Luigi Cominelli: The Evolving Practice of the Organizational Ombudsman

3 November 2009

In my last article I covered opportunity trends for the Organizational Ombudsman in our increasingly conflicted society primarily based on current anecdotal experience and practicing an “ombudsmanship” role in my corporate, business and organizational development practice.

Immediately following this I discovered that Luigi Cominelli has produced academic research specifically on the Organizational Ombudsman field, something we rarely, if ever see.  Currently he has no sponsor, professional journal or publisher for his work… yet.  What I personally do like is his fortitude to provide a transparent view, insight, for the profession regardless of what “others” may think regarding issues related to confidentiality and best practice.  If you are interested in future trends and reading interviews with contemporary leaders and practitioners our field, his work was produced in May of 2009 and provides very good insight, objective and complete; and within ethical limitation via permission from his sources.

Cominelli presents his paper today, 3 November 2009 at the Law and Society Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.  I wish him the best success in his visit to America.

The organizational ombudsman practice is becoming in recent years a new field of interest in the academia. Born in North America and now rapidly spreading to Europe, the organizational ombudsman is a neutral employee in charge of dealing with disputes and complaints within the organization. Many universities, corporations and government agencies have an ombuds office today. What is still lacking is empirical research in the field.
This article features extensive interviews with some of the most prominent people in the organizational ombudsmen world: 8 university ombudsmen, 4 ombudsmen from a government agency, 4 corporate ombudsmen, 1 community ombudsman and 1 ombudsman working in a international organisation.
The research includes participant observation in the meetings of the “Ombudsman Association” and of the “University and College Ombuds Association” and examines two main issues such as the kind of systemic changes induced in organizations and the evaluation of the ombudsman impact.
Finally, among these ombudsman experiences two original ombudsman plans were analyzed in details: the ombudsman/mediator programme in the health care sector and the community ombudsman in charge of dealing with disputes and relational dissatisfaction within a religious community.

Paper available for purchase on

One Citation here

and here

Luigi Cominelli public view on LinkedIn


The Forces of Inertia, Ombudsmanship and Opportunity Trends

2 November 2009

To gain the clearest understanding for this topic it’s important to define two words first.

INERTIA:  Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change: the inertia of an entrenched bureaucracy.

Ombudsmanship is not a word, not in the dictionary, but here is what I’m after.

OMBUDSMANSHIP:  the demonstrated knowledge, skill set, personal integrity and practice of the principles of the profession:  the facilitator demonstrated true ombudsmanship during the meeting.

Once again I’m writing this from personal “inspiration” and observations from the perspective of an ombudsman and the potential application of the ombudsman role in contemporary societal and business issues.  I also ask you, the aspiring ombudsman, ombudsman professional or other professional that sometimes has to play an ombudsman role; can you see the trends that are manifesting in our world and what the opportunity is?

Without a doubt, the majority of the present day conflicts “we” are in is a result of normal human behavior playing out across a broad socially divergent environment in an attempt to gain or preserve personal resources towards survival, self preservation, stability and growth.  The world is split basically into the “haves and the have nots” and the failures and abuses of people in corporations, institutions, governments and other responsible entities is “quickening” conflict towards the goal of resolution.  The flip side of this coin that contributes to difficulties is that individuals themselves have made choices and decisions to leverage their earnings by taking easy credit for everything from credit card purchases to home buying.  The waves of chaos to order can be observed through the media, some cycles unending, some the Gordian Knot, and some end happy.  For people with power, status and resources under their control to simply go by the “path of least resistance”, “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”, “ignorance is bliss”, “my sovereign rights over human rights” and all other forms of “polarity” between the elite and the masses is no longer acceptable.  At the same time there are people who do make philanthropic decisions or control resources that can be distributed and portioned out to people in “hopes” they will utilize them efficiently and not waste or squander the intended benefit.  The Ombudsman is in a prime position to provide assurance and rectify the exchanges if called to do so.  If you accept this premise and understand the “trends” that continue unfolding, it becomes clear and the action to take is easily visible.  It just takes a deep breath and the courage to begin… overcome your own inertia, enter into the fray and make a difference if you see an opportunity.

By our nature, an ombudsman is less likely to be proactive and “take a side” and “enter the fray”; and we therefore “wait to be invited” into chaos.  It may be time though, to step forward as a professional, wave our hand from the back of the room, and at least offer our integrity and neutrality for consideration to the “powers that be”.  Since I made the choice last year to start my OO services as a branch of my corporate, business and organizational development consulting practice the opportunities that are coming to me are not about the “vertical ombudsman job” as I’d hoped.  I’m asked instead to keep my ombudsmanship approach as a project leader with clients and then to move forward and take an “undeclared” ombudsman role, leading from the middle and to preempt any barriers or possible derailments of projects.  The concern is that projects get off cycle, waste resources and get so conflicted people won’t “work” because of attitudes and emotions played out in a variety of ways.  In specific, one client is saying, “we don’t want you to be an ombudsman, but we like the approach and principles to be kept in mind as you proceed.”

This IS the continuing TREND now.  America and the world knows business, is educated, knows technology, is efficient and proficient in core business areas, these are yesterdays issues in business.  Today’s issue is restoring trust and confidence in all that we do “together”, more for the community and stakeholder than the shareholder though.  What’s been missing is something the law, lawyers, legislators, judges, policemen, federal agencies and regulators have attempted to mitigate, but are NOT always successful at stopping due to insufficient budgets, hours available in a day or policy positions.  If they do get the chance to intervene, bring justice, the end result is often difficult to handle in “terms” of economic loss, emotional damage and outright lives and businesses destroyed.  What is desired now is “honest, trustworthy and virtuous” people in business so as to have a “high confidence” that economic objectives advance to goals achieved and success for the group or community.  No one really, anymore, wants to resort to law suits for the multitude of misrepresentations and non-performance issues that unfold.  The trend is now, as I observe my world, is towards a trusted long term benefit over short term “burn” for cash today.  You’ll see more “employee owned” companies emerge for example.  I admit, there is an “assumption” here that we ombudsmen can be successful in educating and steering events “on the fly” with people who may have other “personal” monetary interests at heart versus say, economic benefit for a whole entity or community.  Nevertheless, this is the trend and where opportunity rich social and economic possibilities exist.

For us as ombudsman professionals our opportunities my not be a “uni-dimensional” or single mediation role, though opportunities abound.  Can “we” overcome our own inertia, “resistance” to changing ourselves and be willing to play the ombudsman role while acting in another capacity, perhaps different job title?  Can we be “multi-dynamic” and inject “ombudsmanship” into our projects, jobs, roles, communications, offices, teams, communities and entities we are engaged with?  Once “we” become “known” for this and the perception is set, credibility established, we are then empowered to create proactive change and restore trust in many areas in our immediate circle of influence.  People in our “networks” will inherently trust us and the ones that don’t, well, we might suspect less than ethical relationships in those instances and can take precautions and probably create a change of mind and heart as to how they approach their own relationships.  Indeed, if people have “gone as high” as they can go in their “appeals” and gained as much “access to power” as resources permit, Ombudsmen have the chance now to “balance” social economics and asymmetrical power structures like never before on the behalf of others in multiple ways.  Something to consider… now what possibilities surround you?