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Consumer Dispute Resolution

A centre of excellence for research and knowledge exchange in dispute resolution, mediation, negotiation, complaint management and consumer policy.

Queen Margaret Business School has a centre of excellence specialising in consumer dispute resolution and consumer policy. Our experts provide continuing professional development (CPD), research, and consultancy services to business, government, and third sector organisations in the UK and across the world.

We have expertise in dispute resolution between:

  • individuals and large organisations
  • consumers and businesses
  • citizens and the government

Our unique focus is on understanding consumer perspectives on dispute resolution and developing the idea that users should be at the heart of dispute resolution systems and processes. 

Our brief guide on Improving Your Complaints Process for Complainants and For You  provides an excellent framework for any organisation looking to improve it’s own internal complaints procedures.

Continued Professional Development (cpd) short courses

We have been running accredited short courses in complaint handling and management for over ten years.  A small evaluation previously undertaken in 2018 (QMU 2018) where we asked participants who had participated in our short courses about the impact on practice they experienced.  We followed this up in 2020 with a further evaluation from 2019.  It is these small scale surveys that provide us with some very useful qualitative feedback on both the courses themselves and the impact of undertaking the courses have both on students personally and on their organisations. 

Details of the CPD short courses we currently run can be found below.

CPD Short Courses

Professional training is important to us and as experts in the fields of dispute resolution, complaint management and complaint handling, mediation and negotiation, we are able to offer a range of accredited courses that cover such topics as investigations, root-cause analysis, the value of apology, dealing with difficult behaviour, decision making and effective communication.  These courses are aimed at individuals who may be new to complaint handling through to individuals in more senior roles looking to develop their leadership and management skills.


This University accredited course has been developed in close consultation with practitioners and is specifically targeted for complaint managers working in public services.  It will be of interest to:

  • specialist complaint handling staff and others whose role includes dealing with complaints working in local government, health and social care, central government, and non-departmental public bodies.
  • organisations wishing to improve their complaint handling practices or individuals seeking professional development and university accreditation will be particularly interested in this course.

The course draws on the latest insights from theory, research and practice and covers all the key aspects of complaint management.  The three broad themes covered are:

  1. the early resolution of complaints
  2. the conduct of robust investigations
  3. the application of effective remedies

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this course has been redesigned to be delivered online and will consist of:

  • four half days (from 09.30 - 13.00) of online workshops over a four-week period.
  • some self-study followed by the submission of an assignment which will be formally assessed.

We are pleased to announce the success of the first online running of this short course in October 2021 and will be running it again on the four half days of: 27th April, 4th, 11th and 18th May 2022 (subject to a minimum number of 15 participants)

For more information about this short course and booking form please contact


This accredited course will equip individuals with the skills and techniques to effectively resolve complaints and disputes, whether in a mediation itself, or using mediation skills.

The course programme has been specifically designed to deliver tangible benefits through mediation and mediation techniques in contexts: including consumer disputes, family and relationship matters, contractual disputes, conflict in the workplace, corporate conflict and disputes at senior levels.

Delegates who undertake the training and pass and the  assessment will gain a certificate in professional mediation skills, enabling them to engage in mediation and use mediative techniques in a wide range of contexts. Successful graduates gain an academic credit bearing qualification from QMU, Edinburgh, recognised by Scottish Mediation, and become eligible  to apply for associate membership of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (subject to their terms).

This course normally runs either in Edinburgh or in Jersey, Channel Islands.  For further information please email

Research and Consultancy

Research services

Our research services provide clients with unrivalled expertise in the areas of consumer dispute resolution and consumer policy. A distinctive feature of our approach is our mix of practitioner and academic staff, which allows us to provide clients with the latest insights from both research and practice. We have a strong track record of delivering policy focused research for clients, which combines academic rigor with a practical focus as detailed in our Consultancy and Research Services brochure.

View our recent report and the executive summary examining the best approaches to ensure effective consumer representation in the governance of financial services. 

Research Reports:

VIVIAN N., O’NEIL, S. MCBURNIE G. 2018 Review of post complaints handling processes in the Water Sector in England and Wales.

WILLIAMS, J., BRENNAN C., and VIVIAN, N. 2018. On track for first-tier complaint handling:  A review of organisational complaint handling in regulated sectors with an Ombudsman.  Project report.  Office of Road and Rail.  

GILL,, C., HIRST, C., SAPOUNA, M. AND WILLIAMS, J. . 2017. How do Complaints Affect those Complained About? An Empirical Investigation Into the Effects of Complaints on Public Service Employees. Project Report. University of Glasgow, Glasgow. 

Citizens Advice – Comparative Performance Analysis of ADR in Selected Markets
In partnership with the University of Westminster, we were commissioned by Citizens Advice to conduct research into the performance of ADR schemes. This involved a mapping study of existing ADR providers and evaluation of their performance against a range of criteria. The research also involved conducting interviews with consumers to find out about their experiences of complaining.

Ombudsman Services – Defining Consumer Ombuds Schemes
Ombudsman Services commissioned us to conduct research identifying the defining characteristics of modern consumer ombuds schemes. The research involved a desk-based study and interviews with experts in the field. The report provides important clarity on the roles, functions, and processes of consumer ombuds schemes. 

Legal Ombudsman – Models of Alternative Dispute Resolution

We were commissioned by the Legal Ombudsman to research best practice in alternative dispute resolution. The research involved selecting 10 case study organisations across the world and identifying a range of different approaches to effective dispute resolution. The research was particularly concerned with how to design a good ADR scheme and provided a model and toolkit for ADR design. 

Legal Ombudsman – The Future of Ombuds Schemes
The Legal Ombudsman commissioned us to survey the current policy landscape for ombuds schemes in the UK. This involved policy analysis of the strategic drivers which were likely to affect UK ombuds schemes now and in the future. The research used qualitative interviews with senior practitioners to understand how schemes were adapting to change. The research provided a model for the future development of ombuds schemes and a number of recommendations for policy. 

NESTA – Gripes, Grumbles, and Grievances
In partnership with Stirling University, we were commissioned by the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) to look at the way in which complaints could be used to drive innovation in public services. The research collected examples of good practice and used these to identify the key factors which facilitate innovation in pubic services. The report made a range of policy recommendations and is a key resource for those interested in learning from complaints. Read the full report.

Care Inspectorate – The Outcome of Complaints
We were commissioned by the Care Inspectorate to investigate how people who had complained to them about a care service felt about the outcome of their complaints. The particular focus of the research was on whether complainants felt that complaining had been worth their while and whether they felt that anything had changed as a result of their complaint. The research involved qualitative interviews with complainants. The research provides important data about the way in which complainants experience complaint processes and the need to feedback on the outcome of investigations. 


Queen Margaret Business School offers a full range of consultancy services, cutting across dispute resolution and consumer policy. Particular areas of expertise include organisational reviews, evaluations of complaint and dispute processes, consumer engagement, consumer regulation and enforcement, and consumer-focused service improvement. Our staff combine perspectives from ADR, law, public management, consumer policy, and communications to provide an holistic service to clients. To find out more about our areas of expertise, please click on the staff profiles below.

Consultancy reports:

MCBURNIE G. and WILLIAMS, J. 2019. Independent Review of the Energy and Water Ombudsman New South Wales,Australia. 

MCBURNIE G. and WILLIAMS, J. 2019. Independent Review of The Public Transport Ombudsman, Victoria.

Ut​ilities Disputes Ltd (New Zealand)
We were commissioned to conduct the Five Year Independent Review of Utilities Disputes Ltd. This involves a review of the organisation’s effectiveness against the key criteria for industry based alternative dispute resolution schemes. The methodology includes desk based research and fieldwork. This consultancy recognizes CDR’s international expertise in consumer dispute resolution and organisational reviews. 

Ombudsman Services
We were appointed to act as Ombudsman Services’ Interim Independent Assessor. This involved dealing with complaints from dissatisfied users who had exhausted the internal complaints process of the organisation. Eighty eight complaints were reviewed during the period of appointment, with a written adjudication provided in each case. An annual review featuring recommendations to the organisation was prepared and published in the organization’s Annual Report.

Welsh Language Commissioner
We were commissioned to conduct a review of the Welsh Language Commissioner’s complaints process. This involved carrying out a series of interviews with key members of staff within the organisation; reviewing the organization’s complaints procedures, guidance and founding legislative instruments; observing staff handling complaints; and reviewing a sample of case files. The review made a number of recommendations. The review also conducted a comparative analysis of approaches to collecting customer feedback used by independent complaint handling organisations.

Audit Scotland
We were commissioned to conduct an evaluation of Audit Scotland’s correspondence process. This process involved receipt of correspondence from members of the public in relation to the performance of public bodies. The process was evaluated with reference to best practice established in the Ombudsman Association’s Guide to Principles of Good Complaint Handling. The evaluation included examination of a sample of cases and interviews with key stakeholders in the organisation. The project resulted in a number of recommendations being made to the client and a significantly improved process for dealing with customers’ complaints and concerns.

Please contact us to discuss how we can help you with your organisation’s consultancy needs:

Consumer Dispute Resolution

Tel: 0131 474 0000