No Ombudsman is an Island: The importance of collaborative working

7 Jun 2019

On 21st – 22nd May, the Ombudsman Association (OA) held their annual conference. Following this event, we reflect on the importance of collaborative working and how it benefits SCOAF.

people's hands in a huddle

On 21st – 22nd May, the Ombudsman Association (OA) held their annual conference. It is an event that is always well attended across the ombudsman community, which, as a whole, places a strong emphasis on collaborative working and learning. Following this conference, in the first blog for June, we are reflecting on the importance of collaborative working and how it benefits SCOAF.

At the recent Ombudsman Association conference, one of the workshops was titled ‘No Ombudsman is an Island’; a phrase which truly underpinned the conference theme of ‘Driving improvements: collaboration and peer learning’.

While no two organisations will ever have exactly the same remit, there are always broad similarities in the nature of the work carried out by those across the complaint handling sector. The subject matter of the complaints we deal with might be different, but the issues and challenges are the same. By working together and sharing our learning, we are able to foster best practice and, perhaps most important, avoid reinventing the wheel!

As a small organisation, we are often called on to do less with more – as many organisations are. Working across the sector, both nationally and internationally, strengthens our ability to achieve more than our relative size would allow.

The emphasis we place on collaborative working is demonstrated by our membership of three key networks and associations:

Within their specific focus and jurisdiction – each association seeks to establish best practice across the sector and make individual organisations stronger through collective knowledge. They do this by providing invaluable resources, education and networking opportunities for individuals at all levels of their member organisations.

ICOAF brings together all those ombudsman institutions across the globe with responsibility for the Armed Forces at an annual conference. It is an important conference that allows emerging issues to be discussed and promotes collaboration in developing resources to assist all conference members. In 2017, SCOAF had the honour to host the 9th ICOAF at the Tower of London.

But these associations also provide the necessary day to day networks that are called on to help with a specific project. A prime example of this is the work we are currently doing to build an online application portal. Moving into this digital realm is an entirely new area for our organisation. However, many other ombudsman organisations already have similar portals. Being a member of the OA allowed us to simply ask our network of contacts “who can help us with this?” and receive a range of support. The technical advice received and practical demonstrations of working applications have been an integral part of our planning and helps to ensure that we won’t overrun on either costs or time.

We will also follow a broadly similar approach as we move to publish anonymised case summaries. Many other organisations already do this – some because they have a legal requirement to. In talking to other organisations about the process they follow and how they handle issues such as consent, we can set down our own processes that follow this best practice.

This year, we also hope to have an expert peer review conducted to help improve the way we deliver our service. This was an issue the Ombudsman discussed in her Annual Report 2018.

But it isn’t all a one way street! We get a lot out of our membership of these associations, but we also give a lot back too. Even though we are only a small organisation, we can, and do, share our knowledge and learning with our counterparts. It is something we are more than happy to do and will continue to do because we truly recognise that no Ombudsman is an island and working together is what makes us stronger.