Part of the office of the ICANN ombudsman is to maintain standards of excellence in ombudsmanship. As part of that commitment I try to attend the International Ombudsman Association conference, which has three days of presentations, lectures and discussions. It is an important way to ensure that I am kept up-to-date with appropriate standards and new thinking. This year the conference was held at Denver Colorado, with about 350 colleagues, mostly from the United States and Canada but a reasonable number, like me from overseas.
The opening presentation was Duty to Warn and Duty to Protect: Considerations, Issues, Liabilities and Best Practices with speakers, Judy Bruner & John Nicoletti. The theme was that as Organizational Ombuds, we know the only exception for confidentiality is a threat of imminent harm, but what is imminent? How do we define this? Is there variability among us? Although this referred to individuals who may cause harm, for me it was a sober study of the dangers of a society when violence can be brought on so unexpectedly. Perhaps sitting in my office in New Zealand, this may seem remote, but we must be vigilant for such issues as a tension between the duty for confidentiality, and the possibility of harm.
On the second day of the conference I presented a paper in one of the concurrent sessions, the topic being “What Is This Thing Called Fairness, a study of the European test of proportionality for ombudsman”. This appeared to be fairly well received and generated some discussion. I have posted the paper on the ombudsman website. My paper was about the use of the proportionality test as a tool for the ombudsman in assessing whether to recommend where there is an unfairness, by approaching this through a balancing test.
The speaker on the second day was Dr. Frank Tuitt, who is the Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Associate Professor of Higher Education at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver (DU). Dr. Tuitt is a scholar devoted to the examination and exploration of topics related to access and equity in higher education; teaching and learning in racially diverse college classrooms; and diversity and organizational transformation. His research critically examined issues of race, Inclusive Excellence and diversity in and outside the classroom from the purview of faculty and students. This table was a thoughtful and structured analysis of the best way to achieve excellence in diversity programs. At ICANN we have diversity thrust on us because of the global reach of our multi stakeholder organisation. But I found the presentation valuable as a somewhat academic and principled analysis of how to achieve such diversity.
Throughout all three days there were many other presentations on a wide variety of topics which I found most valuable. It is of course most useful to mix with my colleagues to discuss practical issues and share experiences. The site were papers and other material can be reviewed is at http://www.ombudsassociation.org/Denver2014/Agenda