Government is becoming ever more complex. Many citizens experience difficulties in their dealings with public sector authorities. Intermediaries, such as family doctors, social counsellors and legal advisors, provide assistance and support. At the request of these intermediaries, the National Ombudsman has set up an online community of practice known as the ‘Raadbaak’. It is a platform through which members can share knowledge and experience, ask and answer practical questions and call attention to problems. In short, combine and multiply their knowledge.
After careful preparation, the Raadbaak was officially launched on 8 March 2021. Mark Beelo of Het Juridisch Loket, the free legal advice service, was among the first to join. “This is a marvellous initiative. In my work I notice an increasing number of people with complex problems that call for input from various disciplines. I can’t answer every question so it is extremely useful to be able to consult fellow professionals from other organisations and with different areas of expertise. It means than I do not constantly have to refer clients to other sources of help and information.”
André van Mierlo is a social counsellor with the Brabant-based welfare organisation Ons Welzijn. He too has made grateful use of the platform since its inception. The Raadbaak is a ‘work in progress’, he notes. “Of course, the community must be properly streamlined. When you have a question, you should be able to contact the appropriate group of professionals straight away. The platform then becomes an extremely effective way of sharing knowledge which will allow us to offer prompt help to members of the public.”
Van Mierlo believes that the Raadbaak will not only be useful to professionals throughout the country, but will play an important role as an ‘early warning system’ for the National Ombudsman. “As the platform expands, recurring questions and the discussions within the community will offer the ombudsman a good impression of what problems exist and where. Are they local, regional or national? This is important for the ombudsman to know.”
The National Ombudsman’s role within the community is that of facilitator, organiser and connector. The project manager is Frans Weerkamp, who says: “The key task of the National Ombudsman is to assist members of the public who approach us with a complaint about a public sector authority. However, prevention is better than cure. The Raadbaak community will allow professionals to answer citizens’ questions more quickly, thus preventing the escalation of a minor problem into a full-scale complaint requiring the National Ombudsman’s intervention.”
Both Beelo and Van Mierlo hope that the platform will develop and expand. “It would be marvellous if it gave us shorter lines of communication with national organisations such as the Tax and Customs Administration, the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) and the Education Executive Agency (DUO). At present, it is notoriously difficult to contact the right people within these organisations without running up against a wall of bureaucracy.”
It is important that the Raadbaak continues to grow in the months ahead. The more members it has, the more effective it will be. “Where else can you ask a question and get answers from so many different perspectives?” asks Mark Beelo. “Nowhere – the possibility has not existed until now. In this respect, the Raadbaak can become a truly unique platform. That is a fantastic prospect, wouldn’t you say?”
So, if you are a professional who enjoys sharing knowledge and helping others, come and join the National Ombudsman’s community of practice. We are stronger together!