Published in 1992, the book Responsive Regulation: Transcending the Deregulation Debate has become a central work in the canon of regulatory scholarship. The book is a collaboration between Professors Ian Ayres (Yale University) and John Braithwaite (Australian National University), and builds on Braithwaite’s earlier studies on regulation, enforcement and compliance.

Responsive regulation is probably best known for the different ‘enforcement pyramids’ it introduces. One of these illustrates the targeting of individual citizens or firms. It shows how a regulator can engage with a citizen or firm through a set of escalating regulatory interventions: from explaining the purpose of the regulation to seek compliance (persuasion), via warning letters or civil penalties (deterrence), to criminal penalties or licence revocations (the full force of the law). The enforcement pyramid is a heuristic that seeks to illustrate how compliance is likely to be achieved through ‘soft’ regulatory interventions, so long as the regulator can escalate to a severe response and is willing to use the most critical intervention.

Yet, while responsive regulation has been widely applied in regulatory practice and has been widely discussed in the regulatory literature, it is still not known:

  • Whether (on average) responsive regulation outperforms alternative regulatory strategies; and
  • Under what circumstances responsive regulation works best.

To assist executives, managers and frontline workers in regulatory organisations and units who are interested in the theory and practice of responsive regulation, the Chair in Regulatory Practice at the Victoria University of Wellington has carried out an evidence synthesis of a broad range of international academic literature on this approach to regulation.

The fourth State of the Art in Regulatory Governance Research Paper is an outcome of this evidence synthesis. It addresses five themes: (1) the evolution of responsive regulation, (2) practical examples of responsive regulation in practice, (3) evidence of the performance of responsive regulation, and (4) the epistemic challenges and (5) ethical challenges that come with this approach to regulatory governance and practice.

The paper is available as open access publication:

van der Heijden, Jeroen (2019). Responsive regulation in practice: A review of the international academic literature. State of the Art in Regulatory Governance Research Paper – 2020.06. Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington/Government Regulatory Practice Initiative.

Available for download here.