March 06, 2015

Opinion: IOA Should Seek Strategic Partners for its Annual Conference

Our professional organization has made some remarkable progress during its first decade.  The International Ombudsman Association has largely integrated its predecessor organizations, formalized its internal structures, and built a reliable training program and annual conference. However, the strategic goal of, "an outreach program to promote the understanding, visibility and development of Organizational Ombudsman roles and offices," remains underfunded and ad hoc. 

Fortunately, IOA's well-established annual conference provides an opportunity to advance this goal: IOA should partner with other organizations to hold joint conferences. 

There are many organizations with members who would be interested in IOA's pre-conference training and conference sessions. And, of course, many organizations have training and conferences that also would be relevant for Ombuds.  Many of these conferences even take place in the springtime.

For example, the American Bar Association Section on Dispute Resolution holds its annual conference every April, often on the same dates.  The event attracts attorneys, mediators, judges, law school professors, and even Ombuds.  This year, four Ombuds and the leading attorney on Ombuds-related law are scheduled to be speakers.  (Notably, none are endorsed or sponsored by IOA.)  What if IOA worked with the ABA DRS to hold a joint conference in 2017?  

There are other likely candidates for strategic conference partnerships:
All of these events attract people who should know about the role of Ombuds.  Looking at other times of the year might identify other conferences with a better fit.  It should not be difficult to find a different strategic partner every year.

There may also be financial benefits from simple economies of scale. Planners should be able to negotiate greater concessions for more hotel bookings. Organizers also might be able to attract and pay for keynote speakers with higher profiles. 

I urge the Board to consider the many good reasons for a interdisciplinary annual conference. 


  1. In June, 2000 we had a joint conference ' The Second Ombudsman Leadership Forum Conference" held in San Francisco, CA. The partners were: Assoc. of Canadian College & University Ombuds, Canadian Ombudsman Assoc., National Assoc of State Ombudsman Programs, TOA, USOA and UCOA. It was an awesome conference with a dinner cruise sponsored by Chevron which provided an enjoyable venue of networking. We had great informative speakers, workshops and wonderful food. It was what a conference should be!! Unfortunately based on the IOA conference brochure for this April, where the Conference Theme has SHAMEFULLY remained the same for the past 5 years and we have returned to Continental Breakfast, it seems we are moving 10 steps back not 5 steps forward. For the exorbitant fees paid to the new management group, this should be one of their top priorities to work on with endorsement from the Board. The conference should be the HIGHLIGHT/BENEFIT of being an IOA member, without cuts - only to increase the management fees.

    1. I can't argue with your point that joint conferences with other Ombuds organizations were enjoyable and well attended. However, they don't provide any significant opportunity to grow the OO brand.

      I don't think there's anything shameful about a continental breakfast. I go to the conferences for professional development, not food. I'm fine with a small breakfast.

  2. Thanks Tom! These are some great ideas, in my humble opinion.

  3. I support this idea of IOA capitalizing on economies of scale by joining with a strategic partner to hold a joint conference. This possibility also seems like it would help the bottom line of the conference, another win-win!!