Ombudsman schemes don’t always feature in definitions of ADR. Ombudsmen themselves often don’t identify their schemes as ADR, probably because their wider function – in educating the public and influencing good practice among public bodies and within industries, for instance – seems to place them outside the realm of dispute resolvers and legal services. But ombudsmen should be seen as part of the wider ADR spectrum, along with negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. Because the term ADR is increasingly being used to refer to ‘appropriate dispute resolution’, and ombudsmen are in many cases the most appropriate route to remedy for individual complainants.
Perhaps another reason ombudsmen have seen themselves outside of ADR is that they are not always alternatives to going to court. Here a change in terminology – to the use of ‘appropriate dispute resolution’ – would be a huge help. We cannot simply draw up an actuarial table comparing outcomes, such as financial recompense, in court to those achieved via ombudsmen or mediation. web design agency The quality of the outcome is inherently different, and the quality of the process to achieve that outcome is different.
Both process and outcome are important to how a complainant perceives the fairness, or unfairness, of a remedy. What’s needed is to match, as carefully as possible, a complainant and his or her circumstances to the route to remedy that is most appropriate. And it may not be only one route; it might instead be a multistepped route, incorporating several different dispute resolution methods, which would allow not just for the resolution of the dispute but pave the way for prevention and management of any future disputes.
Advice Services Alliance, in its guide Advising on ADR, includes in its definition of ADR conciliation, mediation, ombudsman schemes, arbitration and small claims procedures. In the guide I set out a spectrum of dispute resolution which places each method in context in terms of how directive each is. A directive process is one in which the outcome – the settlement or resolution – is determined by someone other than the parties themselves.