The Reflective Observer Model

Published date01 July 2014
Date01 July 2014
C R Q, vol. 31, no. 4, Summer 2014 403
Published 2014.  is article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21094
The Re ective Observer Model
J. Kathleen Moore
e refl ective observer (RO) model is a unique process that incorpo-
rates live observation by a trained observer of an ombudsman during
a mediation session, followed by an in-depth debriefi ng between the
ombudsman and the RO.  e clinical goal is to explore cognitive schema
used by the ombudsman in decision making during critical moments
of the mediation and to describe the underrecognized rationale behind
seemingly intuitive expertise. During the debriefi ng, the exploration is
guided by a protocol specifi cally designed to elicit personal associations,
as well as tactical decisions of the ombudsman not frequently addressed
in ombudsman practice or training. While research on refl ective practice
is common among mediators (Bronson 2000), less research has focused
on the impact of refl ective practice on the work of ombudsmen.  e RO
model shows promise as a personal and professional developmental tool
for ombudsmen and is a novel approach for both deeper learning as well
as developing higher-order clinical interviewing skills.
distinguishing characteristic of the National Institutes of Health’s
Offi ce of the Ombudsman/Center for Cooperative Resolution (OO/
CCR), where I am an ombudsman, has been its continuing collabora-
tion with academic researchers. I will describe one such collaboration that
resulted in the development of the refl ective observer (RO) model, my own
observations about how this approach shaped my professional identity, and
the potential benefi t of the approach to ombudsmen in diverse practice set-
tings.  e work of mediators and other neutrals is shaped by, and in turn
shapes, practitioner identities in important ways (Chia et al. 2001).
My involvement with the OO/CCR predates everyone else who is
now in the offi ce. In fact, I was one of a committee of fi ve people who
researched and recommended the ombudsman program and crafted the
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
name of the offi ce. Over eighteen years ago, I was an employee assistance
program counselor at NIH. During that time, I became a close and fre-
quent collaborator with the directors of the Offi ce of Equal Opportunity
and Diversity Management and the Employee Relations Offi ce. ese col-
laborations were necessary and eff ective because before the establishment
of the OO/CCR (and indeed even now), it is often necessary to consult
with and refer to one another in managing case situations.
At about that time, the Department of Health and Human Services
charged all operating divisions within it to develop appropriate alterna-
tive dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for their own divisions. I was
recruited to serve on the fl edgling committee formed at NIH tasked with
exploring options and recommending an appropriate program. From the
beginning I was intrigued with the ombudsman function, and my research
led me to strongly recommend an ombudsman program rather than a
stand-alone or contract mediation program that provided only on-the-spot
mediation with no responsibility to address broader interpersonal dynamics
or systems problems. I believed that an embedded preventative approach,
embodied by a director who was himself or herself a scientist, was crucial
to acceptance in the NIH scientifi c community and that such a program
had the best chance to eff ect true organizational change (see Conbere 2001
for the role of science and theory in dispute systems design). Our commit-
tee’s recommendation to create an ombudsman function was ultimately
accepted by the director of NIH, and a nationwide search resulted in the
hiring of the current director. Within about a year, Howard Gadlin invited
me to join the team at the OO/CCR.
Initially the primary staff development opportunities were informal
individual case consultations with peers or with Howard, a weekly case
review, and periodic journal club meetings. Fairly early on, the director
imagined we might be able to move beyond our usual process of case
review into a more rigorous academic practice. In the beginning, the staff ,
three of us, met once a week to talk about cases that were problematic,
seek assistance for handling them, and raise issues of interpersonal dynam-
ics, cultural identity, and systemic dysfunction that might aff ect our work
and the ways in which people came to us and expected assistance (Lande
1984; Seibt 2011).  ese discussions were spontaneous, and case mate-
rial was presented in the idiosyncratic style of the ombudsman who was
presenting.  is meant that one ombudsman might talk about cases in
behavioral terms, including a chronology of events, requests by the parties,
and options suggested by the ombudsman. Another might describe cases

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