Navigating the Revised IOA Standards of Practice: Seven Significant Revisions: Cheat Sheet

by Dr. Jacqueline Villafañe, on behalf of the IOA Board SOP Work Group

May 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of organizational ombuds services, staying abreast of industry standards is crucial for maintaining effectiveness and integrity. This was underscored by the recent revisions to the International Ombuds Association (IOA) Standards of Practice (SOP), which were initiated in 2021 and came into effect with significant changes by 2022.

The impetus behind these revisions was multifaceted, aimed at ensuring clarity, relevance, and alignment with the evolving needs of ombuds programs and their stakeholders. Following extensive deliberations and community engagement, the revised SOP introduced seven significant changes, each with profound implications for ombuds practitioners. We've created a one-page summary and slide deck to help you navigate these changes that include:

  1. Independence and Role Clarity: Ombuds are mandated to hold no other positions that could compromise their independence. Any non-ombuds duties must not interfere with their primary role, and clear communication regarding their ombuds functions is paramount.
  2. Authority and Autonomy: Ombuds are granted the authority to select program staff, manage budgets, and oversee operations without undue external influence. However, their role is restricted from formal policymaking or enforcement.
  3. Voluntary Nature of Services: Consulting with the ombuds is entirely voluntary, with users expected to adhere to the program's terms, conditions, and principles. Confidentiality is upheld, and users are barred from calling upon the ombuds to testify or disclose confidential information.
  4. Confidentiality: The identity of individuals seeking assistance, along with all related communications and information, is deemed confidential, except under specific circumstances such as defending against claims of professional misconduct.
  5. Maintaining Confidentiality: This standard underscores the importance of maintaining confidentiality within the ombuds framework while acknowledging exceptional circumstances where disclosure may be warranted to prevent injustice or when the benefits of disclosure outweigh confidentiality interests.
  6. Disclosure of Confidential Information: Ombuds may disclose confidential information solely to defend themselves against allegations of professional misconduct.
  7. Communication of Program Information: Ombuds are permitted to share non-confidential information about the program in appropriate forums while safeguarding sensitive data.

The feedback garnered from community sessions in the Fall of 2023 underscored the robust engagement of practicing ombuds with the revised SOP. Several proactive measures have been taken in response, including updating marketing materials to reflect office charter language, revising terms of use agreements to clarify confidentiality and informality, and modifying outreach presentations to align with the revised standards.

As ombuds practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to familiarize ourselves with these revisions, adapt our scripts, update program materials, and communicate these changes effectively to our constituents. By embracing these standards of practice, we uphold the principles of independence, confidentiality, impartiality, and informality that define the essence of organizational ombuds work.

For further details on the revised IOA Standards of Practice and guidance on implementation strategies, we encourage you to access the full document and engage in ongoing professional development opportunities within the ombuds community. Together, we can continue to enhance the effectiveness and impact of ombuds programs in promoting fairness, equity, and organizational well-being.


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Comments on "Navigating the Revised IOA Standards of Practice: Seven Significant Revisions: Cheat Sheet"

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Chuck Doran - Friday, May 10, 2024

Thank you, Jacqueline, and the IOA Board SOP Work Group, for all of your work and efforts to further SOP-compliant ombuds practice!

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