinvigorated-- In 2009 the California Caucus of Colleges and University Ombuds did not meet for the first time in nearly four decades due to declining attendance. After retooling, Cal Caucus returned to the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove in November 2010 with an impressive list of presenters from the U.S. and Canada.

Many New Programs Open -- Organizations established or reopened 22 Ombuds offices in 2010. Most of the good news came from the education sector: Newark NJ Public Schools; Ashford University; University of New Mexico; University of Miami School of Medicine; University of Missouri, Kansas City; John F. Kennedy University; University of Calgary; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Greenstar Cooperative Market; Ohio State University; Tyco Electronics; Washington University in St. Louis; Michigan State University; University of Ottawa; European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); Office of Personnel Management; Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA); Algoma University; Colorado College; New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services; Amherst MA Regional Public Schools; Northwestern University; Shawnee State University; and Cleveland State University. Meanwhile, there were no reported Ombuds office closures.
Update 12/22/10: Add one more,  Washtenaw Community College.

Other Ombuds Dominate the Popular News -- For better or worse, Ombuds that made headlines in 2010 were not Organizational Ombuds, but their stories were among the most read on the Ombuds Blog: The BP Ombuds received significant attention in the wake of the gulf oil spill and was eventually slated for closure; National Public Radio will be hiring a new Ombuds; and a high profile Executive Ombuds had a dispute with a Canadian flight crew that garnered unwanted attention.

Certification Becomes a Reality -- Early in the year, the Board of Certification for Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioners Board announced the results of the first certification examination. The test has now been administered multiple times and is available to international applicants. So far, 45 Ombuds have passed the exam and certification screening and are eligible to use the CO-OP designation.

In Memoriam -- Several notable Ombuds passed away in 2010, including: Elizabeth Walsh Pino (Palmer & Dodge and McKinsey & Co.); Eugene Vasilew (Binghamton University); Milton J. Brawer (Western Michigan University); and William T. Mason III (John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory).  Their contributions to the field and to their constituencies were invaluable, and they will be missed.


  1. Fabulous review and summary, Tom! Congrats on running a successful blog! May it continue to grow and thrive (hopefully a reflection of our field).

  2. I was pleased to see that the FCO training course was mentioned as a highlight for the year. We appreciate the work that the Ombuds blog does to publicize our courses and conferences, and its role in keeping the wider community appraised of changes within the Ombuds community.

    The FCO has been offering courses since 2004 – additionally, we have offered biannual conferences since 2003. In 2010 we announced the creation of the FCO institute. This is an effort to bring all of our training, conferences and research under the institute umbrella.

    The FCO is an umbrella organization made up of a diversity of Ombuds – from Organizational Ombuds, College and University Ombudspersons, executive Ombudsmen in the public and private sector, and including the legislatively mandated Ombudsman offices. The focus of all of our courses, and conferences is to provide relevant training for Canadian Ombudsmen across the diversity of our membership.

    Here is a list of the courses which the FCO has offered since 2004.

    • Ombudsman Fundamentals, Toronto, September 2010.
    • Dealing with Unreasonable complainant behavior, Toronto, October 2010.

    • Dealing with Unreasonable Complainant Behavior – offered in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Ottawa, Ontario; Regina, Saskatchewan; Victoria B.C.

    • Dealing with Difficult Complainant Behaviour - Montréal, October 19 - 21, 2008
    • L'Ombudsman, la diversité et l'accommodement raisonnable : les enjeux d'un problème ou d'une opportunité à saisir - Montréal, du 15 au 17 juin, 2008
    • Working Behind Prison Walls - Winnipeg, September 14-16, 2008
    • Complaint Intake: Challenges, Ideas and Techniques - Toronto, January 27 - 29, 2008
    • Working Behind Prison Walls - St. John's, November 25 - 27, 2007
    • Social Safety Nets and the Ombudsman - Edmonton, February 11 - 13, 2007
    • Working Behind Prison Walls - Vancouver, May 28 - 30, 2006
    • La formation de base pour les Ombudsmans - Montréal du 26 au 28 mars, 2006
    • Advanced Investigations Course - Toronto, January 29 - 31, 2006
    • Advanced Investigations (January 2005)
    • Working Behind Prison Walls (May)
    • Ombudsman Fundamentals – May 2005, Toronto (Presented in English and French)
    • Effective Interviewing – May 2005, Toronto (Presented in English and French)

    • Ombudsman Fundamentals March 2004
    • Ombudsman Investigations - September 2004 (Toronto, presented in English)
    • Ombudsman Investigations – November 2004, Montreal, (presented in French)

    Ian Darling,
    Forum of Canadian Ombudsman.

  3. Results of reader poll:
    IOA Marks 5 Years 0 (0%)
    Chuck Howard's Book 7 (29%)
    New Federal Programs 2 (8%)
    FCO Ombuds Training 2 (8%)
    UVA Tragedy / Bullying 2 (8%)
    Cal Caucus Returns 1 (4%)
    22 Offices Open 7 (29%)
    Other Ombuds in the News 0 (0%)
    Certification Starts 1 (4%)
    Other 2 (8%)
    Votes so far: 24
    Poll closed