The evolving profession of regulation amidst changing technology

A presentation by Marcial Boo – Chair, Institute of Regulation

“Regulation is relatively new,” commented Marcial during his keynote session, ‘The evolving profession of regulation amidst changing technology’ at Objective’s RegTech for Government event.

While many may think of it as a longstanding industry, the number of new regulators created and policy changes made in recent years validate this thinking of the newness of the sector as a whole.

Here, we document Marcial’s key presentation points in explaining the roots of regulation and looking ahead to where the industry might be going next with the power of tech.

Regulation oversees every sector of society and the economy, spanning multiple domains from financial and economic, to ethical, professional and international. Marcial defines it as ‘the management of complex systems according to clear rules and the law’.

In tandem, regulators are responsible for applying rules fairly and consistently to balance two goals: 1) to protect consumers and users of services; and 2) to support business innovation and public service improvement. What this means is that the industry cannot remain static if it is to deliver on these aims – it has to be adaptable to changing environments.

And this is exactly what happens. New regulators are created at different points of time, often in response to a need or crisis. Marcial cites dates from across different decades, with a sizeable number of regulators emerging throughout the noughties – including the Office of Rail and Road, Electoral Commission, Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Financial Conduct Authority – all the way to the present day with the Reforming of the Framework for Better Regulation in 2022.

As a result, there’s not a long history of regulatory thinking – notwithstanding the great work that has been done, of course. While each regulator in its own sector is quite powerful, there’s now a need to look at the holistic regulatory picture. As Marcial surmises: “Like all start-ups, regulators are made to spend time navigating their own landscape which means less time looking across the boundaries of other sectors and organisations”.

Bridging the regulation and technology divide

While some regulators might just be starting, the tech sector by comparison has experienced rapid growth and maturity. The outcome is that we’re now used to having infinite capability within our hands.

How can regulators manage compliance in the most cost-efficient way and capitalise on tech trends?

Marcial’s proposition is simple:

  • Many regulators are young and responsible for overseeing complex regulated systems;
  • Such systems are getting more complex as the sector and society globalises; and
  • Technology presents an opportunity to deliver the tools to help regulators manage this growing issue of complexity and burden.

As the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Marcial commented that he’s pleading as much as any other UK regulator to action the above. “We need effective tools to allow us to do our work in the EHRC,” he noted. And, as a self-proclaimed non-technologist, he made a call to the industry to keep pushing the technology agenda for government regulators.

We’re doing well… but we still have a long way to go

So, what could the future look like with technology?

Marcial covered five examples of good practice to demonstrate where technology can support government regulators covering Ofqual, Ofcom, Ofsted, the Professional Standards Authority and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

But, he ended with the knowledge that there’s so much more that can be done. And, with the Institute of Regulation and partners such as Objective, he’s looking forward to making the future of regulation work.

Speaker information

Marcial is chair of the UK’s Institute of Regulation. He has had director or chief executive roles in five regulators: Audit Commission, National Audit Office, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, UK Public Health Register, and Equality and Human Rights Commission.

He is also a trustee of the think tank Demos and a policy advisor to the University of Bath.