An ombudsman is an official, usually (but not always) appointed by the government, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens. The term arose from its use in Sweden, with the Parliamentary ombudsman instituted in 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch. The word ombudsman and its specific meaning has since been adopted in to English as well as other languages, and ombudsmen has been instituted by other governments and organizations such as the European Union.
Recently, since the 1960s, the profession has grown primarily in corporations, universities and government agencies. This current model, sometimes referred to as an organizational ombudsman, works as a designated neutral who has high rank in an organization but is not considered management. Using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) sensibility, an organizational ombudsman can provide options to whistleblowers or employees with ethics concerns, provide mediation for conflicts, track problem areas, and make recommendations for changes to policies or procedures.
The origin of the word is found in Old Norse and the word umbuds man, meaning representative. The first preserved use in Swedish is from 1552. It is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboĆ°smaĆ°ur", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand".
The first ombudsmen flourished in China during Qin Dynasty (221 BC) and in Korea during the Choseon Dynasty. The Romans also grappled with the problem, but it was the example of the second Muslim Caliph, Umar (634-644) and the concept of Qadi al-Qadat (developed in the Muslim world), which influenced the Swedish King, Charles XII. In 1713, fresh from self exile in Turkey, Charles XII created the Office of Highest Ombudsman. The Scandinavians subsequently moulded the Office into its contemporary form.
An ombudsman need not be appointed by government; they may work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public. Such an ombudsman obviously does not carry any governmental powers or sanction abilities.