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Commentary March 25th, 2021
Innovation • Delivery
Katie Rose Programme Director
Andy Brogan Founding Partner, Easier Inc

Changing the game: moving regulation from ‘rate and rank’ to ‘reflect and learn’

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.@CPI_foundation & @Easier_Inc have joined forces to form a Community of Practice to explore how we can build generative relationships around #regulation

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@_Rose_Katie & @AndyTBrogan share barriers & enablers to generative regulation relationships based on what we have learned from regulators & public sector orgs & charities

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How can regulators & regulated orgs have more human relationships? How can we experiment w/ evaluation? Join our Community of Practice & share your experiences in regulation relationships

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Pioneers at all levels of government that we work with in the UK have consistently identified the importance of regulation and inspection in their work; how it can either be an accelerator for learning and partnership, or a brake on innovation. 

Many regulators are encouraged to ‘rate and rank’ providers, framing regulation as a score to be kept (and so inadvertently turning the regulation relationship into a game to be played). Within regulated organisations, their own internal performance management approaches will often reflect the same score keeping approach. In fact, these two systems (of external regulation and internal performance management) are so interwoven that it is all but impossible to effect an impactful change in one without the other. 

Change therefore has to come from both sides. In order for anything to shift, regulators and regulated need to see themselves as parts of (i.e. partners in) a shared system, that they share with frontline professionals, local leaders and citizens, and they need to be prepared to move together.

Over the last 6 months CPI and Easier Inc have joined forces to form a Community of Practice to explore how we can build more generative relationships around regulation and inspection.

So over the last 6 months CPI and Easier Inc have joined forces to form a Community of Practice to explore how we can build more generative relationships around regulation and inspection. By generative relationships here, we mean those that feel more human, transparent and equal, where power is neutralised in favour of shared sense-making and where regulators and those they regulate are engaged in a 'thinking partnership', not a game of cat and mouse.

The Community of Practice is formed of people from national and local regulators, and inspectors, and local public sector organisations and charities in the UK. Our collective purpose is to create the space for building generative relationships, sharing learning, and experimenting with ways of working differently.

To date, we have had three meetings of this Community of Practice, funded by Lankelly Chase. So we have only scratched the surface of why these relationships are so hard to build and what they could look like. But we wanted to share now what we are hearing and learning, so that we can continue to have an ongoing dialogue about how to build better relationships around regulation, and bring others into the conversation:

Barriers to generative regulation relationships: why are these so hard to build?

The current system promotes a pass / fail mindset, and there is too much focus on compliance:

Individuals on both sides of the regulation relationship expressed that that the current system promotes a pass / fail mindset and tick box compliance rather than generative dialogue, where learning is prioritised. This is not just the responsibility of the regulator however, responsibility was accepted on both sides. 

There was also recognition that current grading processes can promote and embed a culture of blame. This raised many questions about changing processes and co-creating processes that genuinely focused on outcomes and an organisation’s ability to learn.

There is often currently a parent-child relationship between regulator and regulated which both play into, and an us vs. them dynamic:

Many individuals talked about unhealthy power dynamics that exist within systems. These power dynamics are disabling adult to adult regulation relationships, where professional experience and thinking partnership is prioritised. Many also reflected that even the words we use around inspection and the regulation relationship are adding to the tensions and the us vs them narrative. 

Both sides again recognised their role in perpetuating these dynamics and narratives, and the need to take personal responsibility for changing it so generative relationships can be built.

It's hard for the regulator to reconcile being ‘part of’ the system with bringing an outside perspective: 

Many individuals talked about and accepted the inherent tension in regulators’ jobs: that it is difficult to reconcile being independent with supporting an organisation to do better. The tension here between regulators' traditional role in holding organisations to account and enabling them to grow and learn is something to explore and experiment with. Experimentation is key as only through experimenting with different ways to resolve this tension will we learn.

Enablers for Generative Regulation Relationships: where could we experiment?

Taking joint responsibility for learning, working to a shared agenda and creating a common narrative: 

Our Community agreed that generative relationships happen when both sides of this relationship accept that they are working in complexity, where outcomes cannot be dictated, and where everyone commits to working together to nurture the environments that generate positive outcomes. 

Rather than either side - regulator or regulated - then putting the responsibility at the other’s door, the relationship works well when both parties take responsibility. This means that organisations that are regulated need to own what quality looks like, and the regulator needs to work with that organisation to understand their strategic direction, provide helpful challenge and help that organisation live its values. Creating a common narrative around innovation and risk taking is needed too as otherwise failed innovations can cause breakdown of regulation relationships.

Promoting transparency, openness and communication on both sides

Promoting transparency and an open culture was a common theme raised to create trusting relationships between the regulator and regulated. This was a common ambition for all - regulated places wanted to be able to be honest with inspectors about what was not working well for them and regulators wanted that honesty.

Acknowledging one another’s role in the system and their expertise is also important, and communicating to each other what is needed from the other is key so that both roles can be shaped dynamically and experience can be respected.

Committing to learning together: 

There was an acknowledged tension that the role of the regulator has been to both hold organisations to account and to help organisations be better. However, a common theme in generative relationships was when both sides acknowledged and then committed to learning together. It's very hard to know what good looks like and so a commitment to learning together can help both sides be humble in their approach and work together to create the best outcomes and positive cultures.

Generative relationships happen when both sides of this relationship accept that they are working in complexity, where outcomes cannot be dictated, and where everyone commits to working together to nurture the environments that generate positive outcomes.

Moving our conversations forward: the next steps for our Community of Practice

We have had so many insightful conversations with our Community of Practice around regulation to date. Many members have said that it feels like a genuinely new space and so we - at CPI and Easier Inc - want to continue facilitating more of these conversations and supporting any organisations with experimenting in how to do things differently. 

Some of the questions we are planning to explore on this journey ahead are below but we would love to hear from you about your experience in regulation relationships to date, what are the questions you have and invite you to join our Community to continue this exploration and experimentation.

  1. How can regulators and regulated organisations have more human relationships? How can we develop non combative, human relationships with each other between different organisations so that trust can really be built?

  2. How can we change the way inspections feel? How can we experiment with more of a dialogue with inspectors so inspections don't feel so hurtful and hard? How can we try and have inspection as a continual process, that doesn't encourage flurry around fixed points?

  3. How can we experiment with evaluation? How can we explore what a different way of assessing could look like that doesn't have a score that grades people as a pass or fail? How could we ensure that organisations are still challenged on visions they set for themselves?

  4. How can we shape the narrative and language around regulation relationships together? How can we try and promote that throughout organisations? How can we work with other stakeholders (government, the media) to help us shape that narrative?

Join our Community of Practice

Together with national and local regulators, and local public sector organisations and charities in the UK, CPI and Easier Inc are co-creating spaces for building generative relationships, shared learning, and ways of working differently around regulation.

Join us

Written by:

Katie Rose Programme Director
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Andy Brogan Founding Partner, Easier Inc
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