CERF 2023 Conference Ombuds Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following information is designed to inform you about the CERF 2023 conference ombuds program.

1. What does a Conference Ombuds do?

An ombuds (or ombudsman or ombudsperson) identifies and helps resolve concerns that come up during a conference. In addition, the ombuds is available to serve as a neutral third party to help manage conflict and help conference participants find fair solutions to problems. The ombuds also provides information about conference policies, procedures, services, and programs, and makes referrals to other resources with permission of the individual. After a conference, the ombuds offers recommendations to senior management about policy changes.

2. How do I contact the Conference Ombuds before, during, or after the Conference?

Contact information for the CERF 2023 conference ombuds can be found on this page or you may use the confidential web form on the bottom of this page.

3. What does an ombuds not do?

The ombuds do not replace other roles or procedures at CERF 2023. In addition, the ombuds does not provide legal advice or counseling and does not make decisions on the issues brought to her. Discussing an issue with the ombuds does not constitute formal notice to leadership about the existence of a problem. The ombuds will, however, help attendees find resolution or help find the proper channels to provide management with information about an issue (without identifying where the information came from).

4. Who can use the ombuds service?

All CERF 2023 attendees, staff, exhibitors, and anyone else participating in CERF 2023 with a conference-related concern are welcome to contact the ombuds. You may contact the ombuds anytime, including after hours, and she will reply within 24 hours.

5. What types of concerns are brought to the ombuds?

Any concern that an attendee is unsure how to handle including concerns about communication issues, harassment of any kind, discrimination, disability access, sexual misconduct, safety concerns, among other concerns.

6. What happens when you contact the ombuds?

The ombuds will: provide you with enough time and space to air your concerns in private; listen carefully to your concern or complaints; help you develop a list of options for resolving your concerns; provide or obtain answers to questions you have regarding a policy or procedure; and work with you to develop a strategy for resolution.

7. What might I gain by contacting the ombuds?

Insight into a complicated situation; a clearer perspective on an issue or concern; enhanced ability to effectively deal with a problem; identification and clarification of options; develop an effective communication plan to resolve interpersonal issues; find a resolution of an ongoing problem that is impacting your ability to enjoy the conference.

8. What authority does the ombuds have?

The ombuds has the authority to contact senior management at CERF 2023 to bring issues to the attention of those with authority to address concerns, and make recommendations for a change in policy or practice when appropriate. The ombuds does not have the power to mandate anyone (staff, management, other attendees) to do anything they choose not to do.

9. What happens to information provided to the ombuds?

As a matter of policy, the ombuds destroys all information regarding a matter when that matter is resolved or within one month of no activity. The ombuds does not retain any information that would identify the individuals involved in a conflict, dispute or complaint. The ombuds keeps general statistics and periodically reports general problem areas to leadership. The ombuds does not keep information that would identify individuals who have contacted the ombuds. The ombuds will review data with an eye towards highlighting emerging issues, identifying trends, highlighting vulnerable groups, and suggesting areas of improvement with management.

10. How does the Conference Ombuds differ from employee relations or Human Resources professional?

Employee Relations and Human Resource (ER/HR) professionals assist managers and employees of the organization in establishing, following and applying Human Resource-related policies and procedures. They may conduct formal investigations, make or modify policies, and accept formal notice of a claim on behalf of the organization. As a result, the ER/HR professional cannot always extend complete confidentiality to individuals who come forward with issues. The ER/HR professional’s role is also not completely neutral because they are part of the management structure and they must directly represent and protect the interests of the organization.

An organizational conference ombuds’ function is to provide informal assistance in surfacing and resolving issues. While they can recommend that an organization consider establishing or revising policy, the ombuds plays no formal role in enforcing or deciding to implement policy. The ombuds does not conduct formal investigations. However, they do assist in identifying or creating options for resolution, including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers. Because they are not part of the management structure of the organization, an ombuds does not accept notice for the organization and can extend near absolute confidentiality (except in the instance of imminent threat of serious harm, as jointly defined by the organization and the ombuds, at the discretion of the ombuds). The ombuds is impartial and does not advocate for the individual, groups or the organization. The only advocacy role is for fair and equitable process.

The roles of the ombuds and the ER/HR professional are not competing roles, they are complementary. When the two functions work together in an effective partnership, they can yield tremendous benefit to a a conference and the organization by maintaining an environment that encourages the use of multiple options to surface and resolve issues and to improve systemic policies and procedures.

11.How does the Conference Ombuds differ from a lawyer?

The conference ombuds role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is an advocate for their client and associated with more formal processes and the legal system. An organizational ombuds maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with visitors, while a lawyer must advocate for their client. Though some organizational conference ombuds may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, ombuds do not provide legal advice.

12.How does the Conference Ombuds differ from a Mediator?

While many ombuds are trained as mediators and often use mediation skills and techniques as one of many approaches to problem-solving and conflict management, the conference ombuds role is broader and connected to the organization. A mediator is typically an outside professional focused on helping people solve a specific issue or problem as compared with the ombuds who has a broader scope of work.

 13. What sort of issues and concerns can I bring to the Conference Ombuds?

A full range of topics can be brought to the Conference ombuds including but not limited to:

  • All types of identity based concerns
  • Harassment (including sexual harassment)
  • Free speech and free expression
  • Integrity issues / Intellectual property /  Research concerns
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Problems about the hotel
  • Safety concerns
  • Issues related to the organization

14. If I have a concern on someone else’s behalf at the Conference, may I contact the Ombuds, or is this service only for people who are concerned about themselves?

Ombuds welcome those with a serious concern about others or any conference situation as well as those with a complaint about something that affects themselves. When in doubt, contact the conference ombuds.

15. How does the ombuds remain neutral?

The ombuds’ effectiveness and credibility is based on a commitment to being fair and supportive of each conference participant who contacts the ombuds. The ombuds is not part of any one department at CERF 2023 and are independent subcontractors to CERF, which allows the ombuds to be neutral.  The ombuds’ job is to help people make informed decisions for themselves with the ombuds’ assistance and support.

16. Will the ombuds participate in formal meetings?

No. The ombuds cannot serve as a witness and does not participate in any formal grievance process. The ombuds will not testify in formal judicial or administrative hearings. However, the ombuds is available to facilitate informal discussions with the consent of the other participants. If the ombuds is asked to serve on a committee, it will be done in an advisory capacity only.

17. How is the ombuds unique and different than other resources at CERF 2023?

The goal of the ombuds is to support and inform those who work at CERF 2023 about conflict management options to address and resolve concerns. In addition, the ombuds offers a confidential, independent, and informal resource for CERF 2023 members. This means that people can speak with the ombuds with the assurance that the ombuds will not report what was told unless someone would be harmed if nothing was reported. Also the ombuds is a change agent who identifies patterns and causes of conflict at a conference and brings those issues to the attention of senior management.

18. Are there some things that will not be kept confidential?

Yes. If the ombuds determines that an imminent threat of serious harm exists and/or there is suspicion of abuse of any kind, the ombuds has the right to disclose this information. This determination will be made at the sole discretion of the ombuds. In those situations in which the ombuds believes that talking with other individuals may help, and there is not a risk of harm to self or other, the visitor will be asked for permission before any disclosures are made. If you have particular concerns about confidentiality, please be sure to raise the issue when you talk with the ombuds. This confidentiality cannot be “waived” by users of the ombuds service because the privilege of confidentiality belongs to the ombuds and not to the users of the service. Because confidentiality is so important to the ombuds, all communications with the ombuds are made with the understanding that they are confidential, off-the-record, and that the ombuds will not be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding to reveal confidential communications.

19. Will the ombuds talk to my attorney or testify for me or for the company if I choose to file a grievance or lawsuit?

No. Once a matter is in a formal process, including legal action, the ombuds does not have any further involvement, unless the parties want to try mediation or other confidential services of the ombuds in an attempt to resolve the issue. The ombuds will maintain the confidentiality of all dealings and communications and will assert any and all legal protections to maintain that confidentiality. The ombuds reserves the right to uphold confidentiality even when the person using the services of the ombuds requests disclosure.

20. Can the user of the ombuds services remain anonymous?

Yes, users can remain anonymous. You can call the ombuds to discuss an issue without giving your name. If you would like to remain anonymous, the ombuds will work with you to find a way to address your concern in a way that does not reveal your identity.

21. Does the Conference Ombuds report to CERF on issues they dealt with at the conference?

The ombuds—without breaching the confidentiality of any communications by people using the service—will provide CERF with feedback on the nature of issues raised about the conference and any insights or observations about systemic issues relating to the conference or CERF 2023.

22. What if my question is not listed here?

Please contact the CERF 2023 Ombuds, at www.mwi.org/cerf-ombuds to get your questions answered.