Social Obstacles to Technical Problems

Wendell Jones

Ombudsman, Sandia National Lab

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

In 1992, the president of Sandia National Laboratory decided he wanted to establish a ombudsman program, and in the end asked if I would please start that program.

For 11 years now I have been fulfilling that role, and it has proved very fulfilling for me in the sense that I can take advantage of the scientific background, the understanding of a scientific culture, the understanding of the scientific research ego, and use that to the benefit of finding solutions to relationship problems/disputes. It has provided me a wonderful place to see those connected. The job I left to take this one was a research group leader/manager, and as you might guess in bureaucracies they tend to be inefficient and ineffective. I can honestly tell you that I've had a larger impact on the technical scientific output of the laboratory as an ombudsman than I did as a group manager.

The time I spent approving purchases, going to meeting, learning about the new performance management system for next year, none of that really contributed much to the scientific output of the laboratory. When I would get two or three scientists together who needed to collaborate, yet are hopelessly locked in conflict and essentially science is not being done because they're in conflict, for me to work with them as a mediator they get pass those differences, they find a way to collaborate, and then do really good things-that is my contribution to the scientific output. There is sort of a backwardsness to it. You would think that I would have left behind making a contribution to the scientific output. My indirect contribution to conflict resolution turns out to be significant. I feel very good about that.