On 30 July 2018, I have embarked on a brand new adventure as Professor and Chair in Regulatory Practice, at the School of Government, in the Victoria University of Wellington. On this blog, I will keep track of my work and will discuss regulatory news, analysis and opinion from New Zealand and beyond. In this first contribution, I will give some background to the Chair and provide insight into the 5-year work plan we have developed over the last month.
Why a Chair in Regulatory Practice?
The Chair is part of the New Zealand Government Regulatory Practice Initiative (G-REG). G-REG is a network of central and local government regulatory agencies established to lead and contribute to regulatory practice initiatives.
G-REG is unique in the world. It follows up from a 2014 report by the New Zealand Productivity Commission on regulatory institutions and practices. Its authors found that while New Zealand’s regulatory system is often compared favourably with those in other countries, some improvements appear necessary. These relate to better regulatory practice and institutional design, and better regulatory management.
In response to this report, G-REG was created. Since 2014, G-REG has grown to a network of some 50 central and local New Zealand government organisations. It works on actions that improve leadership, culture, regulatory practice and workforce capability in regulatory organisations and systems.
The Chair in Regulatory Practice contributes to G-REG actions through world-leading research on regulation and governance and active engagement with the G-REG community, and by contributing to the training of those involved in regulatory issues.
What will the Chair do?
Like G-REG, the Chair in Regulatory Practice is unique in the world. To the best of my knowledge, no other national government (or group of government organisations) has supported the establishment of a Chair to critically engage with their regulatory regimes on an ongoing basis. This was a big selling point for me. Another big selling point was the enthusiasm of the G-REG community that I met when I was approached for this position to have their work influenced and assessed by sound academic research.
In short, my work as Chair will be inward and outward looking. Inward looking, in response to the Productivity Commission’s report, I will ask and explore where, why and how improvements can be made to regulatory regimes in New Zealand. I will be outward looking to bring state-of-the-art knowledge of regulatory practice and other areas of regulation and governance to New Zealand. Finally, I will be inward looking and outward looking because New Zealand has in place unique regulatory instruments, processes and institutions that the rest of the world can learn from.
That then gets me to briefly discussing the overarching 5-year plan for the Chair (2018-2023).
Regulatory practice research programme
The research program builds around four clusters and questions:
- Regulation and governance of pressing societal problems. In this cluster, we ask: Whether and how can regulation (understood in its broadest sense as the institutions, processes, and instruments in place to steer behaviour towards desirable societal ends) provide the appropriate incentives and disciplines to achieve desirable societal outcomes? The initial focus of this research is on cities and climate change.
- Advancements in regulatory practice and stewardship in central and local government regulatory agencies in New Zealand. Here we ask: What is the state-of-the-art in regulatory practice in New Zealand (by international standards) and how does it perform? We will consider innovative regulators, regulatory instruments, and regulatory processes in New Zealand. Each year, five in-depth case studies will be carried out to explore the development, implementation, and performance of innovations that are of interest to regulatory practitioners and academics around the globe.
- Advancements in regulatory practice and stewardship outside of New Zealand. This cluster mirrors the previous one, and asks: What is the state-of-the-art in regulatory practice outside of New Zealand (by international standards) and how does it perform? Each year, five international case studies will be carried out and compared to draw lessons from these for regulatory practitioners and academics in New Zealand.
- Regulatory systemic change: Regulatory success and failure and regulatory stewardship. This cluster spans the others, and we ask: What conditions positively or negatively affect regulatory performance, what combinations of these conditions are likely to result in regulatory success or failure, and what stewardship roles and functions may increase the likelihood of regulatory success and reduce the risk of regulatory failure? Building on data collected in research clusters 1-3 and using a comparative configurational methodology, selected cases will be systematically studied to uncover pathways towards regulatory success and regulatory failure. These pathways will inform mid-term and long-term policy development in New Zealand and elsewhere.
For clusters 2 and 3, each year an individual topic has central attention. For the first year, the focus is on nudging and behavioural economics. In a nutshell, a nudge is an indirect suggestion, positive reinforcement or change of environment to influence behaviour towards desired ends, but without coercion. It should be low-cost to implement for the regulator and easy to avoid for subjects to its regulation.
Notions on nudging and broader insights from behavioural economics and the behavioural sciences have rapidly entered regulatory policy and practice. It remains a question, however, what opportunities and constraints regulatory practitioners—including street-level bureaucrats and regulatory front office workers—encounter when implementing regulatory regimes building on nudging-type incentives, and, particularly, how they can overcome constraints experienced. More about this in the next blog post.
Regulatory practice engagement programme
Besides research activities, I will undertake a range of engagement activities. This blog is part of those activities. Two other are Regulatory Clinics and an International Visitor Programme.
The mission of the Regulatory Clinics is to improve the regulatory literacy of those involved in regulatory issues. To fulfil this mission, we will organise a series of weekly half-day meetings to discuss and workshop regulatory practice topics and questions with government staff involved in regulatory activities. The clinics are initially organised on a rotating basis between the agencies that sponsor the Chair.
The mission of the International Visitor Programme is to annually support two international academics to visit the Victoria University of Wellington and carry out research in the area of regulation and governance. They are expected to contribute to G-REG’s actions and participate in the Chair’s engagement programme. The first call for visitors will be made soon.
Regulatory practice education programme
Last but not least, I will actively engage in education and teaching. While the education programme has not fully crystallised yet, one of the things I am excited about is making a contribution to the New Zealand Certificate in Regulatory Compliance. This qualification framework provides people employed in, or who want to go into, the regulatory compliance sector with core knowledge of regulatory compliance. It helps to build out the regulatory profession in New Zealand and serves as a world-leading (and to the best of my knowledge, world-first) example of a systematic approach to the training of staff in government and non-government organisations working in a regulatory compliance environment.
To this end, I will seek certification myself (and blog on my experiences in getting it) and assess the workings of the Certificate. I also welcome MSc and PhD students, government staff and others who are looking for supervision and mentoring in the study of regulatory issues.
This is, in short, the vision we have for the Chair for the period 2018-2023. It has been a great month making my way around Wellington and meeting as many VUW colleagues and G-REG people as possible. The talks we have had and the views everyone shared have been very informative in shaping the 5-year work plan. Allow me to round up by saying thanks to all the people who have helped me to feel very welcome over the last month in my new role at the VUW and in G-REG.
 Thaler, Richard, and Cass Sunstein. 2009. Nudge – revised edition. London: Penguin.
 Kosters, Mark, and Jeroen van der Heijden. 2015. “From mechanism to virtue: Evaluating Nudge theory.” Evaluation 21 (3):276-291.