Avoiding trouble – the tactics

Why not put some fresh thought into avoiding disputes?

Institutions often find themselves fire-fighting dispute by dispute.  After an exhausting battle it can be hard to find the will to review what went wrong and why but it can pay dividends.

Does your institution have a ‘learning lessons’ protocol?

Does it go further than making a list in a report?  Do you really learn lessons as an institution?


  • What are you seeking to achieve?
  • Is it compatible with your agreed good practice principles?
  • Have you checked how it fits with  the other activities of the institution?
  • Could it have a negative effect on students or employees or the institution’s good name?
  • Is someone making sure that these protective checks are actually working?

Appoint an independent  senior person to be the first port of call for dispute-handling

  • Institutions may find they get value for money out of appointing an ‘ombudsman’ or equivalent
  • Whose neutrality can be trusted by all parties to a dispute
  • Who can work with senior management to prompt review of current practice and encourage change if that it appropriate
  • Who can take stock of an incipient dispute or meet a complainant and:

Assess before action

If a dispute does arise ensure three questions should be asked at the outset, preferably by the institution’s ‘ombuds’ officer:

  • Is this a personal complaint or grievance?
  • Is this a complaint affecting a group of students or staff personally?
  • Is this an indication that there are systemic problems to be addressed?

Choosing the right route to resolution

Seek to agree with the complainant,  and if appropriate others involved, preferably through the institution’s ‘ombuds’ officer:

  • Whether to follow an informal or formal procedure for student complaint or employee grievance
  • Whether to try mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution
  • Whether to institute an independent inquiry about  a possible systemic problem