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The Relationship between Ombudsman, Government, and Citizens: A Survey Analysis

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Since the 1960s, ombudsmanship has become increasingly popular. Although there is a great deal of literature on ombudsmen, existing research rarely focuses on the people who actually use the ombudsman's services. This article examines those who seek the help of ombudsmen in Belgium, and asks whether ombudsmen's intervention has a noticeable effect on citizens' confidence in government and public administration. Based on three surveys of 626 complainants, our analysis suggests that we should not see the ombudsman in Belgium as merely an instrument to help citizens but that they can also function as “change agents” and provide early warnings of problems in public administration. The role of ombudsmen in directly strengthening trust in government is limited at best. Furthermore, it seems that the profile of ombudsman complainants is skewed; our findings indicate that the socially disadvantaged are less likely to use the institution.
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Keywords: Matthew effect; citizen; mediation; ombudsman; survey; trust in government

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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