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The Organizational Ombuds’ Role

Functions, Standards of Practice, and Effectiveness and Value

This page includes articles, chapters, reports, and working papers that discuss a range of topics related to the role of the organizational ombuds. The material is organized into four sections. (A few articles are mentioned in more than one section, and some articles also appear on other pages of this website.) The sections are:

I.   The Functions, Standards of Practice, and Professional Values of Organizational Ombuds

II.  The Effectiveness and Value of Organizational Ombuds

III. Some Self-Help Materials from an Ombuds Office

IV. Some Examples of Ombuds Communications (Articles in the MIT Faculty Newsletter)

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I. The Functions, Standards of Practice, and Professional Values of Organizational Ombuds

This section contains articles (from 1986 to the present, in reverse chronological order) about the ombuds profession, including: an illustrative ombuds case; communicating about the most serious and high-risk ombuds cases; some early history of the ombuds profession; ombuds training materials; reports of ombudsman surveys; an overview about what organizational ombuds do and do not do; and an examination of the importance of organizational ombuds for helping to build community, support the values and mission of the organization, and deal with risks. There also are two Ombudsman Handbooks.

The articles discuss:

» the professional values of an organizational ombuds, including impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues.

» the standards of practice of an organizational ombuds: independence, confidentiality, neutrality or impartiality, and informality. (Informality refers to the fact that the ombuds is not authorized to make management decisions; provide redress; keep case records for the employer; accept notice; or speak for the employer. Interaction with the ombuds is voluntary for all constituents.)

» the functions of organizational ombuds: what they do and do not do; their work in comparison to the work of other types of ombudsmen; and their functions in comparison with those of other offices in their organizations.

» some tools of the ombuds profession, such as the uses of data and the utility of generic options (which deal with issues rather than with individuals).

» some challenges encountered in ombuds work, such as dealing with the fear of violence or dealing with people who “won’t let go."


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II. The Effectiveness and Value of Organizational Ombuds

This section contains articles (from 1987 to the present, in reverse chronological order) that cover such topics as discussions of risk management for an organization and all its members; the 2016 Ombudsman Report to the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS Report); a very detailed overview of difficulties encountered in assessing the cost-effectiveness of ombuds services, and—nevertheless—some estimates of the value of ombuds offices.

Other subjects include:

» the importance—for all the members of an organization and the organization’s image and reputation—of having a safe, accessible, fair, and credible professional with whom to discuss any work-related issue and develop options going forward.

» the ombuds’ role in reducing risk for all constituents who wish to discuss a concern or a good idea and how this helps the organization manage risk by helping to surface information to leadership.

» the role of an ombuds in responsive listening throughout an organization, identifying and assessing new concerns, good ideas, and issues needing attention.

» the ombuds’ role in sustaining attention to recurring problems like racism; discrimination on the basis of gender, identity, or religion; xenophobia; ableism; ageism; myriad forms of abuse and retaliation; unfair processes; and integrity issues.

» the importance of ombuds office data collection and especially a) collecting benchmark data before an ombuds office starts, and b) data about an ombuds’ most serious cases.

» the ombuds’ roles in dispute resolution, including as sounding board, interpreter, go-between, catalyst, bridge-builder, informal fact finder, facilitator, and expert resource (as an “inside outsider”) for the conflict management system.

» the ombuds' role in providing informal and largely invisible coordination for all the units in a conflict management system in the context of constant referrals to and from the office.


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III. Some Self-Help Materials from an Ombuds Office

An ombuds office often posts self-help materials, which frequently get a lot of use.

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IV. Some Examples of Ombuds Communications

One of the roles of the ombuds office involves communicating ideas and information to the larger organization. This section includes examples of such communication, from Mary Rowe’s columns in the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

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  • Mary Rowe

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