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Six things COVID-19 taught us about regulation and why people comply

15 December 2020

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Regulation is a tough job. You are constantly juggling the expectations of government, media, the community and your regulated entities. Regulators constantly need to adapt to new political, economic, social and technological circumstances – COVID-19 is proof of that. In 2020 there was enormous shifts for regulators, duty holders and the public, all of whom needed to follow new rules. It has provided an opportunity to explore some of the broader themes of regulation as tested by an extreme situation – a global pandemic.

The National Regulators Community of Practice (NRCoP) aims to bring together professional and capable regulators across Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand to learn from and with each other. The following articles on regulation stemmed from NRCoP events throughout 2020 or were featured in the Regulation Policy & Practice monthly newsletter created in partnership with the Analysis and Policy Observatory (APO). The articles feature ANZSOG’s unique mix of academics and practitioners and were some of the most popular articles on the ANZSOG website in 2020. Many are COVID-specific, but explain how challenges, innovations and adaptations from the pandemic can teach us about governing more generally, now and in the future.

Why do people comply: exploring regulation during COVID-19

‘Flattening the curve’ of COVID-19 required governments to ask massive behavioural changes of their publics. Ideally, people change because they have the capacity to comply, not for fear of punishment.

This article is a summary of an ANZSOG/NRCoP webinar which interrogated recent large surveys across different countries, exploring how governments encourage compliance. The webinar featured Professor Benjamin van Rooij from the University of Amsterdam and Professor Liam Smith from BehaviourWorks Australia, facilitated by Jenness Gardner, CEO of the Economic Regulation Authority in WA.

Panelists shared findings on compliance with a range of behavioural requirements in Australia, the UK, Netherlands and the USA. They discuss who is most likely to comply, and why that might be the case.

Read more here

Striking a balance: Peter Shergold and Graeme Samuel discuss independent versus departmental regulators

Regulators have the difficult job of earning trust and maintaining integrity while juggling their relationship with the public, the government and duty holders. They need to understand the political environment without being unduly influenced by it.

This article summarises the key points from a popular ANZSOG/NRCoP webinar with Professor Graeme Samuel, former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and Professor Peter Shergold, former secretary of the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, chaired by former Victorian Secretary Fran Thorn.

Since not all regulation works in the same way, the optimal administrative and governance arrangements for the regulator should be closely linked to the regulatory task. Enforcement regulation, for example, lends itself more naturally to an independent structure than administrative regulation, which sometimes requires carrying out the mandate of government. Understanding the political environment and public opinion is vital when faced with different pressures especially given the pendulum swings in political and public opinion. But perhaps the most important success factors in effective and trustworthy regulation are the calibre and integrity of the leadership and the organisational culture, rather than whether it is technically independent.

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Three steps for regulators to embrace Behavioural Science

By Professor Liam Smith (BehaviourWorks Australia)

Regulators have taken an extensive interest in the possibilities of behavioural science as a new tool in their regulatory tool kit, and at one point it was thought to be the ‘silver bullet’ to solve compliance problems. It’s never enough alone, writes Professor Liam Smith, who featured in an ANZSOG/NRCoP webinar in May, but understanding its insights into drivers of behaviour can be useful.

This is investigative work: regulators need to spend time unpacking the problem which needs to be solved as well as understand behaviour and predict what might support compliance. In this article, Professor Smith outlines three simple rules to understand and benefit from behavioural science, using examples of research conducted by BehaviourWorks Australia in the environmental regulation space.

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Regulatory stewardship: Virtue, mechanism, or both?

By Professor Jeroen van der Heijden (Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Rebecca Foley (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, NZ)

Aotearoa-New Zealand’s approach to regulatory stewardship is widely admired around the world. The concept goes beyond rule setting and thinks about the whole regulatory system. Accounts of regulatory stewardship differ across agencies. For example, some see stewardship as a virtue, and others as a mechanism. Others say it’s both.

This article is split into two perspectives. Professor Jeroen van der Heijden provides an overview of the philosophical dimensions of regulatory stewardship. Dr Rebecca Foley describes how regulatory stewardship works within New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, a department with 18 different regulatory systems and a recently established Regulatory Stewardship Branch to provide advice and guidance to the whole organisation.

What is clear from both perspectives is that stewardship is a valuable, multi-dimensional way of thinking about regulatory systems, leadership, culture and capability.

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Regulatory Laggards – Has COVID-19 led to a rise in burden shirking? An ANZSOG/NRCoP facilitated conversation

COVID-19 has forced big shifts, and that includes to the operational settings for regulators. Since duty holders have faced massive financial challenges, the concern was that perhaps burden shirking might increase. But an ANZSOG/NRCoP conversation between senior regulators found that, in fact, there was little change. Both regulators and duty holders have undertaken significant efforts to adapt to COVID circumstances.

The article provides a succinct summary of the discussion and outlines what regulators can do to promote compliance and monitor non-compliance. It shows that regulators understood that workplaces were changing dramatically, and that regulation needed to change with them. It also shows that many regulators already had recalibration processes in place that made adapting to COVID possible, and that regulators should always been thinking about how they need to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, COVID or not.

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Good design leads to great digitisation for regulators

By Cassandra Meagher (Service Victoria)

Technology is a critical tool for regulators, but can be expensive if not used well, writes Cassandra Meagher. Now is the time to test digital transformation activities, as they become an important part of the COVID-19 recovery.

This article offers four steps to digital transformation with important questions for regulators. That includes considering the possible pitfalls of using technology. This is a design thinking approach, especially for customer-facing services, and references case studies from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand to explain how design can be done well.

Read more here

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Read more #BestofANZSOG2020 articles:

Five things we learned about crisis leadership during COVID-19
Five public administration lessons from 2020
Three things we learned about working from home in 2020
Five things we learned in 2020 about mega-crises, wicked problems, and the VUCA world
Four lessons from 2020 policy makers need to learn
Five thought-provoking articles from 2020 for public sector leaders