Centering ourselves in community: Is it time for ombuds to embrace restorative approaches to our work?

By Ryan Smith
Assistant University Ombudsperson, Michigan State University

I started jotting down some notes for this post a few months ago, before the world was turned upside down. The changes and disruptions brought about by COVID 19, the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests, and debate around police reform have fundamentally changed the society in which we live. Many of us are waking up to a reality that others among us have been aware of for quite some time, that the old ways of doing things are often rooted in systems of oppression and inequality, and now is the time to reconsider what, how, and why we do many things that we have likely taken for granted. While the public debate around policing continues, we also need to look inward and consider the roles that we as ombuds play in our communities and organizations.

When I tell people that I am an ombuds, this is almost always followed by a puzzled expression and the question “what’s that?” My short answer to this question is that an organizational ombuds helps people navigate conflict with and within an organization. In beginning my post with this, I am providing a simple definition of our work. Conflict resolution work is complex and multifaceted, and ombudsmanry is just one way to approach it. One important constant, something that I must remind myself regularly in my work, is that the overriding value in conflict resolution work is in relationships and human connection. If these things weren’t important to us, we would have no need for conflict resolution work. Human relationships and connections, then, are essentially at the heart of the work we do.

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A Note from Chuck: Request for Ombud Stories

Dear IOA community members,

I am writing a new book on ombuds that the American Bar Association has agreed to publish to raise awareness of the profession and demonstrate the value of organizational ombuds. The final draft needs to be sent to the ABA by the first of January 2021, and I cannot do this by myself—I need the help of IOA members (you) in two ways:

  1. The first part of the book will be an effort to respond to the hardest questions about what organizational ombuds are and do from organization leaders, general counsel, formal channels, and other skeptics. I have my own list of what I think these questions are, but I would love to hear from you with questions that they think I need to address, along with any responses you have found effective.

  2. The heart of the book will be stories or examples of how ombuds have dealt with a multitude of issues or problems, and how they have helped resolve or surface issues to help their visitors and the organization. All of the examples have to be real, not composite or hypothetical, so I cannot make them up—I need to get them from you. And, I need a lot of them, hundreds of them! I want to cover all types of issues in all sectors. There is no limit on the number of examples you can send. The more the merrier.


I need your help to write a book that I believe will be a great help to you and all organizational ombuds as an information and training resource and as a marketing tool.



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Surviving and Thriving

By Prof. Mary Rowe, MIT

Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are illuminating our world like a lightning storm. These recent events inspire renewed commitment to understanding how organizational ombuds (OOs) can survive and thrive - for our organizations, for all our constituents and for ourselves. The humble questions below evolved to contribute to a recent sector meeting. Subsequent conversations highlighted the importance of these questions for all ombuds, and also the importance of our sharing the wisdom of each of us. If any of this is useful would you consider contributing ideas? (See the last paragraph.)  

SurvivingWhat IS surviving? 

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IOA Guidance Concerning COVID-19 and Contact Tracing

By Chuck Howard

Executive Director of IOA

Should an ombuds consider breaking confidence if the ombuds learns that someone has been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to COVID-19 yet refuses to take action to protect others from further infection?

How might contact tracing affect ombuds’ confidentiality obligations and operational practices if either the ombuds or a visitor develops COVID-19?

These and similar questions have been raised with a request that IOA provide some guidance to IOA members on the implications of COVID-19 and contact tracing on their practices. As restrictions are being lifted and ombuds face the possibility of returning to their workplace offices and meeting with visitors in person, these questions take on added urgency and importance. In an effort to provide guidance to assist IOA members, IOA’s Executive Director prepared a memorandum with important information and recommendations on how ombuds might analyze these issues. You may access this important resource via this link:

COVID-19 IOA Memorandum

COVID, racism and the need for safe, accessible, fair and credible conflict management systems in organizations (and communities)

By Prof. Mary Rowe, MIT

COVID-19 and the murder of Mr. George Floyd have illuminated—like a lightning storm—the need for constituents in every job classification to find safe, accessible, fair and credible ways to express concerns within their organizations and seek help. We need effective conflict management systems in organizations, and every major system needs at least one safe, independent, neutral, confidential professional as an access point. It helps if there are people of color and women who serve as safe access points to the conflict management system. In addition, every system needs competent, independent, fair, formal investigations, and investigation teams should include women and people of color, or at least regular input from diverse professionals.  

 

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Letter from the IOA President - A Call for Fairness & Justice

Dear fellow IOA members,

Over the days following the senseless killing of George Floyd, people across the world have shared an outpouring of emotion from deep sadness to intense rage as the latest in a pattern of police violence against black people. I know that many of you may be feeling frightened, sad, hopeless, or angry; I certainly am.

It is at times like this that I realize how very important our role as ombuds is to the communities we serve. As ombuds, we are called to help, to heal, to educate, and to find solutions to our visitors’ issues. Perhaps our call to help has never been more important than it is today. No one person can heal the wounds of racism or prevent them from recurring. But as ombuds, we can do our part to help people address racism and other issues of violence or exclusion. We can be a voice to address systemic issues and fair processes whether with our visitors, with each other, within our organizations, or within our communities.

I imagine that many of you are plugged into the happenings in your cities and neighborhoods and are hearing loud pleas for help and outcries for change. No doubt, you are connecting and helping where you can. I hope you also feel comfortable asking for help, especially if these events are directly impacting you. I trust that you are activating your personal support networks, and I also want to remind you that your professional network in IOA is here for you, too. Please use our online Discussion Circles and the LinkedIn Organizational Ombuds Discussion Forum to share resources and support. Utilize the IOA Ombuds Program. Plan to join a Community Connections event. Reach out to our leadership team with suggestions for resources or action.

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The Magic of Independence

By Elaine Shaw
IOA Ombuds

When my husband traveled with me to Seattle for the IOA Conference a few years ago, I made him come to the Pecha Kucha event. “Pecha-what?” he asked without much interest. For those of you who don’t know, Pecha Kucha is one of the defining institutions of the IOA annual meeting. It is a time when a few brave souls weave their work, their life, their essence into a creative expression in brief 20 slide/20 seconds per slide presentation with a spoken (or sung!) narrative. My husband was reluctant, but agreed to sit through just one. After 6 or 7 speakers, each more creative, intense or emotional than the last, he was delighted. “You work with an amazing group of people.” (Interested in the 2020 online Pecha Kucha gatherings? Learn more.)

Indeed. I do. You are an amazing group of people. That’s why it’s daunting to imagine being Ombuds for Ombuds! As the first IOA Ombuds, I take this responsibility very seriously and I hope I measure up to your expectations. I have been reflecting on why some of you may choose to be in touch.

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The Independent Voice goes public: Call for blog posts

By The Independent Voice Editorial Team

The Independent Voice is going public! We are so excited about the opportunity that we, as IOA members, will have to share insights and information with those outside of the Association who may want to know more about who we are and what we do as ombuds. In preparation for the launch of the public site, we’re hoping to collect posts that we can publish over time once the new site launches. You can help!

We encourage creativity and thoughtfulness as you communicate your own perspectives and experiences through essays, poems, interviews, thoughtful reviews, etc. If you have an idea, but you aren’t sure it would make a good blog post, we’d be happy to talk it over with you. This is a great way to share your voice in a way that can educate and inspire others to appreciate the work we do as ombuds. You don’t have to be a proficient writer, you just have to be willing to draft your thoughts and send them our way (https://www.ombudsassociation.org/ioa_blog_proposal)! 

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Article Share: Difficult Conversations, Virtually Speaking

by The Independent Voice

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read fellow IOA Member Mark Patterson’s article published via Medium.com, I encourage you to take the time to read through Difficult Conversations, Virtually Speaking when you can. The article provides strategies to help us prepare to have meaningful conversation within the virtual platforms we are now heavily experiencing. The article is not only helpful for our own practice, but is worth sharing with your constituents as they would benefit from the strategies as well.

One aspect I found meaningful speaks to the importance of check-ins at the beginning of each meeting. Our work/family domain boundaries are blurred and having time to intentionally shift from one domain to the next can help develop presence in the meeting for all. What strategies do you find helpful in this article? What other articles would you like to share as we navigate this surreal world we are experiencing?

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Virtual Meetings and the Virtual Ombudsman

By Bruce MacAllister 
IOA Board of Directors

In these strange and challenging times, many mediation and ombudsman programs are having to make the switch to working virtually with visitors using a variety of web-based and telephone-based meeting approaches.  While much of my mediation and ombuds work has been based out of “brick and mortar” programs, since 2011, much of my work has also been global and virtual. 

Making the switch from face-to-face, in-person meetings to more distant substitutes poses some challenges, but over time I have discovered some tips that seem to help close the gap between the comfort and ease of sitting down together in an informal setting to building connections with visitors and others via phone or via conferencing software.  The goal of this posting is to offer a few tips to successfully bridging the gap between the comparative ease and comfort of in-person meetings to holding those meetings from a distance.

Tips:

Tip 1: Observe ceremony.  When a visitor comes to me for an in-person meeting there are several things that are important:


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Virtual Ombudsing

by Teresa Ralicki, CO-OP®, Ombuds, University of Colorado Denver

The following is adapted from a series of articles Teresa posted on LinkedIn. We encourage you to check them out, and then visit IOA's Discussion Circles to discuss your own strategies and experiences with others learning to ombuds remotely!

Virtual Ombudsing: Tips and Considerations

My first ombuds job was at the American Red Cross. Serving visitors located all over the country, and sometimes in other parts of the world, almost all of my work was done virtually for over 5 years. Needless to say, I got pretty comfortable ombudsing from afar.

Many organizations have shifted toward remote work recently. It is always important for ombuds to remain a vital resource for their constituents, but especially so during periods of rapid change and high stress. Over this next week, I will share tips for navigating Ombuds work remotely in a four-part series:  

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Warm Thoughts from the IOA President

By Marcia Martínez-Helfman, IOA President 2018-2020

My first thought when I woke this morning was that I should be heading to the airport to fly to Portland and the IOA’s 15th Annual Conference. The Foundations Course would have already been underway.  I’d be preparing for our Board of Directors meeting on Saturday and Sunday, and excited that the Conference itself would be underway beginning Sunday night.  I will truly miss the camaraderie, learning, sharing, and just plain socializing with you all.

Today, I return to my home office aka the dining table after taking time to plot and execute a strategy for replenishing my refrigerator and pantry.  My son, recently back from London and self-isolating, stood at the curb to pick up the groceries I brought to him as I waved from my car.  These unprecedented times have touched all of us, across the globe, in small and great ways.  Too much suffering continues, and many lives continue to be lost.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Ruthy Rosenberg, Mark Patterson, Jennifer Schneider – Communications Committee

By Tiffany Chen, Eastern Michigan University, Volunteer Coordination Committee
IOA has always been both a passion-driven and volunteer-driven organization. The Volunteer Coordination Committee would like to recognize the efforts of our volunteers who keep everything running. It is through our collective efforts that our organization has developed into what it is and, more importantly, into what it will become.

This spotlight post is to not only recognize some of our fellow IOA members but also to make a shout-out to their amazing team that helps maintain both our external as well as internal communications – The Communications Committee (ComCom).

We would like to highlight a few individuals within the committee for recognition: Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg, Mark Patterson, and Jennifer Schneider.


Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg, Communications Committee Co-Chair

Ruthy currently serves as the ombuds for Brown University and she is the Co-Chair of the Communications Committee (ComCom). Ruthy has previously served on the IOA Board of Directors and initially came to ComCom as board liaison. 

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Ombuds Professional Development in Savannah in June

by International Ombudsman Association

Kennesaw State will host a two-day ombuds workshop in Savannah on June 4th & 5th.

Based on feedback from last year's participants, we've developed an agenda with experienced ombuds professionals delivering each session:

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A Couple of (Un)traditional Conflict Resolving Methods

By Reese Ramos, University Ombuds at Virginia Tech, IOA Board Member

As the IOA Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon approaches, I was reminded about how Portland got its name (and no, it wasn’t named Portland because it is a port). Apparently, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrow, who both owned the claim to the land that would become Portland, wanted to name the new town after their respective hometowns of Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. They couldn’t agree who should name this new town, but they did agree to flip a coin. After two of three coin-toss wins took place, Portland became the town’s new name after Francis Pettygrow’s hometown. When I first heard this story, I got a kick out of it thinking about what might have happened if these two had had a facilitator. Port Boston perhaps?

And how did coin-flipping become a method for resolving conflict?

Coin flipping began eons ago and the story goes that Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic, would intervene in serious litigations and render a decision. If he was not available to arbitrate, then a flip of the coin (which contained a rendering of his head) would take place. The belief was that the gods would decide the outcome, and Caesar, in absentia, concurred with whichever party called “navia aut caput” (ship or heads). And so Portlanders, in a way, can thank Julius Caesar for creating the process that helped two landowners resolve their conflict.

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Experience: On Display 2020

By Adam Barak Kleinberger and Teresa Ralicki 

Ombuds work is confidential. It can be an isolating profession. Office holiday parties, social nights, or bowling leagues with other departments do not always seem ubiquitous when we talk with ombuds colleagues. In many ombuds workplaces there sits a solo practitioner, or perhaps two ombuds. Because of the small number of staff and confidential nature of the work, office or company culture can sometimes wane. Engaging with colleagues usually needs to be quite intentional if it is to be a constant part of your world as an ombuds.

When we connect around our ombuds work in a creative way, it brings new thoughts, new ideas and perpetual learning about who we are as practitioners and what we can offer to visitors and the profession. By sharing ourselves through a creative endeavor, by learning about others through our creative pursuits, we can find that connection.

With the upcoming conference we have the opportunity to allay some of these ideas and struggles, to convert them into a physical form. We are looking forward to working on a piece of art to express what 2019 was like as an ombuds or even what life is like as an ombuds. We will then share it with our colleagues and other ombuds artists who complete a submission for the upcoming conference in Portland, Oregon.

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Welcome Newly Elected Board Directors!

By Marcia Martínez-Helfman, JD, MSW
2019-2020 IOA President

The annual election of IOA Directors has just concluded, and I’m delighted to report the results. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the Nominations and Governance Committee, Board of Directors, and all IOA members for participating in the election process!

We are excited to welcome three new directors to our Board:

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Get Involved in IOA through Volunteering!

Hello, IOA -- from your Volunteer Coordination Committee (VCC)!

As a volunteer-driven organization, there are so many great individuals already contributing their time, skills, and energy to advance work within IOA, but there are still phenomenal volunteer opportunities that await eager individuals!

The VCC is excited to share the following open IOA volunteer opportunities. We encourage you to review the below opportunities and get involved with IOA!

Journal of the International Ombudsman Association (JIOA) Associate Editor:

The Associate Editors shall assist the Editor edit and publish the Journal. The Editor may appoint two to four Associate Editors for renewable, three-year terms, subject to approval by the Board of Directors.



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Recognizing Time and Talents!

Volunteers are an important foundation of the International Ombudsman Association, bringing both skills and resources to ensuring this organization’s and the profession's vitality and growth. 

As such, we want to say THANK YOU to our dedicated, phenomenal volunteers within IOA! We are fortunate to have such an outstanding group of volunteers who are willing to give their time and expertise to help advance our organization and profession.

Additionally, we want to say THANK YOU to the dedicated, phenomenal professionals working within our field! Our IOA members are continually researching, developing, and executing sustainable, high-quality programs and initiatives to support the growth and vitality of the professional, as well as the professional development, networking, and mentoring of Ombuds across the world. 

We are asking you to help us in recognizing the time and talents of our volunteers and professionals! 

IOA Presidential Recognition Program
IOA is fortunate to have such an outstanding group of volunteers who are willing to give their time and expertise to help advance our organization and profession. The Presidential Recognition Program allows Chairs and Board Members to select members of their committee or another volunteer who works with their committee in some capacity to receive a Letter of Recognition for Volunteers from the IOA President for their work. IOA encourages Committee Chairs and Board Members to recognize members of their committee for a job well done by submitting a Presidential Recognition Form!

IOA Peer Recognition Program
The IOA Peer Recognition Program is a way for IOA members at every level to recognize the contributions of their peers. Our IOA members are continually researching, developing, and executing sustainable, high-quality programs and initiatives to support the growth and vitality of the professional, as well as the professional development, networking, and mentoring of Ombuds across the world. If you find yourself thinking about the value a fellow ombuds brings to your work, the IOA, and/or the profession as a whole, we strongly encourage you to submit a Peer Recognition Nomination Form!

 

An Update from JIOA

By Shannon Lynn Burton, Ph.D., University Ombudsperson, Michigan State University
Editor, Journal of the International Ombudsman Association

Dear Colleagues,

A lot has been happening with the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association (JIOA) this month! If you have not visited our page lately, please do so soon. There have been three new articles posted in the past two weeks. These are:

  1. “The Faculty Ombudsperson: Maintaining Civility and Academic Freedom in Higher Education” by Clara Wajngurt;
  2. “Abrasive Conduct in Higher Education and the Ombuds Role” by Hector Escalante; and
  3. “Ombuds Interventions in Encouraging Covenantal Research Collaborations: I am with You Always, Now and Beyond the End of Our Study” by Nancy Day, Mary Sue Love, and Gregory K. Stephens.

The JIOA also has some new books available for review.  If you are interested in reviewing one of the following books, please e-mail us at [email protected]. The current available books for review are:


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