July 15, 2021

(Guest Post) Sara Thacker Comments on the Proposed IOA Bylaws

The following commentary was submitted by Sara Thacker, Director & Ombudsperson of the Staff Ombuds Office at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been a member of IOA since its creation and previously served on the IOA Board of Directors and as Co-Chair of the IOA Communications Committee.
Dear Colleagues,

For many years, I have been standing on the sidelines of IOA, disengaged and disappointed at
the lack of transparency and inclusion. As a former Board member from 2011-2014, I resigned
from my position at the start of my second term after the Board voted to break tradition and no longer share Board meeting notes that summarized non-identifiable discussion points with IOA members. As Secretary, I felt it was important that IOA be transparent with its members so they could understand the rationale behind the Board’s decision making. By providing non-
identifiable summaries of discussion points, Board members could still engage in honest, open
dialogue while at the same time honoring the values of inclusion and transparency. Even if
members didn’t agree with the outcome of a vote, at the very least they would be able to see
the Board’s decision was thoughtful and considered different perspectives.

It is difficult to remain part of an organization that continues to govern without honoring our
value of inclusion. An inclusive process would entail:
  1. Providing the February 2021 letter the Board received from the DEIB Task Force to IOA members so that members can understand the original request and problem. In the most recent post on the Ombuds Blog, the co-chairs of the DEIB Task Force point out that they did not request a change in bylaws, but rather fair and equitable enforcement of the current bylaws and analysis of whether the current process had any demographically disparate impact. It is not clear that either of these issues has been addressed by the Board.
  2. Providing an interactive collaborative process whereby the Board can learn from its members and incorporate feedback. As you can see from posts below (see e.g. World Bank Group Ombudsman Doris Campos-Infantino), there are many ideas IOA can advance to increase DEIB. By drawing upon the expertise of our members, I believe solutions can be found that both advance DEIB and our profession.
  3. Opening up voting only after robust discussion and consideration of all perspectives, including other ombuds organizations that may be impacted (e.g. Coalition of Federal Ombuds). It’s ironic that the proposed bylaws change is supposed to advance inclusion, yet the Board chose to allow people to vote without first including all members in a discussion or asking for feedback before calling the vote. This was the exact same action and process that had members upset in Portland so many years ago when the Board proposed a vote to change membership requirements, which ultimately failed. A similar proposal was successfully passed a year later after appropriate discussion, engagement, and incorporation of feedback. This collaboration and consensus building made not only for a better process, but for better bylaws.
  4. Conducting thorough research that examines how other professional organizations select Board members. It is surprising that the law firm hired did not inquire into Board membership requirements of other professional organizations. See e.g. American Psychological Association https://ioa.memberclicks.net/assets/Board-Directors/IOA_Elections/IOA_Bylaws_06-10-2021_Revisions_Board-Approved-Redline.pdf.
  5. Disaggregating the issues so that members can vote individually on proposed changes. I can imagine that many members may want to vote to change the name of IOA from Ombudsman to Ombuds in order to support DEIB, but may want to vote against other proposals, such as the proposal to reduce a quorum from 25% to 10% since this change seems contrary to advancing our values of inclusivity.
I urge the Board to withdraw the ballot until we are able to engage in an inclusive and transparent process. If these bylaws are adopted, it could fundamentally change our profession. Make no mistake, with these changes, we could very well become an International Ombuds Association that is not led by ombuds. All that is required to be eligible for the Board is to “support and advance the mission of IOA and its Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics for two years as a member. While under the proposed bylaws, 13/15 Board members need to have practiced as an organizational ombuds at some point in their career, Board members do not need to be currently practicing or could have practiced for mere days or simply called themselves an “ombuds” while practicing in direct opposition to the very standards of practice that define our profession.

I have great respect for the members of the DEIB Task Force and their hard work. I agree with every point in their original February 2021 letter to the Board and hope it is released to all IOA members. As an organization that seeks to resolve conflict by looking at the underlying interests involved, certainly we can find a way to advance both DEIB and our profession and create an inclusive process we can all embrace.

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