IOA's Ombuds Program

Virtual Ombuds Services for the IOA Community

Navigate this page:

IOA Members Seeking Ombuds Services

If you are an IOA member who would like to contact the IOA Ombuds to setup a phone or Zoom visit, please email one of our IOA Ombuds Team members, depending on your time zone and preference. If the times listed below don't work for you - please contact the Ombuds to explore an alternate meeting time.

As IOA Ombuds she is available at U.S. Central Time at the following times:
    • Monday – Thursday: 7 AM – 8 AM CT or 12 PM – 1 PM CT
    • Tuesdays: 5:30 PM – 7 PM CT

As IOA Ombuds he is generally available U.S. Central Time at the following times:

    • Monday – Friday: 7 AM – 9 AM CT or 12 PM – 1 PM CT
    • Wednesdays and Thursdays: 4:30 PM CT – 6:30 PM CT

Please note: The IOA Ombuds devotes approximately 10 hours per month to the role, and it may take 2-3 business days for you to receive a response. If you require ASL interpretation or another accommodation in order to communicate with the Ombuds, please share this information when you contact them so they may assist with making appropriate accommodations.

If you have any questions about the IOA Ombuds please review our FAQ or reach out to the IOA office at [email protected].

View IOA's Ombuds Charter

Meet the Ombuds Team

Laura C. Smythe, J.D. Tyler Smith

Elaine Shaw

Laura C. Smythe, J.D. is an experienced organizational ombuds with over 20 years of experience in a wide variety of industries.  She has served as both an external and internal Ombuds and has coached many organizations through the process of developing ethical ombuds Offices. She currently works as a university ombuds at Iowa State University where she serves graduate and professional students, staff, faculty, and administrators to manage conflict and build respectful, ethical and inclusive cultures.  

She also serves as Founder and CEO of Communication Connections, LLC and works in that role as an Organizational Culture Diagnostician building upon her years of experience as a mediator, attorney, ombuds, professor, coach, facilitator and trainer to consult with for-profit and non-profit industries both nationally and internationally.  In this capacity she also works with leaders to design ethical and inclusive organizations that value their employees and the communities in which they work. Laura earned an M.A. in Political Science and Government, an M.A. in Latin American Studies, and a Juris Doctor at the University of Wisconsin. 

Willem Kweens

Tyler Smith has been working in the field of conflict resolution (coach, mediator, facilitator, trainer) for 12+ years, and as an organizational ombuds for nearly a decade; empowering individuals, groups, and organizations to build their capacity to engage in conflict effectively.   

He currently works as an Associate Ombuds for the NIH Office of the Ombuds and as the Conference Ombuds for the Midwest Political Science Association.  He previously served as the University Ombuds for Northeastern Illinois University.  Tyler earned an M.A. in Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution from Salisbury University in 2014.

IOA Ombuds Reports

Each year a written report is presented to the IOA Board of Directors about the Ombuds Program’s performance. The report provides insight into the value of the ombuds office, data about that year's cases, observations made by the ombuds, and considerations for the future. You can read the latest reports below. 

IOA 2020 Ombuds Report
IOA 2021 Ombuds Report
IOA 2022 Ombuds Report

IOA Ombuds Frequently Asked Questions

Is the IOA Ombuds an organizational ombuds?


 What is an IOA Ombuds?
The IOA Ombuds acts pursuant to the Charter for the IOA Ombuds and adheres to the IOA Standards of Practice & Code of Ethics as an independent, neutral, informal, and confidential resource for people who would like to discuss ombuds profession-related issues or concerns.  The ombuds can assist a visitor in identifying or creating options for resolution, including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers.  The ombuds may be able to provide effective and confidential assistance in addressing a visitor's issue or concern, but the ombuds is not, and is not intended to be a substitute for, anyone's lawyer, representative, or counselor.  The ombuds is not authorized to conduct formal investigations, determine facts or make business or policy decisions.  Because the IOA Ombuds is not part of IOA management, the ombuds is not authorized to receive notice of claims or complaints against IOA or its agents or representatives.

How does an organizational ombuds differ from a lawyer?
The organizational ombuds role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is an advocate for their client and associated with more formal processes and the legal system.  An organizational ombuds maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with visitors and does not represent them.  Ombuds do, however, promote procedural fairness in the content and administration of an organization's practices, processes, and policies.  Though some organizational ombuds may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, they do not provide legal advice.

Is the IOA Ombuds the same as a Mediator? 
No.  While many ombuds are trained as mediators and often use mediation skills and techniques as one of many approaches to problem-solving and conflict management, the ombuds role is broader than and more connected to the organization than a mediator. A mediator is typically an outside professional focused on helping people solve a specific issue or problem as compared with the ombuds who has a broader scope of work.

 What sort of issues and concerns can be brought to the IOA Ombuds?
The IOA Ombuds can provide assistance with the full range of issues or concerns relating to their ombuds practice and the profession including, among others:

    • All types of identity-based concerns
    • Harassment (including sexual harassment)
    • Free speech and free expression
    • Integrity issues / Intellectual property / Research concerns
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Issues related to the IOA

 May I contact the IOA Ombuds for guidance concerning an issue I am having myself and also if I have a concern about others?
People may consult with the IOA Ombuds with a concern about a colleague or about something that affects themselves. 

Will my communications with the IOA Ombuds be confidential? Are there exceptions to this confidentiality?
Communications with the IOA Ombuds are considered confidential and will not be disclosed unless the ombuds determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm or unless, in the course of their communications,  the visitor grants permission for the ombuds to make a disclosure and the ombuds determines that it is appropriate to do so.  

What authority does the IOA Ombuds have? What authority does the IOA Ombuds not have?
The IOA Ombuds serves as an independent, neutral, informal, and confidential resource for visitors to discuss any concerns they may have concerning their practice or the profession.  The ombuds will be able to provide information confidentially and will provide a safe place for people to discuss their concerns in a confidential way to explore options for any further action.  The IOA Ombuds, however, is not authorized to serve as a place where notice of claims can be given to the IOA.  Likewise, the ombuds has not been authorized to make business or policy decisions or to conduct any investigations on behalf of IOA.

Is the IOA Ombuds part of a formal complaint procedure?
No.  The IOA Ombuds is an informal and purely voluntary resource. No one is required to use it, but those who do will be deemed to have agreed to respect and abide by the principles on which it was created and not to call the Ombuds to testify or produce documents related to confidential communications in any administrative or legal proceeding. IOA has also agreed not to call the IOA Ombuds to testify or produce documents with respect to confidential communications in any administrative or legal proceedings.

What if I have a formal complaint?
Please see the IOA Complaint and Concern Policy and Community Organizational Values and Community Norms for more information.

Does the IOA Ombuds report to the IOA on issues they dealt with?
The IOA Ombuds—without breaching the confidentiality of any communications by people using the services—will provide the IOA with feedback on the nature of issues raised and any insights or observations about systemic issues relating to the work of the IOA. 

The History of IOA's Own Ombuds

The International Ombuds Association (IOA) is a worldwide professional association committed to supporting organizational ombuds. In December 2019, the IOA Board of Directors unanimously voted to launch a pilot program to find an appropriate Conference Ombuds. They started their search of an experienced organizational ombuds to provide this service to participants at IOA’s 15th Annual Conference 28 March–1 April 2020 in Portland, Oregon, and contracted retired ombuds, Elaine Shaw, CO-OP®. Unfortunately, due to constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the conference was canceled.

Following the cancellation, in April 2020, IOA began providing virtual ombuds services on a temporary basis to all members and others within the IOA community as people cope with the stress, uncertainty, and possible changes to their ombuds practice. This also supports the IOA’s mission of promoting the profession, providing service to all members, and setting an example for other professional associations.

The ombuds program proved successful and in July 2020, the Board unanimously voted to extend the pilot project for one year. On September 23, 2021, having confirmed success with the pilot IOA Ombuds Program, the IOA Board of Directors voted to establish a permanent IOA Ombuds Program which continues to this day.