Regulatory programs: it’s not about catching crooks

Posted on May 17, 2015

A large amount of government activity revolves around the regulation of people’s behaviour, such as  road safety, workplace health and safety or consumer protection. While the role of regulatory programs is to increase compliance with the law, many of the people that Nexus works with in regulatory agencies (such as inspectors) see their role as reprimanding people who do not comply, or ‘catching crooks’. This is misguided and confuses the means and ends of a regulatory program.

Essentially, the purpose of a regulatory program is to have no crooks and get everyone to comply with the law. Therefore, the success of these programs shouldn’t be judged by the percentage of people who are caught, but by the increase in compliance as a result of the program. A recent example is the ‘Plan B’ drink driving campaign, which aims to influence behaviour so that people don’t drink and drive. If the percentage of people who test positive in an RBT increases over time, it’s clear that the efforts to deter people from drink driving (or get them to observe the law) isn’t working. RBT is successful when the amount of people who comply with drink driving laws increases.

Where it gets tricky, is linking this to our understanding of what drives compliance or non-compliance. There is a lot of research that suggests humans are unfortunately often not motivated to change their behaviour through positive messages. This is why educational programs to reduce the level of drink-driving failed for so long. Often, increasing compliance requires changing people’s perceptions of two things:

  1. the risks of getting caught
  2. the consequences of getting caught.

Once people or industries perceive that they are likely to be caught and that there are serious consequences in getting caught, they are more likely to comply. There are two motivators that are common in these types of regulatory campaigns:

  1. educating people on the risks of getting caught, e.g. ‘Drink Driving? You’re in our sights
  2. educating people on the consequences of getting caught, e.g. ‘Drink & Drive: Face the Consequences’.

It’s important to remember that the point is not to catch crooks, it’s to catch crooks as a means of deterring others from not complying with the law.

When Nexus is developing and evaluating regulatory programs for government agencies, we apply the following checklist:

  • do the group of people you are regulating know about the law and their obligations?
  • what is the level of compliance across the population or industry you are regulating?
  • what is the real and perceived risk of being detected for non-compliance?
  • what are the perceived consequences of non-compliance?

These questions help our clients think about what redesign is required in their regulatory program and allows them to effectively measure the outcomes and changes in behaviour across the community.

Nexus develops and evaluates regulatory programs to help government agencies increase compliance and change their organisation for the better. Contact us to find out more.