Clarifying who we are, what we hope to achieve, how we operate

Introduction

2019 has seen significant and rapid growth in the size, reach and potential impact of the National Regulators Community of Practice (NRCoP). There are new jurisdiction-based chapters in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia and programs of activities in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth in addition to Melbourne, where the NRCoP originated. Each chapter has its own committee in addition to the national steering group, with the Victorian members of the latter also taking on the role of the chapter committee.

The NRCoP numbers close to 3000 regulators across Commonwealth, State/Territory and local governments and across every regulatory sector.

Its increasing prominence is amplified by the connection with ANZSOG, a well respected and high profile education and research organisation established and owned by all the governments of Australia and New Zealand to help lift the quality of public leadership and thereby deliver better citizen outcomes. ANZSOG’s commitment to quality has been reflected in the standard of NRCoP offerings, including seminars and an annual forum.

Many of the regulators now engaging with the NRCoP, including in governance roles, are new to the community of practice and may also be only distantly aware of what ANZSOG is and how it operates. In combination with its rapid growth, these factors suggest it is timely to articulate with greater clarity the underlying philosophy, core objectives and associated processes and procedures for continuing to advance the NRCoP.

What is the NRCoP?

The current Terms of Reference, drawn directly from the original informal network in Victoria, state:

The national regulators community of practice is an active network of public sector regulators, regulatory policy makers and others with a scholarly or professional interest in regulation, who are keen to learn from and with each other to deliver better citizen outcomes

It is proposed to modify this statement in the light of the growth and increasing maturity of the NRCoP, as follows:

The national regulators community of practice is an active network of public sector regulators from all three levels of government and from every regulatory sector, professional background, role and level of seniority, who are keen to learn from and with each other. Its objectives are to support participants and agencies to become more professional and capable regulators and to promote the public value and importance of regulation as a key task of government and thereby, to deliver better citizen outcomes. The NRCoP also welcomes regulatory policy makers and others with a scholarly or professional interest in regulation but its primary focus is on inspiring, connecting and building the professionalism of practising regulators.

The NRCoP fits the scholarly definition of a community of practice and is committed to continue to do so (see http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice)

  1. It has a domain, namely regulation. The idea that there is a common body of knowledge, skills and capabilities required to be an effective contemporary regulator, as opposed to areas of specialisation such as economic, financial, integrity, safety or environmental regulation, is relatively new to Australia and a critical distinguishing feature of the NRCoP.
  2. It has a community. In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other; they care about their standing with each other. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together.
  3. It has a practice. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice.

To be a genuine community of practice for regulators, two potential roles for the NRCoP are out of scope

Out of scope role #1: being a platform for dissemination and promotion of, or engagement with, the policy settings of governments.

Why?

  • The NRCoP’s objective is to support practising regulators share and better manage their operational and implementation challenges. Its learning focus is (a) on connecting around the successes and failures, experiences and challenges which affect regulators in their daily work and (b) on inspiring practising regulators about their public value. In its emotional dimension, the NRCoP is intended to give heart to regulators who find themselves constantly in the crosshairs of some or all of government, media, the community and duty holders.
  • The long term goal of the NRCoP, professionalising the practice of regulation, is consistent with, and supportive of, broader government objectives. But it would rapidly lose its focus, credibility and support if it were seen to be captive to, or the mouthpiece for, current central agency policy settings.
  • The NRCoP straddles all three levels of government in Australia. Chapters should avoid co-option to any individual level of government, as opposed to advancing the regulatory craft.

Out of scope role #2: representing or speaking for regulators in the design or implementation of regulatory policy settings.

Why?

The NRCoP is and seeks to remain a genuinely bottom up and horizontal initiative and its committee members are chosen for their individual knowledge and enthusiasm and tasked to support participants to connect and learn. The committees are not constituted to act as a representative body and have no mandate to do so.

What does ‘national’ mean in the context of the NRCoP?

The NRCoP was founded and is intended to operate as a unified national body. Unlike, say, the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) network, it is not a loose federation of autonomous jurisdictional chapters operating under a common brand.

This reflects two issues intrinsic to the NRCoP:

  • It is focused on what regulators across Australia have in common regardless of their jurisdiction, sector, duty holders or role, not on what differentiates the practice of regulation in different jurisdictions (which would imply the dominance of state and territory governments’ policy settings and machinery of government arrangements).
  • It is an ANZSOG-supported initiative. ANZSOG is fully owned by the two national governments and all the states and territories and its foundational programs focus on bringing together and building connections and networks between public managers from all three levels of government, sector and educational background. ANZSOG’s financial and logistical support of the NRCoP reflects its commitment to improving regulatory capability and professionalism across all its member governments.

What does that mean in practice?

  • NRCoP chapter committees are embedded in the framework of the national steering group and the underlying philosophy and purpose of the NRCoP and work within consistent NRCoP terms of reference (see attached).
  • Only the chair of the NRCoP steering group and ANZSOG are able to enter into agreements or relationships on behalf of the NRCoP, or commit ANZSOG and/or the NRCoP to particular actions, or indicate endorsement of any proposal, policy or recommendation.
  • Learning events are consistent across the network to the maximum practicable extent and reflect the national character of the NRCoP and the commonality between regulators. Their topics are responsive to the priority issues raised by respondents to the annual survey and the input of members of the Steering Group and chapter committees.
  • ANZSOG has responsibility for specifying, curating, promoting, delivering and evaluating engaging learning events responsive to these issues across the chapters (3-4 per chapter per annum). ANZSOG is strongly protective of the hard-won reputation of its name and brand and as a consequence, has a policy that it will not support events where it cannot ensure the quality of delivery meets its standards.
  • Although there is an NRCoP LinkedIn group and a website, the national character of the NRCoP is most strongly and importantly expressed through the annual forum in Melbourne.

The importance of the annual forum in the overall footprint of the NRCoP cannot be overstated:

  • It is a valuable learning, professional development and networking opportunity in its own right, expanding the horizons of practising regulators about what is being achieved by others and helping lift them out of their domain and jurisdictional silos.
  • It provides the only alternative to commercial conferences for regulators to showcase their innovations and experience in a national and trans Tasman context, raising the profile not only of their agency but of regulation as a valuable career path for ambitious and capable public servants.
  • It generates funding to support the free activities offered by the NRCoP across Australia for the rest of the year.

About the community   NRCoP chapters   News and events   Resources   Register