Starting with the end in mind: The case for outcome-driven regulatory transformation
Insights from John Fellows, Senior Manager, Digital and Communications – Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator
In our recent webinar reviewing the findings of the inaugural UK Government Regulatory Technology Report, panellist John Fellows answers questions from panel facilitator Dr Russell Richardson (North Sea Transition Authority) on why an outcome-focused approach to regulatory transformation is key, and the value of knowledge sharing across the community.
Dr Russell Richardson: John, as part of the research for the report, you mentioned that people should focus on outcomes, and not just processes, at the start of a regulatory transformation journey. What did you mean by this?
John Fellows: If you look at RegTech as a process and you deal with that in isolation, then it's a very static issue. But if you look at it from an outcome-focussed perspective, you know what your ultimate goals are, it's a far more dynamic process. If we want to achieve a proper regulatory transformation and not just an IT fix, and then we approach RegTech with that outcome in mind, it becomes far more effective. It’s an opportunity to drive things forward, not just to fix things.
In the report, there's a case study from Ofqual about how to manage concerns raised by the public on your regulated data. This is exactly the same issue we've experienced and looked to address in the last six months as the charity regulator in Scotland. When we looked at this to start with, the idea came forward that we need to manage the number of issues that were reported outside of our regulatory concern because we were spending a huge amount of staff time dealing with things that weren't for us. That's a waste of time and effort. We thought we’ll fix the website, and then everything will be fine and people will stop coming to us with issues that we have no power over – that was how it was presented to me. But actually, we managed to take a step back from that and say we want to improve internal efficiency and productivity, we want to improve the customer experience and we want to relate it back to our strategic plan.
So with that in mind, as well as updating our website form, we wanted to make sure that information that we gather from this is properly structured and automatically processed and stored in our other systems too. We've joined it all up, and we were able to do that because we didn’t look at the specific problem or issue that was raised but we looked at the outcomes: what is the transformation that we want to see? What did our strategic documents say that we want to get to? That has given us – for not much more money – huge benefits.
If we want to achieve a proper regulatory transformation and not just an IT fix, and then we approach RegTech with that outcome in mind, it becomes far more effective. It’s an opportunity to drive things forward, not just to fix things.
Secondly, as a practical point, if we're trying to do new things and we're trying to innovate and to drive things on, then we won’t be as good or have as great an understanding of those possibilities as we do our current activity. My experience of working with a range of suppliers and vendors over the last couple of years is that when I started, I would ask them to fix things, or I would talk about individual processes in isolation – but that approach meant that I didn’t always get the benefit of their wider expertise of how to use their own products. Now, we're going to suppliers and others saying, well, this is the problem and this is the outcome that we want to see. And what we’ve found is that, for example, with Objective being one of our suppliers, the team have been able to turn around and say actually, rather than fixing this thing, or improving this process, we've got this new functionality, or you're not using this part of the system, etc.
By going to people with the outcome you want to achieve and having that discussion with a supplier as a proper relationship based on trust and expertise rather than just a transactional relationship, it has gotten us real benefits over the last six to 12 months. Start with that outcome, bring in the expertise and it'll pay off.
Dr Russell Richardson: What do you see is the value of communities such as the Institute of Regulation (IoR), for sharing information amongst regulators for that sort of development and regulatory transformation?
John Fellows: I think it's absolutely huge. I was lucky enough to go to the IoR conference in London and there were a couple of really thought-provoking points made, including that 80% of our regulatory work is broadly the same, and only 20% is unique to an organisation. I think that's absolutely true. I was in one of the breakout sessions talking about the shared experiences we have, and someone called it ‘regulatory counselling’. That was professionally and personally quite reassuring that I wasn't ploughing a lone furrow, and that there are other people doing the same things and having the same challenges. And actually, that leads itself to conversations and to keeping in touch, and the ongoing sharing of experience and best practice, both formally and informally.
We need to make sure we exploit human intelligence before we automatically come to artificial intelligence to solve our problems. If we can use the experience of others and we can all ‘level-up’, then the opportunities are huge.
On a serious note, we've talked about money. Driving forward positive change and building those new foundations, it can be an expensive business. But if we can collaborate and share expertise, that will be good for us all, because we know that all of our regulatory interests overlap with other regulators. We're all engaged in essentially the same activity. As one of the speakers said at the IoR conference, sometimes we need to put HI before AI. We need to make sure that we exploit human intelligence before we automatically come to artificial intelligence to solve our problems. If we can use the experience of others and we can all ‘level-up’ to use a phrase, then the opportunities are huge. I look forward to more IoR events, more webinars, more gatherings – hopefully, this webinar is the start of some beautiful friendships.
To watch the panel discussion live, view the Government Regulatory Technology webinar on demand here
To download the UK Government Regulatory Technology Report 2023, click here
John Fellows has over two decades of experience working at a senior level in the public sector, charities and politics. A professional communicator, he now has responsibility for the planning and delivery of digital services for the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, in addition to overseeing their communications functions.
Dr Russell Richardson
Dr Richardson is an experienced competition and regulatory lawyer who has managed various dispute resolutions and multi-discipline litigation before the UK, EU and Grand Cayman courts.
He currently works for the North Sea Transition Authority as its General Counsel and Company Secretary, supporting the Authority on its mission to help drive forward North Sea energy transition.