This guest editorial was written for the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of practice monthly newsletter, highlighting new additions to the Regulation Policy and Practice collection on APO. The RP&P collection brings together a range of practical resources from national, local and state/territory governments, regulatory agencies and external institutions conducting monitoring, inquiries and reviews. You can receive this newsletter by joining the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of Practice (membership is free) or subscribe to the newsletter directly.
By Alice Turnbull
While the concept of a problem-centric approach to regulation has been around for some time, recognition and interest in the practice is growing among international and Australian regulators. Regulators like the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) are turning to this approach to help solve those thorny, problematic compliance issues that, despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to get traction on using a more conventional process driven approach.
However, adopting a problem-centric approach is not for the faint hearted – it takes time, effort, leadership and, perhaps most elusively of all, it takes a shift in mind-set away from process-driven or function-driven regulation. The rewards are there though.
It has been a problem-centric approach that enabled NOPSEMA to address a perceived gap between community expectations regarding the transparency of decision-making processes for environmental approvals of offshore drilling and exploration proposals, industry’s practice in conducting consultation at the time, and a growing perception that the regulatory regime was not able to provide for these expectations.
Solving the problem required a combination of actions:
The outcome of these actions, sustained over several years, was a step change in community consultation and openness that helped to build trust in the industry and the regulatory regime.
But what does it take to implement this approach in a regulatory agency? How is it done in practice? NOPSEMA’s experience suggests:
The problem-centric approach described above has been for a problem that NOPSEMA was actively working on for more than five years. The same principles apply, however, to smaller problems, just at a smaller scale. It still requires a willingness to pause ‘business as usual’, leadership from the top, a strategy with multiple, complementary ways to address the problem, collaboration and a willingness to try new things. After all, what got us to where we are won’t get us to where we need to be. If what we were doing before was fully effective, there wouldn’t be a complex problem to solve.
Alice Turnbull is currently the Assistant Director, Secretariat and Regulatory Improvement in the office of the Chief Executive of NOPSEMA (National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority). With tertiary qualifications as an environmental engineer and scientist, Alice’s career has evolved from consulting and regulating in the environment arena, with a focus on environmental and social impact assessment and environmental risk management, to a broader, strategic and multi-disciplinary role on strategic risk management and regulation across fields as diverse as safety, well integrity and environmental management.