The Art of the Ombudsman: leadership through International Crisis



Foreword by the President of the International Ombudsman Institute

Peter Tyndall

As an Ombudsman, Rob Behrens has consistently sought to learn from others and to share the learning of his own organisation. He has done so in part by active participation in Ombudsman networks, not least the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI). He has been a leading exponent of peer review, and led the work culminating in the IOI Best Practice Paper and seminar, as well as instigating a peer review of his own Office and leading another.

The latest manifestation of Rob’s commitment to learning is this survey and its analysis. It comes at a seminal moment for us all, as the nations of the world grapple with COVID-19. Our Offices have been highly active in maintaining our oversight of public services at a time when the people of our countries rely more heavily on them than ever before. Ombudsman Offices are making sure that the most vulnerable can continue to access services, while seeking to ensure that there is no discrimination.

All of this work is taking place against a background where we too have had to address the challenges of the pandemic. Many of us have continued to provide our services while working remotely, and our networks have been maintained through video and teleconferencing.

The survey focuses in part on leadership, and this is highly significant. The Office of Ombudsman is a personal one. We each bring our individual approach to our role. As leaders of our organisations, we set the tone for the work. We need to embody the values which underpin our investigations. We have to lead, support and motivate our teams. We are the public face of the work also, and must be able to influence decision makers and politicians.

The survey shows how the Ombudsman community has adapted to maintain its effectiveness in the face of the current challenges. It reflects a determined, nimble profession committed to ensuring fairness for all of the people in our communities. The individual examples, as ever, are inspiring and bring the text to life. One observation by a Canadian colleague will stay with me for a long time. It describes the role of the Ombudsman not as an advocate for the individual but as an advocate for fairness. This is a very succinct description of the core work of the Ombudsman.

The survey has been framed in part by reference to the Venice Principles. By looking at the responses on particular issues and taking into account the age of the legislation governing our Offices, a case emerges for review and updating. There is overwhelming support for the inclusion of own-initiative powers for instance, in line with the Principles.

Finally, the survey focuses heavily on the challenges facing our Offices. These range from inadequate resourcing to difficulties in accessing necessary information. Colleagues report on having new responsibilities without the necessary resources, of having difficulty in achieving compliance with their recommendations and of the lack of a comprehensive jurisdiction. Ultimately, the survey reveals an institution which has achieved much, but which needs support and resourcing in order to operate at its full potential across the globe.

The survey is a very valuable contribution to the debate on the future development of the Ombudsman. Our thanks are due to Rob and his colleagues for giving us such substantial food for thought and for banishing any complacency. There is much for all of us to do in ensuring that people everywhere can access an institution which will vindicate their rights and hold their public services to account.


Download report The Art of the Ombudsman: leadership through international crisis [PDF 1.05 MB]