Strengthening Global Connections in Regulatory Governance [Repost from]

Original article here.

People I meet often ask me: “What made you dedicate your career to regulation, of all things?” Often this question is asked with more than just friendly curiosity. It comes with a hint of genuine bewilderment, as if the real underlying question is: “Why would anyone sensible do what you do?”

No doubt, to many people regulations are byzantine and even boring. To many people, they seem like something to steer clear of, rather than head straight into and dedicate one’s life to studying. But to me, this typical impression has always been mistaken. And today, it is clearer than ever that regulation is how a great deal of governmental power is exercised. For that reason, I am pleased to announce the launch a new International Association on Regulation and Governance.

My own journey to this point has been a long one. My earliest recollection of an interest in regulation extends back to my sophomore year in high school. I recall joining my school’s debate team and listening to a couple of the seniors on the team deliver moot arguments. Although I no longer recall the precise policy problem they were debating, I do remember that they were arguing in favor of creating a regulatory commission to solve the problem at issue. I also distinctly remember asking the seniors: “Well, what exactly is the commission supposed to do about the problem?” The seniors did not have an answer, nor did they particularly think one was needed.

Perhaps that was the turning point in my life’s intellectual journey. Or perhaps that moment was simply the earliest instance I can recall of an innate curiosity about regulation that has sustained my career. But it seemed to me that the seniors on my school’s debate team were avoiding the hard questions and the real issues.

Regulation, I thought then and continue to think now, is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. If society is to stand a chance of fixing important problems—as well avoiding problems that can come from ill-considered governmental action—we have to delve into the details. We have to roll up our sleeves and focus on what might even seem to most people to be the byzantine and the boring.

Over the decades since my time in high school, developments in the world have only confirmed my early instincts about the importance of regulation. In nearly every country, and by nearly any measure, the volume of regulation is greater today than it was fifty years ago. Part of this increase in regulation stems from a steady accumulation of rules over time, a layering of new rules upon old ones, as governments confront the need to deal with new problems and new technologies, even as older technologies remain in place.

Think about automobiles. When the Model T first emerged in the early part of the 20th Century, law books obviously contained virtually no rules relevant to this new invention. But today’s transportation regulatory regime contains a plethora of rules concerning road conditions, vehicle design, and driver standards.

New automobile safety rules have been added upon existing ones as new technologies have developed and new problems have emerged. Officials long ago put in place rules, for example, that require driver proficiency tests and address hazards such as drunk driving. But only recently, following the advent of smart phone technology, have they faced an evident need for rules related to texting while driving. In the future, as they add new rules for autonomous vehicles, they will still need to keep in place the old rules applicable to vehicles that will continue to be driven by humans.

As rule books grow, the power and responsibility of regulators increases. This means that the need for high-quality regulation—for effective, efficient, equitable, and just regulation—has become more important than ever.

Fortunately, over the course of my career, I have seen many manifestations of an increased recognition by regulators, analysts, and policy decision makers of the need for responsible regulation. One might even call it a movement dedicated to regulatory excellence.

Part of this regulatory excellence movement is manifest in earnest efforts by governments themselves to organize networks of learning, such as through the Australian National Regulators Community of Practice and the Canadian Community of Federal Regulators. The many efforts of Paul Verkuil and others since 2010 to reestablish the Administrative Conference of the United States also reflects a bipartisan desire for regulatory excellence in the States.

Evidence of the regulatory excellence movement can also be found in the emergence of academic programs and centers, such as the Australian National University’s School of Regulation and Governance, the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Regulatory Policy Program, the London School of Economics Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation, and the Penn Program on Regulation. None of these programs existed forty years ago.

Forty years ago, far fewer scholars studied regulation than today. The growth in academic attention to regulation has been manifest not only in the emergence of academic programs and centers but also in an increase in the volume of research focused on regulation. It has been manifest, too, in the establishment in 2007 of the peer-reviewed journal Regulation & Governance—and, of course, in the daily publication of The Regulatory Review since 2009.

We have seen in recent decades the establishment of several assorted but important academic professional networks, such as the Law & Society Association’s Collaborative Research Network on Regulatory Governance and the European Consortium for Political Research’s Standing Group on Regulatory Governance.

Still, the time has come to do more.

To catch up to the reality of a world in which regulatory governance has become ascendant, we need a dedicated and truly international association focused on the study and evidence-based improvement of regulation. That is why, last week, the Penn Program on Regulation was proud to organize and sponsor the inaugural conference of a new International Association on Regulation and Governance, held at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Last fall, when the idea of this conference first percolated from several online listening sessions that I had organized, I thought that we would be bringing together perhaps a couple dozen scholars interested in organizing the new association. But when we put out word about the conference, the response was overwhelming. The resulting conference—which featured more than 50 panels over two days, and which brought together scholars and practitioners from more than 20 countries—demonstrated a deep hunger around the world for connection, collaboration, and collective learning about regulatory governance.

My colleague at the Penn Program on Regulation, Angus Corbett, wrote to me after just the first day of the conference to extol the value of this international exchange. He noted how often “we experience people talking past each other,” especially when it comes to regulatory issues. But he also noted that despite these challenges in communication—or perhaps because of them—each of us working in our own spheres of regulation need to be “opened up to the knowledge that foreign countries really are different” and then “to imagine how those different systems might work” better and how they might inspire all of us to do better.

The kind of cross-national, cross-domain exchanges that a truly international association can provide bring with them opportunities to imagine new ways to make the world better. They can help in diffusing best practices, and they can, when appropriate, lead to harmonizing standards. Most of all, as Corbett wrote to me, these exchanges help all of us “more effectively interrogate our own understanding of regulation.”

I hope our new International Association on Regulation and Governance will indeed help improve our understanding about regulation and help scholars, practitioners, and officials identify new ways to improve regulation. I hope the association will build bridges across disciplines, between different parts of the world, across generations, and between fields of endeavors.

We cannot do the important work of studying and practicing regulatory governance alone. No one can. We need spaces and settings for engagement that will inspire and educate.

In an all too cynical world, we especially need connections and relationships that can validate knowledge, expertise, and evidence. We need a global community aimed at using regulation, and knowledge about regulation, to achieve a better tomorrow than we have today.

We need to strengthen the regulatory excellence movement.

That is our challenge and our journey. I look forward to building together an association that I wished had existed when I started my career—an association that can nurture others whose instincts are to look to where the rubber meets the road and to see the importance and intellectual challenge in studying and working on regulation. I look forward to a journey ahead filled with collaborating with others around the world through the new International Association on Regulation and Governance.

Cary Coglianese

Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as the founding director of the Penn Program on Regulation and the faculty advisor to The Regulatory Review.