Exchanging ideas with Ombudsmen around the world

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

I have spoken on many occasions about the excellent opportunity that exists for all Ombudsmen, and everyone who works for Ombudsman services, to learn from one another.

I have a lifelong passion for education and know that our continuous learning has a positive impact on the work we do. We have been able to learn about best practice from fellow Ombuds across the world, and to share our own experience to help others. 

Africa: The Better Health programme

We recently hosted a visit from the South African Health Ombudsman, Professor Makgoba, and his team. In South Africa this is a relatively new institution.

The visit was part of Health Education England’s Better Health programme to help partner countries reform their health systems. PHSO is one of the member organisations of the NHS Consortium which supports delivery of the programme to enable colleagues to learn from UK experience. 

The South African team met with PHSO staff to learn more about the technical side of our operations, legal and advocacy work, and our corporate strategy and governance. 

We hope the learning we shared with this team will help them run an efficient ombudsman service. The team were highly engaged and their rigour and astute questioning contributed to a vibrant dialogue.   

The South Africans were happy to meet frontline staff and especially appreciated the open, informal and real conversations they had. Professor Makgoba said:

‘We are…very grateful for sharing your experiences so honestly and openly. My team left motivated and inspired by what they heard and observed.’

Asia: Deepening understanding

Another recent visit was from the South Korean Ombudsman, an organisation formed in 2008 when three separate agencies joined together creating an anti-corruption agency with wide-ranging powers.

The South Koreans first visited us ten years ago and have developed their Ombudsman system since. I am pleased they requested another visit to deepen understanding in areas of strategy, governance and operations. They were particularly interested in the learning from our recent Value for Money report.

The delegation was also interested to learn about how we recruit and train caseworkers, and I gave an overview of our current training and accreditation programme. They were also keen to learn about our approach to joint complaint handling with the LGSCO

On the wider topic of integrated services, I emphasised that we had much to learn from them given that we are still awaiting much needed legislation to create one Public Service Ombudsman. The delegation said that integration has helped raise the visibility and accessibility of the Ombudsman in Korea. 

North America: The merits of learning from one another

We’ve just released our latest Radio Ombudsman podcast with guest Jenna Brown, the University of Denver Ombuds. Jenna is held in high regard among the International Ombudsman community and shares my passion for continuing education.


image of Jenna Brown and Rob Behrens


One of the things we discuss in the podcast is the benefit of mutual learning. Jenna’s view is that exchanging information and expertise in this way is absolutely essential to the way she works:

‘I learn from contrast, so the exposure to those differences helps me clarify what my own work is. So I become more clear, learn new things, new ideas, and engage with colleagues from different perspectives and different countries.’

Later this month, I’ve been invited to make a keynote speech at the annual Forum of Canadian Ombudsman conference in Toronto. The theme is about the important role ombudsmen have not only in resolving complaints but also in enhancing public trust. While in Toronto, I have been invited to meet the Ontario Patient Ombudsman, to see first-hand how they do things differently and find out how we might improve our own practice.

Applying the learning

Meeting ombudsmen from around the world helps all of us enrich our understanding of comparative experience and use it to good effect. These exchanges certainly assist in building the case for ombudsman reform in the UK, and in developing our operational practice within the confines of our present remit. The meetings also add to our reputation as a collegiate, competent and credible partner, who can be relied upon to support ombudsman colleagues facing challenges around the world. 

Listen to our latest podcast

You can listen to Radio Ombudsman with guest Jenna Brown below.

You can also read the transcript for this podcast or download a pdf (134KB).

To hear about future podcasts, please follow us on Soundcloud or subscribe on iTunes