Brief book review – Governing through regulation: Public policy, regulation and the law

Eric Windholz, 2018 (paperback version: 2019), Routledge, Abingdon, 288 pages

Dr Eric Windholz’s book Governing through regulation is one of those few books on regulation that you realise is long overdue once you’ve read it. Like Achieving Regulatory Excellence it is, hands down, one of the best new books on regulation that I have read over the last years.

The strength of Windholz book lies, in my reading, not so much in presenting new information and theorizing, but in presenting just the right amount of information and theory in exceptionally clear language. The book is a very happy marriage between the broad regulatory literature (that I have been partly discussing on these pages also) and the broad public policy literature. In short, Windholz successfully bridges the policy cycle literature with the regulatory literature to provide hands-on lessons to policymakers and regulatory practitioners on how to define, design, implement and evaluate regulation in a variety of policy contexts.

Windholz has over 25 years of working experience in heavily regulated industries, and as a regulator of those industries—and is now an academic specialising in regulatory theory and practice. This puts him in a unique position of understanding what parts of the regulatory and policy literature have value to regulatory practitioners, and what parts may be (too) overwhelming. Perhaps regulatory and policy scholars have been taking too easily for granted the interactions between their fields, which has left us devoid, so far, of a discussion of where they meet and what are the challenges when they intersect.

In the book, regulation is considered both a technical (and rational) means to steer the behaviour of individuals and organisation towards societally desired ends and a political project that calls for consensus and coalition building, and consultation, deliberation and negotiation.

As Windholdz correctly concludes: “Understanding this duality—and the challenges it presents—is important. Regulatory success is measured not only in terms of policy effectiveness and efficiency but also by reference to its politics. Moreover, as a policy reform, regulation is inherently complex; as a political project, it is contested and contentious” (p. 275).

This all having been said in praise of the book, do not expect to present you with easy solutions to regulatory problems. The book provides frameworks and maps that policymakers and regulatory practitioners may wish to use in the various phases of the regulatory policy cycle. It does warn, however, and as many others do, that context—and for Windholdz particularly political context—matters in achieving regulatory excellence.

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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