Top Stories of 2013 About Organizational Ombuds

Every year, I select the most important stories about the Organizational Ombuds profession. Here's this year's list.

10. Office Openings Continue to Outpace Closures -- As in the past several years, the number of new Organizational Ombuds programs was far greater than the number that closed.  Notably, the growth was primarily in higher education.  The corporate sector continues to lag.

In 2013, the following entities opened Ombuds offices:

And only two closures noted:

9.  ENOHE Marks Decennial of Supporting University Ombuds in Europe -- In June, the European Network of Ombudsmen in Higher Education published a look ....  In addition to articles that trace the beginnings of the growing group, a recent survey provides a snapshot of of academic Ombuds in Europe.  This has become an important professional group for development and professional support in Europe.

8.  American Public Media's "Marketplace" Features Ombuds -- In September, the national daily business news program highlighted the work of Organi....  The segment included interviews with Tim Shore, the Ombuds at Pfizer, Anamaris Cousins Price, an Ombuds at Halliburton and President of the International Ombudsman Association, and Chuck Howard, a lawyer and author of the book, "The Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles, and Operations – A Legal Guide."

7.  ACCUO Chronicles Three Decades of Ombuds in Higher Education -- In June, the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons published a timeline of its "activities, encounters and some landmarks in the development of ombuds in higher education in Canada and many parts of the world" over the past 30 years. The document, which begins in the 1960's, marks the establishment of Canadian higher education Ombuds offices, ACCUO landmarks and other Ombuds landmark events. It is an important chronology of profession.

6. Bullying Remains a Significant Issue  -- Ombuds find themselves a primary resource for visitors experiencing workplace incivility.  This role is only increasing as bullying garners more attention from the mainstream press.  For example, some wondered whether the NFL should appoint an Ombuds to address locker room hazing. The UCSB Ombuds responded with a colloquium on bullying in higher ed. Ombuds shared tips and sharpened their skills at programs the ACCUO midyear meeting and  Cal Caucus.  Some universities (University of South Carolina and Oregon State) created anti-bullying policies that explicitly rely on Ombuds as part of the institutional response. These stories are just a bellwether--Ombuds will become an even more important resource for bully targets.

5.  Forum of Canadian Ombudsman Issues Statement of Ethical Principles -- Released in June, the FCO Statement sets out five key principles: Independence; Impartiality; Fairness; Confidentiality; and Credibility.  The document culminates a year of work by the FCO Board to develop and promote professional standards of conduct and a code of ethics. Although the FCO's Statement encompasses more than just Organizational Ombuds, gives further definition to the Ombuds profession.

4. IOA Forges an Alliance with Brazilian Ombudsmen Association --In 2013, the Associação Brasileira de Ouvidores and the International Ombudsman Association engaged in several unprecedented joint ventures. In April, the ABO President addressed a plenary session of the IOA annual conference in Miami. In August, an IOA Board Member keynoted the ABO conference.  Then in September, the two organizations offered a joint training program in Sao Paulo.  This type of collaboration is likely to continue as IOA works to become a more truly international association.

3.  Universities Adopt Sexual Misconduct Policies that Protect Ombuds' Confidentiality -- In 2012, Ombuds in higher education were rightfully concerned about a "Dear Colleague" Letter from the U.S. Department of Education that seemed to change the rules for handling sexual misconduct.  Although the implications for Ombuds programs were not immediately clear, some Ombuds saw their programs undermined or limited.  (Yale was a disappointing example.)  In 2013, however, several institutions realized the importance of confidential resources for victims of sexual misconduct.  Existing programs at the UMass Amherst, UNC Chapel Hill, Michigan, Denver University, Pomona College, and Grinnell reaffirmed their Ombuds' confidentiality and/or brought their Ombuds into the conversation about responding to sexual misconduct.  The issues around the Dear Colleague Letter are still far from resolved, but many institutions are showing the way forward.

2. Cal Caucus Resumes Publication of its Journal  -- In December, the California Caucus of College and University Ombuds issued its first journal after a five year hiatus.  The periodical offers another forum for articles about Ombuds practices and serves as an important repository for the professions history.

1.  IOA Achieves Several Strategic Objectives  -- In terms of programs and operations, the International Ombudsman Association had an impressive year.  In March, IOA unveiled its Directory of Ombuds Service Providers, a a public list of consultants available for organizations looking to create Ombuds programs.  That same month saw the debut of IOA Radio, a teleconference-based “talk show” in for IOA members about practices and other topics relevant to practicing Ombuds.  In May, IOA issued an overhauled Annual Report that provided significantly more insight on the goals of the organization that prior years.  Moreover, the updated design of the report made it much more useful as an outreach tool.  In July, the IOA Standards of Practice were translated into Chinese, Russian, and Italian, thereby doubling the number of available languages.  Lastly, but most significantly, IOA revealed in December that it would be changing management companies and hiring its first executive director.  These changes are certain to improve the organization's operations and hopefully will trigger growth in key areas.

Related Ombuds Blog posts: The Ombuds Decade in Review; The Ombuds Year in Review: 2010The Ombuds Year in Review: 2011 (Part I); The Ombuds Year in Review: 2011 (Part II)The Ombuds Year in Review: 2011 (Part III); The Ombuds Year in Revi...; The Ombuds Year in Review: 2012 (Nos. 4-7); The Ombuds Year in Review: 2012 (Nos. 1-3).

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