An article on the BBC news website announces that new rules have extended the role of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) to higher education students in colleges and other settings. The OIA was set up in 2004 to review complaints from university students. Adjudicators review the grounds for the initial complaint and decide whether it is justified, partly justified or not justified. They also investigate whether the institution followed its own processes and regulations. They can recommend redress such as work being remarked or a penalty removed. In some cases, they can rule that a student is owed financial compensation. Since 2004, the free service has reviewed more than 13,000 complaints.

I wonder how many of those complaints were resolved using mediation? Of course, I would ask that question but it is an important one.

If someone wants to complain about a service, it’s really important that there is a dialogue particularly if there is a need for an ongoing future relationship. If a complaint is upheld or not upheld, it can cause real problems for the relationships afterwards if one of the parties believes they have not been fully heard or have been unfairly treated. An adjudicator can force an outcome but they cannot influence that person’s inner attitude to the outcome.

And, if there is to be an ongoing future relationship, more important than ‘winning’ or ‘not losing’ is deciding on an outcome that fosters the best possible relationships and allows for reflection and learning.

Given that today’s students are the future, wouldn’t it be great to re-imagine Complaints Processes so that a new generation can experience how amazing humans can be when the conditions are created for collaboration in the face of adversity? So, instead of using a blame mentality where someone who wasn’t there makes a judgement and uses enforcement, we would encourage the parties to talk about the needs which have not been met and work collaboratively with each other to find solutions that saisfy all concerned by using an impartial facilitator to manage the dialogue process and review solutions.

From time to time I have been asked to sit on complaints panels for other organisations as an independent panel member. I generally accept on condition that I can use a mediatative approach. My intention is to ensure that everyone feels heard and understood. It is always satisfying when participants can release themselves from the adversarial and competitive positioning that inevitably occurs when a judgement is at stake and allow themselves to become reflective, creative and mindful in resolving the issue as a collective process of restoring harmony. It requires a different set of skills to put people a ease enough to participate in a collaborative dialogue and having had the privilege of being allowed to to do this, the resolutions have been bettter than anyone expected.

So, I’m not being idealisitc, I am pushing for a different way of doing things, asking for something outside the box and challenging the status quo with something better and life enriching that has been tried and tested but now needs to go mainstream.


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