December 30, 2021

2021 Year in Review: Responding to Challenges

In 2021, a persistent pandemic and urgent social issues exerted significant pressures on Ombuds individually, on the organizations where they worked, their professional associations. On a personal level, there were undoubtable many small acts of courage that went largely unnoticed. There were, however, several notable and more public responses to these challenges that reflect positively on the Ombuds field.

Responding to Challenges

Labor Powers New Standard for Dutch Universities

In May 2020 four unions representing university employees reached an agreement with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (Vereniging van Universiteiten "VSNU"). Staff organizations at many universities had long sought the creation of Ombuds offices as part of improved workplace protections. However, university administrators had been able to resist these demands until the issue was taken up by the employee unions. It was no surprise that implementation of the new Ombuds programs was significantly delayed until 2021. Nonetheless, these new Ombuds programs are already yielding results for their universities.

Reassuring Signs from Twitter and Pinterest

The tech sector would seem to be ripe for Organizational Ombuds. Many companies seek a progressive workplace for their well-educated staff, yet struggle to shake off the "bro-culture" of their founders. Indeed, Ombuds and software industry insiders have long wondered why there are so few Ombuds in the tech sector. When social media giants, Twitter and Pinterest, opened searches for their first Ombuds there was cautious optimism. But would they get it right or would the new Ombuds be mere window dressing? Both ended up adopting IOA standards and hiring experienced and talented Ombuds (Dina Eisenberg went to Twitter in February and Donna Douglass Williams went to Pinterest in December). Assuming the are appropriately empowered, they may be long-awaited bellwethers for the industry.

Ombuds Associations Find their Balance in Pandemic's Second Year

In 2020, the Ombuds field was entirely upended by the Covid pandemic. In 2021, travel restrictions and virtual meetings were the new normal, and professional Ombuds groups found new ways to meet the needs as their members. The International Ombudsman Association held its second virtual annual conference in 2021 and managed to offset financial losses thanks to its very popular online training course, "Foundations." Similarly, the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman (which did not need to make a decision about its biennial conference) has been selling out its virtual training with Osgoode Hall Law School, "Essentials for Ombuds." Robust attendance numbers were also reported by the Coalition of Federal Ombuds at its virtual conference, and by the European Network of Ombuds in Higher Education and the Association of Canadian College and University Ombuds for their joint online conference. All of these virtual events were markedly better than in the first year of the pandemic.

The significant outlier was the California Caucus of College and University Ombuds, which decided to meet in person with strict protocols. Although attendance was slightly below capacity, mainly due to travel restrictions which limited Canadian attendees, the caucus was deemed a success.

No comments:

Post a Comment