Why You Might Need an Ombuds


Have a conference or big event coming up? As a planner, you know the importance of making your attendees feel welcome and safe. In any large-scale professional event, there is always a potential for conflicts or inappropriate behavior. The cost of doing nothing to prepare for these incidents can be steep—and the cost of being ready is more affordable than you might think.

Cue the ombuds.

What is an Ombuds?

Even if you haven’t heard the term before, you’ve probably been aware of the services an ombuds provides. Ombuds—previously referred to as ombudsmen—have been around for decades, serving as third-party mitigators and mediators in a wide variety of settings.

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Acting as an impartial, confidential and informal resource, an ombuds assists in constructive problem-solving in order to resolve conflicts and hear grievances that individuals might be reluctant to share with coworkers, supervisors or event organizers.

Why Do I Need One?

Research done in 2017 by American Political Science Association (APSA), in which members were surveyed on negative experiences at conferences, showed that inappropriate behaviors are far more common than we think. Of 2,424 respondents, APSA found that 37 percent had experienced some form of inappropriate behavior at a conference during the previous four years.

As a planner, you naturally want to provide environments in which everyone can derive maximum benefit and feel safe from harassment. The potential legal liability of failing to do so should not be underestimated.

How Else Can an Ombud’s Services Be of Benefit?

By their virtue of their backgrounds and training, good ombuds are adept at listening, analyzing situations and suggesting possible solutions to issues. An organizational ombuds can serve both as a valuable resource to attendees and as an asset for any sponsoring organization. Often, they can share insights and observations about systemic issues relating to the conference or event.

How to Hire an Ombuds

International Ombudsman Association (IOA) has launched an online guide designed to help meet demand for ombuds’ services at conferences, conventions and other large meetings.

IOA’s “Guide for Setting Up a Conference Ombuds Program“ includes information about the value of an ombuds, resources for scoping and contracting ombuds’ services and tools for communicating the role of an ombuds to conference participants.

“Ombuds can provide a knowledgeable resource to assist people who experience problematic behavior at a conference,” says IOA Executive Director Chuck Howard. “Ombuds can also help sponsoring organizations by providing expertise and insights that help build and strengthen a culture of fairness and respect.”


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