September 08, 2017

IOA Reworks its Newsletter into a Blog Format

The International Ombudsman Association has reworked its newsletter, The Independent Voice, which previously was emailed to members about four times a year. The new online format resembles a blog and will be updated periodically. One major difference from a typical blog is that "TIV" is accessible to members only.  

The initial set of articles is a mix of recent newsletter items and new posts: A welcome from the Editor, Jennifer Schneider; A letter from the IOA President, Ilene Butensky; Recaps of the annual conference and recent training sessions; Committee and Board updates; and Articles on practice issues by distinguished Ombuds.  Mary Conger gets credit for leading the move to the new format.  (IOA News.)


The new blog is outstanding from a graphical and editorial perspective.  It is modern and well organized.  The illustrations are appealing and draw attention to the articles.  The secondary column offers links to upcoming events, a word cloud of tags, recent IOA tweets, and other social media.  It's a definite upgrade from the old format.

It bears noting, however, that IOA has chosen to severely restrict access to the TIV blog.  Readers must be IOA members and enter a password and affirmatively agree to abide by the blog guidelines.  These terms of use start out with some plain and reasonable expectations: "Maintain this as an IOA Members-Only Space"; "Interact with Civility, Thoughtfulness, & Care"; and "Respect the Confidentiality & Sensitivity of Ombuds Work." 

Then, it's obvious that a lawyer was consulted.  The guidelines include boilerplate contract language, like waiver, revisions, entire agreement, and choice of laws clauses.  The asserted right to revise the guidelines without notice or consent may be unenforceable.  Other terms are out of step with what is common practice in the blogosphere.  

Most egregiously, IOA expects readers to indemnify the organization if their comments violate any of the guidelines.  Specifically, readers must:
... agree to indemnify, defend, and hold IOA and its officers, agents, and employees harmless from and against any third-party claim arising from or in any way related to your posting on the newsblog, including any liability or expense arising from all claims, losses, damages (actual and consequential), suits, judgments, litigation costs and attorneys’ fees, of every kind and nature.
This includes reader comments that violate antitrust laws or third parties' trademark and intellectual property rights.  Most bloggers simply include a disclaimer to avoid these issues.

Also, the TIV guidelines restrict republication elsewhere, so there won't be much about it in the future on this website.  (This post, including criticism and commentary, of course, is permissible "fair use.")

It would seem that IOA has chosen to hide its light under a bushel.  The beautiful new blog will be read only by insiders, who will be reluctant to engage in a conversation.

Related posts: IOA Seeks Newsletter Contributors; Call for Articles: Fall 2009 IOA Independent VoiceIOA Annual Report: Association Builds on Strategic Plan in 2015; IOA 2016 Annual Report: Financial Success Supports New Programs; Journal of IOA Moves to Piecemeal Publication Schedule.


  1. Did this strike a nerve or what?!
    It's been a while since you've gone on a rant. Given everything going on in the world, IOA's blog guidelines seems like small potatoes.
    -Angry Ombuds

  2. Actually, with everything going on in the world, the emphasis should be on transparency not exclusivity, providing helpful resources not withholding them. Ombuds programs are needed more than ever. The collective We should be making knowledge and resources available to everyone. Historically, this incredibly valuable resource has been used (and properly cited) to make the pitch for new programs, research ethical dilemmas, support programmatic shifts, and to otherwise advocate and reinforce our core principles. Without the support of the entire Ombuds community, FEMA for example might not have two Ombuds programs that helps communities during disaster relief and now an OO for employees. It takes a village to help the internal advocates for Ombuds programs to convince often reluctant and skeptical decision-makers. Being able to search and pluck out specific pieces of wisdom from these articles to address important questions should not be lost. If we can't help the widest possible audience who glean value from this publication (beyond us), then what is the point? These imposed limitations certainly seem contrary to IOA's strategy of expanding and promoting the growth of Ombuds worldwide.

  3. I would love to hear more from IOA about why they made these decisions related to access & barriers to participation, specifically. At a time when so much discussion from membership seems to orient around the need to expand the field, this seems like an odd (and distancing) set of choices.

    As with so many things, providing proactive and clear rationale can go a long way towards building investment and trust.

  4. We appreciate the feedback on the new blog, especially as this is a new initiative. Based on consistent feedback from members wishing to see greater value for their membership, the IOA Board and Communications Committee deemed it important to preserve and enhance our current membership benefits. Accordingly, we decided it was best to retain the members-only distribution. We wholeheartedly agree that transparency and access is good for the ombuds field and that IOA does need an online space that provides ready access to high quality information for a general population. We plan to provide that information and more to the general public in upcoming enhancements to the IOA website. We see a bit of a distinction though between the sorts of information that the general public may find useful versus the kind of discussions our memberships may value. After careful evaluation, we concluded that a degree of privacy and controlled access is important so that IOA members as individual ombuds can feel safe engaging in topics of concern in the members-only space. As with any major initiative, we consulted the IOA attorney who drafted the “terms of use” in place for the new blog. It seemed wise to err on the side of protecting IOA and its members in our first foray into online discussion. We appreciate and understand the concerns about chilling participation and we are open to revisiting those terms in the future. Thank you again for your thoughtful remarks, and for helping spread the word about the new newsblog. We value and welcome your expertise and all IOA members' input.

    Charmhee Kim (on behalf of the IOA Board and IOA Communications Committee)

  5. This is a sad #goodbyeIOA reply. The value of IOA's stock just plummeted with this double down. This decision intended to increase the value of membership, is sadly having the opposite effect for me. I became an Ombuds without IOA. I became a better Ombuds through the bountiful and endless generosity of its people, stories, and sharing. These great people organized with the hope of becoming stronger. They will always be there when you need them. That is a legacy that will never change. Amazing Ombuds willing to be there for you through any and all challenges were there before I was a member (when I couldn't afford to be a member), and will be there after I'm not a member any longer. I will be there for others. I'll pay a little more for the conference each year as a non-member. Keep your exclusive writings. The true value of the Ombuds community comes from each other, which has been and always will be free, and does not come from an association. A point to emphasize, nothing in an online space, members-only or not, is safe. Don't forget that. We can flourish as a profession without IOA as a third party organization that doesn't seem to be leading of late through our shared values. Any association has money as the bottom line and I fear good people have been led astray. The Ombuds community is my center and soul, but for me IOA has always given me an incongruous feeling, now more than ever. There are those in need who can greatly benefit from the redirected monetary cost of membership. And the wonderful Ombuds of the world, which are most of them, will keep sharing, mentoring, and inspiring a diverse range of students of this great profession.

  6. Tom (and others), thank you for shining a light on ways in which IOA can continue to improve. In the realm of blogging for ombuds, well, there's no better source of expertise and insight.

    The newsblog is very new territory for the IOA and we are grateful for all feedback, including this original post and all its follow up. The Communications Committee, which I chair, has been working with the IOA Board to make sure the newsblog's terms of use and log-in process suit our community's needs, which we're learning about as we go.

    I'm happy to share that the terms have been relaxed and that the log-in has been streamlined, due in large part to feedback from users like you. The blog will remain password protected, however, to maintain it as a members-only space. Communications with non-member, external audiences are critically important too, of course, and we're working on an effective venue for that as part of the larger website redesign project.

    Please visit the newsblog to see the new log-in process and read the updated terms: - I'm eager to hear what you think. Thanks.