Advocate Ombuds. You can find a form of Advocate Ombuds as long ago as the Citizen Defender in the
1700s in Sweden. Today, they represent a blending of
ombuds skills with a special purpose. Advocate Ombuds
are specifically charged with standing up for a particular
population’s rights and making sure that the rights are
known to, and not infringed upon by, the government or
the organization in charge of population.
Today, Advocate Ombuds are often found in behavioral
healthcare, eldercare, long-term care, environmental
organizations, and prisons. They are not neutral, but are
advocates for particular concerns of the individuals or
groups they represent. Advocate Ombuds will not wait
for visitors to call or come into their offices. They will go
out and meet them, develop trust, learn about the concerns, and return to the leadership of the organization to
support their concerns.
For example, in long-term care facilities it is becoming
common to hire Advocate Ombuds to support patients’
and their families’ rights; investigating concerns the
patients may have. They may be part or fulltime and are
not typically paid at the same level as other organizational ombuds.
Organizational Ombuds (O. Ombuds). The modern
educational and corporate Organizational Ombuds are
charged with being “Advocates for Fair Process.” This is
the Gold Standard for the O. Ombuds.
Like mediators, they are to remain neutral and focus
on informing or educating their visitors on options to
resolve their concerns. However, unlike mediators, O.
Ombuds have more options available. For example, they
may decide individual coaching is needed, or facilitating
group meetings or discussions, and they have the free-
dom and independence to be the person delivering the
services. A mediator could not ethically offer other ser-
vices to a client whose mediation case is still open. With
the permission of the visitor, an O. Ombuds may talk
to the other party and may decide to mediate between
the two if that would help the situation. If an O. Ombuds
sees trends occurring in a department or across the
organization, they may decide to teach a class in com-
munication or conflict resolution. Or, they may work
with the human resources department to teach classes
on sexual harassment or other company policies. Unlike
mediators, O. Ombuds get involved with the solutions.
An O. Ombud’s office is usually located where it is easy
to get to, but sufficiently out of the way to allow discreet
visits. O. Ombuds often joke that when you walk into an
organization’s common dining hall, the person sitting
alone is usually the ombuds because they cannot show
even a perceived preference for anyone lest another
person thinks the ombuds may be violating confidentiality or neutrality. Even sitting in a public place with a
senior administrator might provoke rumors that the
ombuds is reporting to the administration about specific
visitors. That could destroy the trust and reputation of
the Office as a confidential, safe place.
The Educational Ombuds is a subspecies of the
Organizations Ombuds who may serve an entire university and the public constituency or may serve only a
part of the institution (e.g., the medical school) or only
the faculty, graduate and/or undergraduate students,
employees or some other grouping. Some colleges
and universities use retired faculty in part-time roles
to serve their faculty, while hiring an ombuds from the
outside for other constituencies. There may be only
one ombudsman for a university or several. Educational
Ombuds are usually hired at the non-teaching faculty
or administrator or assistant dean level, reporting to the
chancellor or president.
The use of Corporate Ombuds (CO) is becoming a best
practice and is recognized as a valuable risk management strategy. An investment in an ombuds office with
one or more ombuds has been shown both to reduce
litigation costs and employee turnover while increasing employee morale because employees know they
have a save place they can anonymously talk over their
workplace concerns.. The Corporate Ombuds is thought
of in some circles as the physical representation of the
‘corporate conscience;’ an essential part of corporate
responsibility. A corporate ombuds is seen as part of
management, although not working for management.
Ideally they would report to the board of directors, the
president or another senior executive for statistical
reporting and system recommendation purposes only.
Activist Ombuds (AO) is a new designation being
introduced in the Organizations Ombuds culture. The
idea was proposed by Howard Gadlin, the Director and
Senior Ombuds for the Office of the Ombudsman/Cen-ter for Cooperative Resolution (OO/CCR) at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH.) (See his article in the Summer 2014 issue of ACR’s Conflict Resolution Quarterly.)
Noting the continuum in ombuds work from reactive to
activist, Gadlin describes the role of an AO as including
(i) acting on their own initiative, (ii) providing direct con-
Today, Advocate Ombuds are often found in
behavioral healthcare, eldercare, long-term care,
environmental organizations, and prisons.