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The Next Generation of Online Ombudsman Consulting

The Progress of ADR Opportunities using Technology: The next generation of Online Ombudsman Consulting.
The use of technology in Alternative Dispute Resolution has created its own field of endeavour, Online Dispute Resolution (ODR).  Dr. Frank Fowlie, the former Ombudsman with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has launched an interesting venture which combines contracted online dispute resolution services, with a consortium of practitioners who can offer both traditional and ODR consulting services.
Four Practitioner Roles in Technology Assisted Dispute Resolution
There are four broad categories of practitioners who are well suited to using technology assisted ODR functionalities.  These roles include:

  • Online mediators,
  • Online Conflict Managers,
  • Online Conflict Resolvers, and
  • Ombudsmen.

In the first role, ODR practitioners may act as mediators. People in conflict with another party may come to an ODR practitioner and say, “Can you help me to negotiate with the person with whom I am in conflict?” The mediator is somewhat passive in the process, in that they are uniquely a conduit for the flow of communication between the parties and are not at all a protagonist. There are several very good examples of this mediation role.[1]

Second, there is the role of conflict manager. This role kicks in when one party says that there is a problem and requests the neutral third party to assist in keeping the issue from escalating. The question posed by the parties to the practitioner might be, “Look, we have a relationship, and there is a problem, and we want you to help us manage it before it gets worse.” ODR systems that look at issues such as levels of support or child access in family law are examples of this role.[2]

Third, there is the role of conflict resolver. The conflict resolver takes on this role when the parties say, “We were not able to manage the conflicts between us, or we did not come to you in time to manage those conflicts, and there has now been a meaningful change to our relationship that we need the help of a third party to resolve.” Both parties may not necessarily share this perspective simultaneously. For example, your bank, because it is a big institution, may think it simply needs to manage an issue when it inadvertently overdraws your account; however, to you as the consumer, it is a conflict that needs to be resolved, rather than be managed, because the overdraft has caused you distrust the bank, and there has been a fundamental change in your relationship with the bank.[3]

Fourth, there is the role of the Internet-based Ombudsman, meaning Ombudsmen who are online practitioners. In this final scenario, the parties would come to the Ombudsman and ask the following question: “We have a conflict between us because one of us feels unfairly treated by the other. Can you work with us, evaluate this situation, and if one of us was treated unfairly, can you help us work out a solution that we all can work with and that is fair?”[4] This Chapter concerns itself with this last category of practitioner, however, Ombudsmen use a wide range of tools in handling conflict, and they may use the same skill sets as mediators, conflict managers, and conflict resolvers.

A new approach is a new approach to reaching governments, agencies, corporations, groups, or individuals who would benefit from access to expert practitioners. These practitioners include: Bill Angrick, Past President of the International Ombudsman Institute; Dean Gottehrer, Past President of the United States Ombudsman Association (USOA); Duncan Fowler, Honourary Lifetime Member of the USOA; Suzanne Belson, Training Director of the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman; Organizational Governance expert Bill Knight, former Commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada; Human Resources expert Andrew Savage; Lawrence Susskind, co-founder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School; Dr. Barbara Schellhammer and Christine Bedard, Conflict and Cross Cultural Issues training experts; former Olympic level equestrian athlete Anna Nicholas, Sports ADR practitioner; and Dr. Frank Fowlie, Ombudsman evaluation expert. has four main areas of focus:

Providing consulting support on Ombudsman programs which may include training, contracted services such as investigations, helping entities establish Ombudsman programs, and Ombudsman evaluations and practice improvements;

A specific program in Sports based ADR programs;

Providing fee for service Ombudsman programs for new top level domains for the Internet. This includes a web based case management system that can provides secure complaints handling processes; and

A very unique mutual gains program for competing applicants for new top level domains.

This is the first such consortium for Ombudsman practitioners, especially in the online environment, and is a big step forward for the provision of unique ADR programs.

The consultants are based in the United States, Europe and Canada, and can provide services in English, French, and German, and have a capacity to services in many other languages using translators from a local immigrant centre in suburban Vancouver.

The consortium can be found at

1 See, for example, The Mediation Room: (Accessed December 12, 2010)

2 See, for example, Our Family Wizard: (Accessed December 5, 2010)

3 See, for example, The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada: (Accessed December 7, 2010)

4 See, for example, ICANN Office of the Ombudsman: (Accessed December 1, 2010)


Frank Fowlie

Dr. Frank Fowlie is the CEO of Frank was the inaugural Ombudsman at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is the agency which administers the global domain name system which serves as the backbone for the Internet. He served as the Ombudsman from November 2004 to January,… MORE >

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