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Watch the Mary Rowe Practice Survey Webinar Recording

Practice Survey in Action: Mary’s Riffs on Organizational Ombuds Sources of Power and Influence, Values, and Effectiveness and the IOA Survey

Watch our recent webinar featuring Mary Rowe and the IOA Practice Survey Team discussing why and how the IOA survey has been helpful to individual organizational ombuds and the profession. 

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Practice Survey. Results will be announced later this year. 

 

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Free Speech on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Can Do

By Kenneth Cloke,

As I write, it is now the year of the 60th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at U.C. Berkeley, in which I was an active participant (I am at the far right in the photo.)  It is also a time when free speech issues are again triggering campus conflicts, largely because of intense polarization over fighting in Gaza, and the mutually antagonistic activities of student supporters of Israel or Palestine.

Starting in the 1980’s, I began working as a mediator, conflict resolver, and dialogue facilitator, helping thousands of people and hundreds of organizations with vastly differing opinions, many mired in hatred and enmity, discover that they could somehow, unexpectedly, talk to each other, engage in open, honest, constructive dialogue, improve their understanding, and solve common problems.

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Trauma-informed Ombudsry During Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation

By Nadia Ferrara, PhD, Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Belonging Committee
 
Loneliness, feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression are on the rise in our communities (OSG 2023). Globally, we are faced with many challenges due to post-pandemic adaptation and recovery, inflation and the rising costs of living, environmental disasters, trauma related to racial violence, and ongoing wars. Many are referring to these experiences as an epidemic. How can we as ombuds help to address this current reality even as we’re navigating this reality personally? How does this affect our work? How do we support more trauma-informed workplaces?
 
As ombuds, we are not therapists or counselors, but we are holders of space where individuals come to share their lived realities. If we are applying a human-centric approach, we are acknowledging the visitor, we provide support, and we empower them to develop options that are meaningful to them. We as ombuds are committed to creating authentic, empathetic, compassionate, and psychologically safe spaces. Such spaces are all the more critical during a heightened period of loneliness and isolation. Everyone can benefit from a space to connect with our shared humanity. As ombuds, we offer the gift of listening, which is priceless. We cannot underestimate the power of listening.
 
We need to learn how best to be trauma-informed and trauma-responsive; how to identify trauma responses and know when to refer our visitors to clinical helping professionals, if warranted. We need to engage in our own self-reflection and self-evaluation, as well as hold space for each other to listen and learn from one another. Being trauma-informed and trauma-responsive benefits our visitors as well as ourselves as ombuds. As an Indigenous traditional knowledge keeper once told me: “Remember that as an ombuds, you are really a helper, one who listens and guides others.” Let’s continue to help others and ourselves by giving hope, as that is the best gift to give during such challenging times.
 
References:

Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services, 2023.

Recommended Podcast:

Driving Speak-up Culture

By Doriana Vintila, Ombuds - OMV Petrom S.A.

We can all agree that speak up culture is an essential characteristic of a people-oriented inclusive organization. Forbes said it, and I think they said it well in a very insightful article on the benefits of creating a speak-up culture at work [1]. Undoubtedly, most companies have evolved from the initial purpose of speak-up, which was to protect them from wrongdoings, and moved towards making people feel respected, empowered and safe. A work environment where members of the staff, irrelevant of their position, feel safe bringing their ideas to work every day will grow and flourish. Speaking up is very much about learning and improving, becoming a better version of what was yesterday – both individually and collectively.

But having a speak-up culture is more than just having policies and hotlines in place. People often refrain from speaking their minds for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the availability of tools do so, or where those tools are placed (with HR, Compliance, the Ombuds etc). I’ve more than once heard people say that they won’t criticize a coworker because they don’t want to hurt their feelings or put their friendship at risk. However, isn’t holding back doing exactly that? That is where valuing a true speak-up culture comes into place: the belief that your suggestions, constructive criticism and openness will be perceived as an act of goodwill, both by colleagues and especially by management.

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New Organizational Values/Community Norms to Launch March 22 and Member Feedback Needed on Proposed Concern and Complaint Policy and Procedures

After extensive input from IOA members and other participants, we are pleased to announce the pilot of IOA’s new Organizational Values and Community Norms that will go into effect 22 March 2023. We also invite member input on a proposed IOA Concern and Complaint Policy and Concern and Complaint Procedures.   

Good Day IOA

 

Organizational Values and Community Norms

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Dependable Vs. Dependency

By Christina Tay

Director of Services - Restorative Resolution 

Over the past few years, I have been thinking thematically about the tension between being dependable as a organizational ombuds and the unintended consequence of dependency developing with a user of the service.  In a previous role, I had attended a potential client’s senior leadership team meeting with our organization's business development manager and we were attending to promote the value and benefit of providing ombuds services. One of the senior leaders asked “What do you do if one of the staff becomes dependent on you as a practitioner or the service you are here to promote”? As we had a very limited amount of allocated time I responded “One of our key roles as a practitioner is to empower individuals through the sharing of knowledge and tools to move towards being able to manage the situations they are experiencing.”  It has been a few years since that question was posited and it is a topic that I have continued to consider.

One of the senior leaders asked “What do you do if one of the staff becomes dependent on you as a practitioner or the service you are here to promote”?

In a past role, I was working in an organization that employed a few thousand employees.  One of the requirements of the role was to continue to promote the service to the widest possible audience across the organization.  I started to observe that once some users of the service connected with the ombuds they were inclined to return for multiple individual sessions and while the subject may have slightly changed between sessions it did raise thoughts about the possibility of dependency.  On one hand, I see the absolute value of providing as much support as an individual requires but this has to be balanced against ensuring that there is sufficient time and energy available to an expanded base of users.


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What makes an Ombuds function different?

By Doriana Vintila
Ombuds
PetrOmbudsman Department,

Ombuds have been around for quite a while now, in all areas of activity, either private or part of the public health or educational systems. However, from my experience of almost a decade since the opening of the Ombuds office in OMV Petrom, I feel that when people have a complaint, they still have a hard time deciding where to place it in their organization. This is because there are usually many functions in the same organization that deal with complaints, and there is more clarity needed on what each of them can do to help the individual. Most certainly, there are quite a handful of differences in the way Ombuds operate, as compared to formal functions.

This is the reason why our Ombuds team decided this year to film a short video, picturing our Ombuds Director and our company’s Compliance Director, as they answer some of the most frequently asked questions on how we conduct our activities. The result was a mirror interview between the Ombuds and Compliance Departments. Of course, this could be adapted and done as a mirror interview between Ombuds and any other function in an organization, be it HR, Legal, Trade Unions and so on.

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A Note About Mistreatment and Organizational Protective Factors

By Mary Rowe,

I am writing a note after listening to a number of Organizational Ombuds (OOs) these past few months. Several OOs report cases characterized by verbal attacks that seem unusual: employees who intimidatingly refuse an order, unafraid of being accused of insubordination. Undergraduates who loudly and insultingly reject faculty rights to set the requirements and rules in a college classroom. Students who insult the race or religion or ethnicity of staff and faculty and visitors to their school. Senior managers who loudly express bitter hate for each other. Visitors who insult their ombuds and their organization for having an ombuds. Bullying that is ratcheting up to being totally unacceptable.

Several OOs have noted that the nation is losing many professionals, for example those who no longer wish to serve as teachers, nurses, doctors and other caretakers. 

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The Most Serious Cases Reported by Organizational Ombuds: Data from Surveys and Interviews

By Mary Rowe, Timothy Hedeen, Jennifer Schneider, and Hector Escalante,
Practice & Compensation Sub-Committee of the IOA Research & Assessment Committee


Why Are Data about the Most Serious Cases (MSC) Important to Organizational Ombuds?

MSC have several important characteristics:

1)    The most serious cases in an ombuds office entail high potential costs—and major gains or losses of possible benefits—for all constituents involved in these cases, including their organization. The value of the organizational ombuds (OO) office is sometimes very apparent, for constituents and the organization, after an OO helps to identify, assess, and help to manage a serious case.




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Joint IOA/CO-OP Accreditation Task Force Update - Member Input Requested

By Sue Diviney, Co-Chair, Joint IOA/CO-OP® Accreditation Task Force

In May 2022, IOA announced a Joint IOA/CO-OP® Accreditation Task Force had been formed to advance IOA’s Strategic Direction, specifically, Goal 1.4: Develop a program for accreditation of ombuds offices that are structured to comply with IOA and Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

The purpose of the Task Force is to explore the creation of an office accreditation program that will pave the way for refocusing the CO-OP® designation to certify the knowledge, skills, and experience of individuals and remove program requirements from certification. Thus, the group is charged with developing a proposal to accredit programs separately from individual certifications.

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There's Nothing New About the 'New Normal' – Or Is There?

By Doriana Vintilă
Ombuds
PetrOmbudsman Department, OMV Petrom S.A.

Dear colleagues,

During the pandemic period, many organizations were surprised at how quickly their employees adapted to doing their jobs remotely. Psychologists told us that compared to other changes, this one was more easily accepted as it happened under a threat – that of an unknow virus we all needed to hide from.

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Who Are Your Champions?

By Ellen M. Miller, IOA Executive Director

IOA Is Looking to Talk to Ombuds Allies

Many ombuds have allies who understand and promote the value and effectiveness of the ombuds office. Whether they are general counsel, Title IX or Clery coordinators, risk managers, HR or compliance professionals, CEOs, presidents, chancellors, or superintendents (just to name a few), these allies help advocate for the ombuds role within an organization.

In alignment with Goal 2 of our Strategic Plan, "Organizational leaders in key sectors understand and value the ombuds function, and IOA," we would like to gain additional insight into the perspectives of these allies and see if they can help us tell your story, especially to their peers.  Are you willing to make an introduction?  If you have a champion in your organization, please reach out to me via email at [email protected] or give me a call at +1 (619) 943-0792.

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Reflections from OMV Petrom’s Ombuds Team

By Ion Anghel, Head of the Ombuds Department of OMV Petrom, Romania

Ion Anghel, Head of the Ombuds Department of OMV Petrom, RomaniaOver the last decade, I have been involved in the life of this department on a constant basis, first from the outside (as an advisor to its activities) and then from its core, as Director of this function. Looking back over time, I can say that the Ombuds’ mission here in OMV Petrom was never an easy one. This statement may surely be confirmed by all international Ombuds colleagues who have had the difficult task of launching an Ombudsman program in a company (or even more, a country) with little or no experience on this topic.

Moreover, the last years have been particularly challenging, as we have seen the whole world deal with the effects of the Covid pandemic. I think that in this new era, the importance of having somebody to talk to and address your concerns has proven to be so much more significant than before. For this reason, we have tried to stay in contact with the people in our organization even when physical presence became scarcer than before, to prevent the feeling of isolation and help build the necessary bridges to move forward. At the same time, we have had to re-invent ourselves on both a personal and professional level, as probably many of you have been required to.

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Deliberating Dilemmas: Coverage of Services in the Face of a Conflict of Interest

By Bryan Hanson, EdD

Ombudsperson, Graduate School at Virginia Tech
Independent Voice Blog Editor

What should a single-person ombuds office do when a member of their community contacts the ombuds office about a matter, but the ombuds determines that they have a conflict of interest in working with that individual? 

An inquiry of just this type was recently raised with the IOA by an individual that encountered that situation with their ombuds. In this case, the ombuds told the individual that they could not provide assistance to them. The Ombuds apparently did not explain the basis for the conflict of interest nor suggested any other means to provide assistance to the individual who considered themselves one of the constituents served by the ombuds office. The individual contacted IOA because they thought that the ombuds may have acted improperly and wanted to raise the issue with the IOA. Since the ombuds involved in this situation is not COOP certified and there is no relevant procedure for investigating the conduct of non-certified IOA members, it was established there is no basis for the IOA to become involved. 

The dilemma presented in this case surely is not unique. While it is likely not appropriate in most situations to disclose to an individual the basis for the conflict of interest, is there nothing that the ombuds can do to help an individual receive assistance? Because this may be a recurring problem for single-person ombuds offices, we thought we would offer a suggestion here that an ombuds may want to consider and invite IOA members to suggest other possible options. 

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Progress on Revising IOA's Standards of Practice & Code of Ethics Revisions

What Is Changing & Why Is It Important?

By IOA SOP & COE Working Group

In the Fall of 2020, the IOA Board of Directors presented revised drafts of the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics to the IOA membership for feedback (more information is available on The Independent Voice). We received many comments via our survey questionnaire, during listening sessions, and in individual communications. The majority of the comments supported the proposed changes, but there were a number of members who offered valuable constructive criticism and specific suggestions.

Next, the Board convened a working group to methodically review and evaluate the comments and suggestions from members. That group met weekly and conducted a section-by-section, paragraph-by-paragraph review of the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, incorporating many of the suggested edits. The working group exercised its best judgment to reconcile many conflicting member suggestions.

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COFO Annual Conference 2021: Call for Presentations

By Paul Sotoudeh, Chief Ombudsman, USPTO Office of the Ombudsman

The Coalition of Federal Ombudsman (COFO) is pleased to announce its 2021 Annual Conference, being held virtually on October 15, 2021, and COFO’s Conference Committee is now accepting proposals to present at the conference.

The Annual Conference is focused on the needs of ombuds practitioners serving in the federal government, but the day is always an ombuds-wide family affair and we welcome anyone either practicing as an ombuds or interested in ombuds to join us as an attendee or presenter. Registration is free, and the conference typically draws around 200 attendees from across the ombuds profession and broader ADR community.

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Romanian Ombuds Success - Newly Translated IOA Standards of Practice & Code of Ethics

International Member Feature

IOA member, Dr. Eng. Ion Anghel, Director of PetrOmbudsman Department in Romania recently shared the exciting news that their department was celebrating its seventh year of activity.

As part of the celebration, the office wanted to contribute to increasing ombuds awareness in Romania. Dr. Eng. Anghel provided IOA with a Romanian Translation of the IOA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. We are honored to now reveal this latest translation.

 

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Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools Article Share

IOA Member Feature

by Chuck Howard, IOA Executive Director

IOA members Armando Peri and Dawn Clement, ombuds with the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, recently shared an article on the valuable role they serve in connection with the special education process, which is subject to federal legal requirements.

These K-12 ombuds engage in extensive outreach efforts to help parents and others learn more about the special education process and are often asked to explain in understandable language the various legal requirements and procedures. They also serve as an informal resource for parents to share their concerns and to help them develop options for special education strategies. 

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IOA Member Featured on a Conflict Resolution Podcast

Anlaşabiliriz/We Can Find a Way Podcast

 

IOA member, Tom Kosakowski, University Ombuds at the University of Southern California and creator of The Ombuds Blog, was featured on the bilingual podcast, Anlaşabiliriz/We Can Find a Way last month. The podcast is hosted by Idil Elveris and this episode, "Ombuds helped universities to become compassionate," speaks to the benefits ombuds make on higher education campuses. Take a listen.


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Our Role in Building Greater Unity: Reflections on Recent U.S. Political Events

By Chuck Howard, IOA Executive Director

Americans—and much of the world—watched in horror at the violence and insurrection at the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021. However, this spectacle was only one of the most visible manifestations of the toxicity of intolerance that has leached into our politics and society over many years.

Not since the War of 1812 has the United States Capitol been under such an attack. As shocking and damaging as this outpouring of anger and retribution was, it is only one of the crises that we—collectively—are facing.

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