The value in regulatory performance reviews

In my last column, “Is it time to self-disrupt?” (Engineering Dimensions, July/August 2018), I suggested PEO undergo an external regulatory performance review to help us determine if we’re effectively carrying out our mandate to protect the public as set out in the Professional Engineers Act.

Many recent reviews have been carried out by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA)—a body established by the United Kingdom parliament to oversee the country’s health and social work regulators. Widely considered the gold standard at assessing regulatory performance, PSA conducts research on evidence-based regulatory best practices and has developed standards covering guidance and standards, education and training, registration and fitness to practise. PSA uses these standards as its benchmarks in conducting regulatory reviews.

Besides its annual reviews of UK health/social work regulators, PSA has conducted reviews of regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada. Recent Canadian audits involved the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario and the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia, examining the setting of standards and provision of guidance for practitioners registration and renewal of practitioners and the investigation and resolution of complaints about practitioners.

In this column, I will examine a review of another Canadian regulator, Engineers and Geoscientists BC (EGBC), and how PEO could similarly benefit. 

PSA’s REVIEW OF EGBC
This year, PSA undertook a review of EGBC, assessing the association’s governance and legislative framework and how it helps—or hinders—its regulatory effectiveness.

PSA released its phase 1 review report in June 2018 and came back with several observations and recommendations. (You can read the full report at https://bit.ly/2OynNp6)

In its governance review, it found the regulator met all but two of its nine regulatory standards—one involving risk management processes and one involving legislative framework.

For the former, the review recognized EGBC was developing risk management processes and would likely meet the standard upon completion.

For the latter—that the regulator has a legislative framework where decisions can be made transparently and in the interests of the public—the review found the requirement in the Engineers and Geoscientists Act that members ratify bylaws via referendum was a barrier to meeting the standard.

The review also made several observations and recommendations around EGBC’s legislative framework, and I will touch on a few that I believe parallel potential shortcomings at PEO:

Continuing Professional Development (CPD): Related to EGBC’s current legislation requiring two-thirds member approval of any new bylaws, the regulator has been unable to introduce a mandatory CPD regime because it couldn’t pass the bylaw with members. 

Board size and composition: The review found EGBC’s current council size of 17 members to be too large to be effective, recommending a council of around eight to 12 members to be “most conducive to effectiveness.” Similarly, it found EGBC’s practice of electing council members meant the regulator had little control over council composition and an appropriate mix of skills—particularly important given the many regulatory roles councillors are expected to fulfil.

Election cycles: The review found two-year council terms to be problematic because new councillors need time to acclimatize, meaning frequent councillor turnover is inefficient. And being subject to election could influence councillor decision making and make them feel less inclined to support measures that are unpopular with members.

President terms: The review found that EGBC’s practice of changing presidents every year could potentially introduce disruption and impact the organization’s ability to carry out its three-year strategic plans.

Publicly appointed councillors: EGBC has four government-appointed councillors, going against PSA’s advice on parity between member and non-member registrant councillors. PSA says a key value in appointed councillors is the strict selection process, which helps ensure optimum skills and experience. EGBC staff also said they valued the external perspective of appointed councillors.

Complaints/discipline committees: The review recommends that EGBC consider options for increasing the involvement of public members in its investigation and discipline committees, noting that it would be beneficial to have greater involvement of the public in both committees.

EGBC shared this report with other Canadian engineering regulators and noted that with its ongoing work and several act changes currently before government—including increasing agility to make bylaw changes—it would meet PSA standards in short order. It also noted the audit did much to reinforce its effectiveness as a self-regulator.

I believe PEO would do well to do likewise. As engineers, many of us are used to the audit process and use the results to bridge gaps and ensure our practices and organizations are performing effectively. PEO and its regulatory work shouldn’t be any different.

Indeed, we owe it to ourselves and the public we protect to measure our effectiveness and make changes as necessary—it can only make us stronger.

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