Brief book review – Achieving Regulatory Excellence

Cary Coglianese (Editor), 2017, Brookings Institution Press, 322 pages.

In Achieving Regulatory Excellence, Professor Gary Coglianese (Director of the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania) joins forces with the global top of thought-leaders in regulation. It brings together the best thinking about regulation in the world, and it tests the boundaries of what regulation is and can be. In 18 chapters, these thought-leaders explore how regulators can achieve regulatory excellence. Each chapter sets out a specific regulatory problem (for example, how to achieve excellence in risk-based regulation) and how to best address it.

It is not easy to summarise the book in 500 words here, simply because every chapter provides a wealth of insights from the regulatory literature and hand-on-lessons to those working in a regulatory environment. The CEO of Alberta’s Energy Regulator, Jim Ellis, does sum up the key lessons in the book’s preface (p.xi-xii):

  • relentlessly focus on delivering publicly valuable outcomes that resonate with society’s interests;
  • devise and execute actions to deliver those outcomes;
  • cultivate and embed a culture of excellence in the character of the regulator;
  • build and maintain public trust and relationships that give regulators the credibility to operate confidently with poise and stature;
  • measure, evaluate, and report on progress and adjust as necessary;
  • celebrate successes and yet equally confront failures with humility, honesty, and a resolute commitment to improve;
  • treat integrity as an inviolable and sacred principle; and
  • create avenues to engage empathically with all affected stakeholders in ways that complement statutory rights and procedures.

In the chapters that follow, among others, Professor John Braithwaite (Australian National University) challenges regulators to think about the stories they are sharing. To him, a regulator should get concerned if its staff is no longer swapping success stories over coffee. Ted Gayer (Brookings Institution) dedicates a chapter on how to keep regulation sharp, and how to find a balance between questions of values and ethics and the ‘hard’ findings from scientific inquiries into regulatory performance. Professor Robert Baldwin (London School of Economics and Political Science), as a final example, challenges regulators to seek excellent performance in current practice and set up strategies to ensure that such performance continues in the future. No doubt that New Zealand readers will recognise ideas on ‘regulatory stewardship’ there.

This is, hands down, one of the best books on regulation that has appeared over the last years. The book helps regulators to think about their mission, whether they are on a trajectory of achieving it, and if they are getting anywhere near regulatory excellence in doing so. But rest assured, the book is not meant to beat down regulators who have not achieved excellence yet. One of its core take-home lessons is that, in Coglinese’s words, “regulatory excellence is not the same as perfection” (p.9). Mistakes may and do happen. For a regulator, regulatory excellence is wanting to achieve more than perfection and at the same time understanding that perfection is unachievable.

Disclaimer In these brief book reviews, I discuss classic and contemporary books that make up the canon of regulatory scholarship. I focus on their central guiding idea or core notions and aim to keep the reviews to around 500 words. Unfortunately, this implies I must sacrifice a considerable amount of detail from the books reviewed.

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