Right-touch regulation in practice: international case studies
So, Right-touch regulation might sound great in theory, but how about in practice? Does the theoretical model for "good" regulation work effectively in the world of regulation? We explore in our series on the regulatory framework.

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In a previous article, we explored the eight core elements of Right-touch regulation, a framework pioneered by Harry Cayton and his colleagues at the U.K.’s Professional Standards Authority (PSA). Since its introduction in 2010, Right-touch regulation has been adopted by regulators across sectors in countries all over the world. Now, we’ll take a look at two case studies that explore how applying the principles of Right-touch regulation has helped regulators in their day-to-day work.

As a refresher, Right-touch regulation is an approach to regulatory decision-making that emphasizes using only as much regulation as necessary to achieve the desired effect. The eight core elements of Right-touch regulation are:

  1. Identify the problem before the solution
  2. Quantify and qualify the risks
  3. Get as close to the problem as possible
  4. Focus on the outcome
  5. Use regulation only when necessary
  6. Keep it simple
  7. Check for unintended consequences
  8. Review and respond to change
Right-touch regulation
An illustration of the regulatory decision-making process using Right-touch regulation. Original image: Professional Standards Authority (PSA).

To get an idea of how Right-touch regulation is used in practice, we spoke to two regulators in the U.K. and Canada about how adopting the Right-touch approach has helped them address key challenges facing their organizations and craft better regulation.

Right-touch regulation at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is a global professional body which sets and enforces international standards in the valuation, management, and development of land, real estate, construction, and infrastructure. With headquarters in London, England, the non-statutory regulator oversees more than 125,000 individuals and 10,000 businesses in 150 countries.

Jonathan Gorvin, RICS’ Director of Professional Policy, calls Right-touch regulation a “recipe book for policymaking,” saying that the framework provides simple, common-sense principles that his organization puts into practice regularly. In a 2018 report for the PSA, he delved into specific examples of how RICS has used the principles of Right-touch regulation to develop better regulatory solutions, which included the development of a new framework to assess and respond to risks, and the introduction of a new requirement for conflicts of interest.

Like many other regulators, Gorvin noted that up until a few years ago RICS would jump to implementing regulatory changes without properly investigating the reasons behind those changes. This led to the adoption of a multitude of standards, rules, and guidance documents that were not only difficult for the organization to maintain but were also confusing for members of the profession to follow.

Using the principles of Right-touch regulation, RICS developed a new framework that required decision-makers to profile and assess risks before proposing targeted and proportionate solutions. The new framework specifically requires individuals to substantiate the problem using internal and external sources (such as surveys and interviews) and to consider a wide spectrum of tools and solutions – both regulatory and non-regulatory – to control the risk. As a result of implementing the new framework, RICS has seen a reduction in the number of new controls being proposed and increased stakeholder engagement in the consultation process.

In addition, RICS also applied Right-touch thinking when it developed new requirements on conflicts of interest. Because RICS is a transnational regulator that oversees multiple markets and sectors, when developing a solution to an identified risk they need to involve stakeholders in specific markets/sectors throughout the process to ensure they are properly controlling the risk and understanding the impact (and any unintended consequences) of new regulations.

After consulting with stakeholders, RICS identified a risk of professionals not acting impartially and proposed a new global mandatory requirement on conflicts of interest. During the consultation process, an additional risk was identified in the U.K. that the new requirement didn’t address. However, instead of adding to the regulation, RICS got as close to the problem as possible and worked with stakeholders in key markets to see if the risk was found elsewhere. It determined that it wasn’t, so the global requirement went ahead as proposed with an additional requirement that only applied to the U.K. market.

As these examples illustrate, Gorvin says that the principles of Right-touch regulation have helped RICS ensure that they are developing proportionate, targeted regulations, staying focused on outcomes, and being responsive to change.

Right-touch regulation at the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA)

The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) regulates Alberta’s more than 38,000 registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) working in patient care, research, education, and administration. CARNA is responsible to protect the public interest by ensuring RNs and NPs have the requisite education and training to practice safely, adhere to the highest standards and ethical conduct, and are accountable for the services they provide.

Since early 2021, Director Andrew Douglas has been leading a team at CARNA that is reviewing each department’s policies and processes to ensure they adhere to the principles and elements of Right-touch regulation. The team is diverse and includes a representative from each department at CARNA. “We see Right-touch as something that’s critically important to ensuring we can deliver on our mandate in the most effective way and get the best outcomes as a result,” Douglas says. “We’re committed to living and implementing it and immersing ourselves in it throughout the organization.”

As the chief architect of Right-touch regulation, CARNA brought on Cayton to advise the committee during the review process. The committee spends about three months reviewing each department, giving the team ample time to review numerous documents, attend a variety of department meetings, conduct interviews with employees, and create a report at the end of each review with Right‐touch focused recommendations that are practical, evidence‐based, and able to be implemented.

Embracing Right-touch regulation has already helped CARNA implement more efficient and effective processes around its continuing competence requirements. Douglas says that the previous continuing competence program was “complex and onerous,” and demanded “significant effort” for registrants to complete. The College determined that the program was not adhering to the elements of Right-touch and made the decision to change the program to make it more effective and efficient. The new program continues to protect the public and meet its legislative requirements, and has also resolved many of the concerns registrants had with the old process. “We’ve received resounding support from registrants saying this is so much easier, quicker, and more efficient,” Douglas says.

As a progressive regulator, the College is committed to regulatory operational efficiency and effectiveness through embedding Right‐touch thinking in decisions, operational practices, and activities. Over the next eight months, CARNA will complete Right‐touch reviews in its Conduct, Registration, Corporate Services, and Executive Office departments.

CARNA is currently undergoing a restructuring that will separate the organization’s regulatory and professional association functions, and Douglas says that Right-touch thinking will continue to play an important role in the process as CARNA clarifies its mandate going forward. “We have a 100-year history of being a dual mandate organization,” says Douglas. “So now we’re shifting away from that and our focus is on protecting the public – which is our legislative mandate – and this review process helps reaffirm that by using a Right-touch lens to ensure we have public and patient safety at the forefront.”

Right-touch regulation can help all regulators across sectors

Despite being very different in terms of size, purpose, and the challenges they face, both RICS and CARNA have experienced a multitude of benefits from incorporating the principles of Right-touch regulation into their daily work, which demonstrates its versatility and flexibility. As Cayton explained in Part 1 of this series, Right-touch regulation isn’t meant to be a set of instructions on how to regulate; it’s a way to approach decision-making in order to deliver effective regulation that is proportionate, outcome-focused, and based on the proper evaluation of risk. As such, regulators in all sectors can employ Right-touch thinking to solve their unique challenges, improve processes, and better serve the public interest.


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Ariel Visconti
Written byAriel Visconti
Ariel Visconti researches and writes on government and politics, regulation, occupational licensing, and emerging technologies.


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