ICANN Ombudsman Blog Creating Dialogue Affirming Fairness

January 8, 2011

Ombudsman corresponds with OmbudsBlog

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frank Fowlie @ 10:28 am

Dear Tom,

This is my second comment to your blog post.  I notice that my first comment has not been posted, and hope that this is simply a time lag issue, and not a purposeful attempt to prevent a correction of your blog.

Tom, your blog post heading “ICANN Review Team Says Ombuds Should Follow IOA Standards” is simply wrong, and implies an incorrect and misleading impression of what the ATRT actually said.  Tom, I know you to be an articulate and intelligent person, so I can only assume that either you created this byline in a hurry, or in error.  In any case, it needs to be corrected.

Let’s start off by being very clear, at no place in its report, or in my discussions with the organization has anyone suggested that the ICANN Office of the Ombudsman follow IOA Standards.  In fact, as you have pointed out in your blog post “ICANN Ombuds Points Out — Executive Ombuds Have No Professional Group” executive ombudsman programs, such as ICANN’s do not fit into the organizational ombudsman standards.

In fact, you created that blog post reporting on a post on the ICANN Ombudsman Blog “Ombudsman presentation at the ICANN Meeting Public Forum – Cartagena” (https://omblog.icann.org/?p=322).  I have included the relevant text at the end of this communication.  The point being, that it is abundantly clear in that report and in the ATRT recommendations that the ICANN Office of the Ombudsman is an executive ombudsman model, and that any standards review should be based broadly on standards established by the United States Ombudsman Association, the forum of Canadian Ombudsmen, the International Ombudsman Institute, the International Standards Association, and to the extent that they are relevant, the International Ombudsman Association.

Tom, let’s take a very close look at exactly what the ATRT report says:

As soon as possible, but no later than the March 2011 ICANN meeting, the operations of the Office of Ombudsman and the relationship between the Office of the Ombudsman and the Board of Directors should be assessed and, to the extent they are not, should be brought into compliance with the relevant aspects of internationally recognized standards for: a) an Ombudsman function; and b) a Board supporting such a function under the Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association.

Nowhere in that recommendation does it say that the ICANN Office of the Ombudsman should or must follow IOA standards.  In fact, the intent of this recommendation, and the subsequent paragraph which you have included in your post, shows a desire on the part of the ICANN to ensure that the organization and the Office of the Ombudsman meet internationally accepted standards in the ombudsman field concerning independence of the ombudsman, and the handling of communication and recommendations from the Ombudsman to the board.

Repeat: Nowhere in that recommendation does it say that the ICANN Office of the Ombudsman should or must follow IOA standards.  There is an obvious grammatical error in the ATRT report which will be rough to their attention, in that the sentence begins with a collective (relevant aspects of internationally recognized standards) and ends with a singular (Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association).  The singular is redundant, and this error will be brought to the attention of the ATRT and ICANN staff.

Tom, I would also point out to you that this exercise of comparing international standards to the operations of my Office has already been completed in Chapters 4 and 5 of my doctoral dissertation, found at http://www.icann.org/ombudsman/blueprint-for-evaluation-of-an-ombudsman-nov08.pdf.

Finally Tom, based on the facts put forward in this correspondence, I am sure that you will immediately correct your blog byline.  I am sure that you would be anxious to make such a correction, as you would want to assure your readers that there is no conflict of interest between your editing practices and your role as a member of the IOA Board of Directors.

Happy New Year.

 Dr. Frank Fowlie

BRUCE TONKIN:  Frank, in the ATRT report, it mentioned that they are looking at the review of various, I guess, appeals processes, for want of a better word.  And there was mention they thought the ombudsman office should meet the various international standards that might relate to that.

 Wonder if you could comment very briefly on whether you think the ombudsman office today does meet those.  And if not, what are some of the things that would need to be changed, in very summary form?

 >>FRANK FOWLIE:  Thank you, Bruce.  Actually, I had the opportunity to provide a briefing to Brian Cute on this matter, and I shared it with you yesterday.

 The office of the ombudsman is probably — this office of the ombudsman is probably the most scrutinized and evaluated ombudsman’s office in the world, not only against international standards but also against standards that were developed within this office as I did my doctoral dissertation. 

 The difficulty in putting this particular office uniquely into a cache of one of the various ombudsman associations that exists is that it is an executive ombudsman office.  It is created by a legislative body, being the table, and performs a specific function of answering questions about fair treatment within the community.

 There is no specific ombudsman association in the world that caters exclusively to executive ombudsmen.

 The United States Ombudsman Association and the International Ombudsman Association reflect either end of the spectrum.  The United States Ombudsman being the classical or governmental ombudsman and the International Ombudsman Association being organizational ombudsmen who have very different characteristics of dealing usually
with staff issues, client issues and who do not formally report.  So there are elements of both.

 In the work that we’ve done in the evaluation of this office of the ombudsman, we have developed a checklist of the 50 top characteristics found across all ombudsman associations and have classified where this office fits in those.  That has been reviewed by an independent third -party evaluator who has provided a commentary and who’s put — that’s available on the Web site.

 Very early in the development of the office, I contracted with an evaluator from the International Standards Association, ISO — our organization, excuse me.  They have two standards that deal with complaint handling:  One for complaints internal to an organization and one complaints external.  ISO 10,002 and 10,003.  The evaluator
went through our framework and our process and confirmed that the ICANN office of the ombudsman met all international standards with respect to complaint handling.

 My advice is that the office in and of itself is meeting all international standards, meeting all national standards and is a leader across the globe in the evaluation of standards for ombudsman offices. 

 I think there are weaknesses, and those were addressed in the commentary.  I think one of the weaknesses that does need to be addressed in terms of how international bodies look — or state bodies or national bodies look at the use of having an ombudsman as a structure in their organization or government is the linkage between the board and the ombudsman.

 I think one of the weaknesses that needs to be explored is the recommendation process.  The Bylaw 5 is very, very clear, that the ombudsman is to make a report to the board and provide recommendations on how the ombudsman thinks matters should be dealt with.

 A weakness in this organization is the reply back or the follow-up action.  Normally where there is a statement legislature who has an ombudsman, the ombudsman will be authorized by law to demand or reply and report on the implementation of recommendations within 30 days.  Obviously, in an executive ombudsman framework where the legislature and the ombudsman are much more closely attached, that becomes more difficult. 

 But I think part of the ATRT review and the review being taken up at this point should include an evaluation not just of the ombudsman but the relationship between the ombudsman and the board of directors.  And that will provide for a much more healthy and curative result to complaints that come through the office of the ombudsman.

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