I’ve spent the last two weeks organising the marketing of our range of regulatory support for awarding organisations. I’ve designed a marketing leaflet to emphasise the challenge of regulation now that Ofqual has published its new arrangements. The image for the front of the leaflet gives the message that regulation is negative, that its impact is to delay, confuse and restrict any organisation which wishes to push ahead successfully in business. The key image shows ‘one-way’ signs pointing both left and right, a ‘do not enter’ sign, a ‘dead end’ sign and a ‘stop’ sign all in bright reds and yellows. All of them together threaten to seriously impede your progress!
I have to confess that if I were faced with the General Conditions of Recognition (Ofqual, 2011) for the first time I would find myself knocked back. The challenge of regulation can indeed be daunting. The basic regulatory documentation runs to hundreds of pages.
Is it true that however that regulation inhibits innovation? The argument Glenys Stacey (CEO of Ofqual) made in her speech to the Associate of Learning Providers (ALP) on 21st June is that Ofqual’s job is to ‘remove barriers to innovation for awarding organisations’. She flags up the establishment of the Innovation Advisory Group to oversee a research exercise to ‘identify drivers and barriers to innovation’.
As an example of innovation she highlighted the practice of ‘garra rufa skin exfoliation’, whereby tiny minnow-like fish are used to nibble dead skin from someone’s feet. This may be an innovation in beauty therapy practice but I don’t think it’s an innovation driven by regulation. Anyway, animal welfare considerations and the potential risk to humans of cross-infection have led to the practice being banned in many countries. Although I would question the example, I welcome the message in the speech to use regulation as a way of promoting innovation.
It’s encouraging to see that Ofqual is going back to first principles with its innovation ‘stock-take’ exercise to explore what innovation might really mean for the awarding sector. Although innovation is flagged up as one of Ofqual’s statutory duties it needs to find a way of defining what constitutes successful innovation in awarding.
Regulation can be seen as encouraging innovation by creating a level playing field for large and small operators, so that the industry is not dominated by a few, large companies. Within a healthy and competitive market place regulation can help drive forward efficiency and cost savings. Can regulation stimulate innovation in the favour of an awarding organisation’s customers with more streamlined processes, a higher quality of support services or more valid and reliable assessment systems or would changes like these have happened anyway or in spite of regulation?
Interestingly, there is no mention of innovation in the fifty pages of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Ofqual’s approach to regulation (published by Ofqual in July this year) so perhaps there is little appetite for innovation in the currently challenging business climate. Yet challenging times can offer opportunities to do things differently and to innovate rather than ‘battening down the hatches’.
Do you think regulation is the enemy of innovation or are there ways in which regulation can stimulate innovation and drive forward progress in the awarding sector? I’d welcome your comments.