Regulation in action

Changing the language of regulation at the CLEAR International Congress 2023

The Seventh International Congress on Professional & Occupational Regulation provided an opportunity for regulatory leaders (or ‘regulatory geeks’ according to the conference’s opening remarks) from across the world to meet at Dublin Castle to discuss global trends in regulation. The Objective RegWorks team was delighted to join the conversations, alongside conference hosts, the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR).

The chance to educate, share expertise and proactively problem-solve was high on the agenda, with a programme packed with impressive speakers from a wide range of regulatory areas.

An inspiring keynote from Cary Coglianese (Founding Director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania), looked at the grammatical implications around regulation and how shifts in language can have a big impact on perception, practice and process.

Regulation is a verb

How we think and talk about regulation is important. Regulation is often treated as a noun, Cary notes. The downside to this? “It can be blinding, prescriptive and lead to passivity”. It positions regulation as a set of rules or rule books that are limited by adjectives such as ‘performance-based’, ‘risk-based’ or ‘principles-based’. If regulators are to be effective, treating regulation as a noun is both misleading and restrictive – it implies a formulaic approach to doing business and one magic solution, fit for any purpose, any time.

‘Regulation’ is a dynamic, moving practice. Regulation is a verb.

Cary cited examples of regulatory failures in real-world scenarios as a result of such prescribed behaviour. New Zealand’s building regulators, for example, specified the performance-based building code for new developments, but not the techniques or materials that should be used. This oversight left thousands of homes prone to damp and mould, and claims well into the billions.

Noting that ‘regulatory accounting’ is prevalent across the industry, where the focus is on rule numbers rather than impact, Cary asked the audience to consider regulation as a suite of actions as opposed to something static. ‘Regulation’ is a dynamic, moving practice after all. Regulation is a verb.

From stationary to striving

Of course, as Cary notes, that’s not to underestimate the value of stable rules and process. They can be essential for regulation. But, there’s a danger to adopt the latest strategies, tools, etc and then think that the work is done, simply because there’s a rule in place.

Getting away from the ‘regulation-as-a-noun’ mindset is necessary to switch focus from compliance to wider aims such as to change behaviour and improve outcomes (noting that ‘change’ and ‘improve’ are both verbs and incite action). This means constant interaction, consistent improvement and continuously striving. As Cary added: “Standing still is not a pathway to regulatory success.”

The above means adapting to five types of changes which Cary identified:

  1. Changes in the world – new tech, industries and practices
  2. Changes in goals and values – moving societal norms and perceptions
  3. Changes in knowledge – human understanding of the world and active learning
  4. Changes in behaviour – shifts in social trends and actions
  5. Changes in tools and tactics – receptivity to objects that can help improve outcomes

The path to regulatory excellence

“Excellence is not a destination, it’s an activity”, Cary notes. It doesn’t demand perfection, it demands striving for perfection.

Along with three essential qualities – utmost integrity, stellar competence and empathetic engagement – Cary lists the steps required to chart the path to regulatory excellence: Identify outcomes; Constantly learn; and Be open to change.

Regulatory excellence doesn’t demand perfection, it demands striving for perfection.

There’s not a finish line with regulation so adaptability is key. And there are obligations for regulators to do their best in a much wider system with external influences and factors to consider.

Pushing for regulatory excellence requires action... which is why regulators should start thinking of regulation as a verb instead of a noun.

Get in touch

The Objective RegWorks team were delighted to take part in our first CLEAR International Congress and look forward to the continuing dialogue and events throughout 2023 and beyond.

Our upcoming work will build upon the research undertaken to create our UK and ANZ RegTech in government reports, to conduct a survey on the adoption of regulatory technology across the USA and Canada.

Watch this space or get in touch for more information!