At the 2013 Cal Caucus, Martine Conway, the Ombudsperson at the University of Victoria, sparked an insightful conversation about the differences between Canadian and U.S. Ombuds. She highlighted the language that practitioners use to define themselves and referenced the definition on this blog as an example. I realized that my definition, which was based on the IOA Standards of Practice, was incomplete. ACCUO's Standards of Practice enunciate additional tenets that I also support. I have therefore added some additional language to my definition of an Organizational Ombuds to include the concepts of accessibility and fairness. The previous definition was:Comment by Reese Ramos
As of today, it reads:I encourage feedback on this issue.
Related posts: University of Victoria Ombuds Publishes 2011 Report; Registration Opens for 2012 Cal Caucus; Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons Publishes Standards of Practice.
Comment by John Zinsser
I have often enjoyed explaining the ombuds role in the organization as the only one without a performance agenda.
Everyone else has something they are supposed to get done.
The ombuds through the INIC did not have an agenda. It helped them just listen to the person without the filter of a self motivation.
Adding the "Advocate for Fairness" element gives the Ombuds an agenda, something they are pursuing. This WILL impact the nature and quality of listening....
Just a thought.Comment by Tom Kosakowski
This is a tricky issue and I’ve heard from others with similar concerns. My change was intended to reflect the historical underpinnings of the practice and the standards recently adopted by the Association of Canadian College and University Ombuds. One example is this statement in the 2004 ABA white paper: “An organizational ombuds facilitates fair and equitable resolutions of concerns that arise within the entity.” Isn't this an acknowledgment that OO's have a role in seeking fairness?
In practice, I rarely explicitly advocate for “fairness” and I think that holds true for most Organizational Ombuds. On some occasions, we may see situations where the equities are clearly unbalanced and we can take the opportunity to raise the issue of fairness to the decision makers. Some call that advocating, while I would merely call it raising an issue for consideration.Comment by Tom Kosakowski
Perhaps I need to revisit the definition to add more nuance. In any case, I appreciate everyone's thoughts.
Here are some additional relevant cites [emphasis added]:Comment by John Zinsser
IOA Code of Ethics
2.2 The Ombudsman strives for impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues. The Ombudsman advocates for fair and equitably administered processes and does not advocate on behalf of any individual within the organization.
New Issue of Journal of IOA Focuses on Fairness and Equity
The latest issue of the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association (JIOA, vol. 4, no. 1.) takes up the theme of, “Fairness and Equity.” JIOA Editor David Miller says the idea was sparked by Associate Editor Tom Sebok, who asked, “How do we reconcile Ombudsman neutrality with being ‘advocates for fair and equitably administered processes’”?
IOA Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is an Organizational Ombudsman?
An Organizational Ombudsman provides confidential, informal, independent and impartial assistance to individuals through dispute resolution and problem-solving methods such as conflict coaching, mediation, facilitation, and shuttle diplomacy. The Organizational Ombudsman responds to concerns and disputes brought forward by visitors to the office and may report trends, systemic problems, and organizational issues to high-level leaders and executives in a confidential manner. He or she does not advocate for individuals, groups or entities, but rather for the principles of fairness and equity. The Organizational Ombudsman does not play a role in formal processes, investigate problems brought to the office’s attention, or represent any side in a dispute.
2012 International Training in Santiago, Chile [subsequently cancelled]
Specialized Course: The Power of Influence: The hidden strength of ADR to advance fairness and justice
* * *
While disparities and inequity permeate both societies and institutions, dispute resolution professionals are increasingly used as a means to promote fairness. But, do neutrals really have that kind of power or influence? This one day course will explore these questions as well as the real and perceived power of the designated neutral. Drawing on notions of procedural justice, fairness, and theories of power, the course will use case studies and exercises in an interactive format to help participants consider the issue of impartiality, neutrality and power while considering how they can influence the cause of fairness when parties negotiate at an uneven table.
City of Houston, "Ombuds Day" Proclamation
WHEREAS, Ombuds offices exist throughout the world in academia, government and business to assist people in reaching fair resolutions to conflicts, misunderstandings and ethical questions that naturally occur in every setting; and,
WHEREAS, Ombuds offices project Values of justice, fairness, ethics and civility and help protect individuals and institutions from costs associated with conflict and ethics violations...
BIG difference between "The Ombudsman advocates for fair and equitably administered processes," and "He or she does not advocate for individuals, groups or entities, but rather for the principles of fairness and equity."
Processes and Principles are not at all the same.
I am all for ombuds work supporting that the processes in an org are fair. (Although it should be noted that some think of the ombuds as an office where exceptions to policies are wrought due to challenges or conflicts - e.g. the party who gets reassigned to avoid and ongoing problem.)
When ombuds begin championing a given principal, one which may not be in harmony with the organization's then the question of neutrality must be raised along with alignment to functional goals for the host institution. Does an Ombuds for the Coast Guard say, really think the coast guard culture supports a principle of fairness in a situation where an Admiral is replaced with an ensign? Process should be fair - they should both be paid on time. But in principle, are they really equitable in the institution’s outlook? What about a surgeon and an orderly in a hospital? A university president and a part-time student?
Work for fair processes - sure. Go easy on championing principles, other than aiding the institution to uphold its espoused values. There is plenty of change work, more than enough conflict in helping organizations rise closer to their own aspirations and goals. We need not bring to them, champion to them, external attributes which may not align with their desires, needs and realities.