One of the key roles of an ombudsman is to consider how issues and problems in individual cases may require system-wide change in order to impact organizational culture. The independence of an ombudsman’s office gives it the credibility, respect, and ability to aggregate individual grievances and cases, and use them to promote systemic change at the top administrative levels. A systems change approach emphasizes monitoring performance, assessing outcome, and ensuring public accountability. It also promotes cross-agency collaboration and partnership to provide coordinated and comprehensive service throughout the system.
Typically, ombuds are intermediaries who assess problems and recommend solutions or change. Even though they have limited authority to directly act on a problem, they nonetheless hold powerful positions, because resolution and solution is the quintessential objective of their profession. Without ombuds, an aggrieved individual must travel up the chain of command, management, or supervision to find a sympathetic ear or even an answer. However, since resolving complaints is not the primary function of management within an organization, a response to a complaint is often delegated to administrative staff, and the complaining party may get no further than a “thank you and we’ll look into it and get back with you.” response.
Conversely, the principal and full-time duty of an ombudsman is to provide a forum for the registering of a complaint or issue, then investigate and assess its merits, and offer recommendations or solutions to the respective parties. Advocate ombuds have additional authority to advocate the complaining party’s position. Ultimately, the likelihood of more timely resolution is enhanced by the direct involvement of the ombudsman, whose duties and resources exist for the very purpose of such problemsolving.
Ombudsman programs serve a variety of functions, including educating the community; investigating allegations; monitoring programs, offices and facilities; conducting research; providing recommendations for change or improvement; and, if necessary and so authorized, bringing litigation.