The Art of the Ombudsman: Leadership through International Crisis

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Today I have the privilege of sharing our new study, The Art of the Ombudsman: Leadership through International Crisis, with colleagues at the International Ombudsman Institute World Conference.

By late 2020, COVID-19 had claimed more than 1.8 million lives worldwide and raised fundamental questions about public health and security, the delivery of public and health services, civil liberties and the suspension of fundamental freedoms. 

PHSO was both affected by and involved in the pandemic as it worked to support people whose lives had been affected in unprecedented ways. We also had to take into account the impact on organisations we investigate.

Even before the pandemic, I had planned to survey other Ombudsman offices around the world about their leadership styles. I wanted to know how other schemes were supporting their employees and the communities they serve, and the extent to which they were viewed as key players by national governments. 

A global survey of Ombudsman responses to the pandemic

What began as a bright idea, transformed into a serious plan to look at Ombudsman responses to the pandemic around the world. It was a team effort to design a survey, and included invaluable support from PHSO colleagues (notably Alastair Galbraith) the University of Glasgow, and the networks of the International Ombudsman Institute.  

The initiative was bought into by dozens of colleagues across the world. Like us, they recognised the value of sharing experiences and learning from one another. They shared our view that in the face of the pandemic, Ombudsman schemes could emerge stronger from this chastening experience.

The study provides both a picture of comparative experiences in 37 different countries, and an emerging agenda  for how we develop ourselves and sister Ombudsman organisations in the future.

The Manchester Memorandum

By exploring issues of leadership, values and public access, the study raises fundamental issues and questions for the international Ombudsman community – and for anyone interested in administrative justice. I have referred to these issues as the Manchester Memorandum in chapter 6 of the study. 

These require further debate and exploration. I have agreed with colleagues in the International Ombudsman Institute that we will debate these issues at a working seminar in Manchester at the beginning of November. 

In the meantime, please read this monograph. I hope it provides an interesting and valuable contribution from PHSO to the literature on a crisis that is, in the words of Polish Ombudsman Dr Adam Bodnar, “like the shadow of a great mountain”.