|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||J A N U A R Y - F E B R U A R Y 1 9 9 7|
|E T H I C S F O R U M|
NIH GETS AN OMBUDSMAN
|by Joan P. Schwartz, Ph.D. , NINDS|
Several offices at NIH are about to launch a pilot project that we hope will help people deal with these issues and disputes. Working together, members of the Office of Equal Opportunity, the Office of Human Resources Management, the Office of Intramural Research,
We see three advantages deriving from the center. First, it will provide a confidential setting for conflict resolution, independent of the institute structure. Anyone may use the office. Second, the process should be fast because specific time limits will be set for resolution of problems. Third, and most importantly, having the center should allow resolution of disputes at an early stage, before they have become intractable. At the same time, participants in this process do not give up their rights to file a grievance or an EEO complaint, should these become necessary.
David Lee Robinson, chief of the Section on Visual Behavior, National Eye Institute, and a 25-year veteran of NIH, has agreed to pilot the role of ombudsman and get the Cooperative Resolution Center started. An advisory committee, consisting of scientists on the NIH Committee on Scientific Conduct and Ethics, will assist Robinson in determining how best to run the center and to evaluate its success during the pilot period. We see this as an experiment in the best sense of the word - finding out what procedures work best in resolving NIH's unique workplace conflicts.
The Cooperative Resolution Center will initially offer mediation, early neutral evaluation, and peer panel evaluation. Mediation involves the use of an impartial third party who serves as a catalyst to help the parties improve communication and thereby reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediators are trained in negotiating, building trust and consensus, and interest-based problem solving. If both sides reach an agreement, that agreement is usually written down. If no agreement is reached, the parties may elect to pursue another ADR process or exercise their rights in another arena.
Early neutral evalulation uses a neutral third party to provide an objective evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each party's position. This could be useful when there is a scientific basis to the dispute. The "early neutral evaluator" would be a subject-matter expert who would produce a written report and a set of recommendations, based on the presentations by all parties.
A peer panel evaluation uses a group (generally three) of early neutral evaluators, or scientific experts. Each party to the dispute would choose one expert, and the ombudsman would appoint the third. The panel would produce a written report based on presentations by each party. Such a mechanism might be particularly appropriate when the dispute involves a "community standard" - for example, determining what contributions in a given work merit authorship in that discipline.
We believe that the availability of the ombudsman, the Cooperative Resolution Center, and a successful ADR program will benefit NIH. The process will be easily accessible and will provide a diversity of options for resolving conflicts through cooperation and problem solving, as an alternative to litigation or administrative proceedings. We're launching the ombudsman with a five-ICD pilot project, including NIDA, NIAID, NIEHS, NHLBI, and OD. For the rest of you: stay tuned! Final details concerning space, communications, and finances are being considered and will be reported in the next issue of The NIH Catalyst.
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