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Getting regulators on the same page

19 May 2022

News and media


Image of a person reading a book at a bookstore

Building a common language would help regulators and their attempts to work collaboratively across jurisdictions and areas, according to a new book by Dr Grant Pink.

Dr Pink has more than 25 years regulatory and enforcement experience spanning practitioner, management, executive, academic, and consultancy roles. His book Navigating Regulatory Language: An A to Z Guide, was launched at an ANZSOG National Regulators Community of Practice hybrid event at Melbourne Business School on 9 May.

Dr Pink’s book is designed as a practical resource for regulators and defines over 500 words, terms, and concepts – to assist those working in the regulatory field, and includes six key regulatory concepts and frameworks – that act as anchors and points of triangulation for the words and terms in the book. It is designed to be used in conjunction with other resources and to help regulators work together across different:

levels of government – local, state/territory, national, and international;
levels of practice – practitioner, manager, and executive;
regulatory domains – economic, environmental, and social; and
parts of the regulatory system – with system wide and regulatory stewardship view

Dr Pink said the motivation for the book arose from frustration and lost opportunity.

“Firstly, frustration at the inability of regulators internally and externally to communicate around what were pretty fundamental concepts and issues. I also saw lost opportunities and opportunity costs that took precious time and resources away from regulators to discuss things which should have been renowned facts or solid understandings and a basis to continue on.

“The basis for the book is to improve regulatory practice and advance the profession. I cannot see this occurring without a greater shared understanding of regulatory words terms and concepts. In order similarly to advance the regulatory profession, regulators need to have a more homogenous regulatory lexicon.”

ANZSOG Dean and CEO Professor Ken Smith introduced Dr Pink saying that the book would be useful resource for both regulators and the regulated, and that it was important for the craft of regulation that we have contributions like this to create public value.

“I know there are many advantages to getting that regulatory literacy right – for those of us who have had ongoing public sector careers, we know that the issues of inconsistency of language is one that really challenges reform in a variety of areas and it’s important to get right,” he said.

A panel made up of Entsar Hamid, Senior Executive, Secure Electronic Registries Victoria (SERV) and Eliot Palmer, Manager Regulatory Improvement, Better Regulation Victoria (BRV) discussed the issues around regulation and language and took questions from an online audience.

Ms Hamid said governments were being asked to solve more complex and dynamic problems in fast-changing areas like technology and cybersecurity which are running away from government, because

“Legislation isn’t going to keep up with these problems, so it is language that is going to help us get through it, we need to communicate with people about what we expect from them. Most cohorts in the voluntary or ‘need assistance’ space, are reached with communication rather than enforcement

Regulatory work is diverse and as a result staff and agencies often use words interchangeably or in a confused and conflated way – this is inefficient at best or extremely problematic at worst. Examples of reoccurring words given by Dr Pink that cause issues include:

regulation, compliance, and enforcement;
educate, engage, and enforce;
audit, inspection, or investigation;
customer, client, or regulated entity

“One of the reasons for the book was those ‘same same’ words, where it’s ‘oh yeah I know what you mean,’ but you don’t – and you don’t identify that until you are two hours, or two weeks or two months, hopefully not two years, into a joint taskforce where you’ve spent millions,” he said.

“The book doesn’t propose the definitive answer on a point. It’s there to get people into a room to discuss how might we get a shared definition moving forward, it’s really there to generate the discussion.

“In my career I’ve worked with other regulators in federal, state and international governments. When I was in my last position regulators were working with enforcement agencies like border force and police and Interpol. Not only do we have our own regulatory dialect, how does that intersect with enforcement and policing agencies? On the COVID theme we’ve seen the military working with food and health inspectors – what a spectrum that’s covering!”

“The book is a practical guide and it’s meant to be looking at: what are words I’m struggling with? what are words I might need greater clarity on? what are the words my staff might need some help with? what might we need to recalibrate when we move to other agencies?”

Dr Pink said that he hoped that regulators could use language more effectively and efficiently to discuss, differentiate, and develop pathways and strategies to address or mitigate regulatory issues – and by doing so deliver the regulatory outcomes they are charged with delivering on behalf of government, and for the benefit and protection of the wider community.

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