The Art of the Ombudsman: leadership through International Crisis




This study constitutes the second and final report on a piece of work conceived in 2019 and developed in light of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It was led by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in the United Kingdom, with support on survey design from the University of Glasgow, and with dissemination and return through the International Ombudsman Institute. An interim report was published in October 2020 under the title The Ombudsman, coronavirus and crisis management. An interim report.

Although the calendar year 2020 was a challenging one for Ombudsman schemes and their users, one positive feature was the endorsement of the Principles on the Protection and Promotion of the Ombudsman Institution (‘The Venice Principles’) by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2020. This means that the Principles now have international status and constitute benchmarks for Ombudsman schemes around the world. This study draws on the Venice Principles to measure the success with which schemes are meeting the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Venice Principles are supported by the Venice Commission’s Opinions on the legal frameworks for the operation of the Ombudsman institution, in relation to a number of countries where there have been challenges to Ombudsman independence, mandates and competence.21 Public sector organisations face a number of challenges in the early 21st century and the Ombudsman community is no exception to this. Ombudsman organisations seek to preserve and protect the rights of the populations they serve. This study outlines some of the specific challenges faced by Ombudsman schemes and details how effective functioning can sometimes be compromised by a range of differing pressures made more acute by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings are based on responses from the leaders of 53 Ombudsman organisations across 37 different countries. They were gathered via an online questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed by PHSO with assistance from a graduate intern from Glasgow University. It was disseminated by the International Ombudsman Institute to its members and was live for three weeks from 5 June to 26 June 2020. The questionnaire was designed to elicit responses focusing on leadership challenges faced by the Ombudsman community in the prevailing COVID-19 crisis and other crises going forward. Following the publication of the interim report in October 2020, further research was undertaken to document Ombudsman responses to the continuing pandemic.

The conclusion (chapter six) sets out the draft Manchester Memorandum with suggestions for how the international Ombudsman community can entrench the lessons learned from the pandemic and utilise the Venice Principles to further professionalise operation, practice and communication.


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