Ombudsman

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An ombudsman is an independent advocate, investigator, mediator, and conflict resolver, often within government. Ombudsmen are charged with representing public interests by investigating and facilitating resolution of citizen complaints. The term arose in Sweden, where a Parliamentary ombudsman agency, independent of the executive branch, was instituted in 1809 to protect citizen rights.

The origin of the term is found in Old Norse and derives from umbuds man, meaning representative. The initial use in Swedish dates from 1552. An ombudsman is not necessarily appointed by government, but a non-governmental ombudsman does not always carry any special powers or sanction abilities.

The word ombudsman and its specific meaning has since been adopted into English as well as other languages, and independent ombudsman offices have been instituted by other governments and organizations such as the European Union. It is also used in other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboðsmaður", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand".

Various ombuds offices have been established in an attempt to respond to demands for a neutral, confidential, and "safe" place to discuss concerns and voice complaints. An ombudsman doesn't necessarily have to be governmentaly appointed, but an ombudsman of a non-governmental organization may work strictly for an organization's own members or may represent members of the general public.

An ombudsman initially collects and evaluates facts regarding a matter as a neutral investigator, suggests alternatives as necessary, and then works to ensure matters are resolved equitably. An ombudsman determines if there was an error, unfairness or harm by the agency involved, or not. An ombudsman may make recommendations to correct wrongs done to individuals and to improve organizational administration. If its recommendations are not accepted and good reasons are not given, an ombudsman may then become an advocate for their implementation.

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