Neil Savery, ABCB CEO, recently participated in a Pacific Area Standards Congress workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together international standards bodies, regulators and stakeholders, to discuss how standards can be used to support good regulatory policy and practice, in general, and regulatory stewardship, in particular. Here's what he had to say about the workshop.

Regulatory stewardship involves regulatory agencies adopting a whole of system, life-cycle view of regulation, and taking a proactive, collaborative approach to the monitoring and care of the whole regulatory system. A regulatory system is comprised of the rules, institutions and practices, which combine to achieve a given set of behaviours and/or outcomes.

The challenges

There was a lot of interesting material acknowledging the changing world in which regulators have to work, the challenges they face and how they can make best use of standards. This included understanding where regulation and its application can go wrong. Key themes were identified from 18 reports into disasters, which resonate with the findings of Dame Judith Hackitt and the Building Confidence Report by Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir. These include:

  • Poor role clarity.
  • Weak governance.
  • Culture & leadership.
  • Complex regulation.
  • Obsolete regulation.
  • Inadequate resources.
  • Insufficient oversight.

A stewardship approach aims to shift the mindset from vertical (hierarchical) regulation to horizontal. This promotes interaction between multiple systems rather than seeing each system as singular. It is complemented by having a long-term rather than short-term perspective, from current delivery to investment in capability and from outputs to outcomes.

This approach must be seen in the context of a rapidly changing environment, in which economies are more diverse and global, where traditional approaches to regulation become less effective. This can potentially be exaggerated in a federal arrangement, given that in the case of buildings (by way of example), the regulatory system is fragmented and complex (i.e. an open system). Stewardship is therefore potentially more important in this type of circumstance. Other important observations are best summed up in the following points:

  • Standards are invisible until their absence causes inconvenience.
  • Standards serve a public interest and support commerce.
  • The way regulators and standards bodies see the system will differ greatly from how stakeholders view it.
  • Regulators and standards bodies need to be more effective communicators.
  • Regulation and standards need to be seen as a system.
  • Everyone believes in coordination, but very few want to be coordinated.
  • Standards development internationally is focused on improving speed, which puts pressure on longer timeframes for regulation and impact assessment.
  • It’s not about documents, but rather content.

The ABCB coordinates national model regulations and works with Standards Australia in the review and development of standards referenced in the Code. It is well placed to engage in regulatory stewardship for the building and plumbing sectors.

You can find out more about the ABCB and its role under the ABCB section of this website.