Skip to content
An official website of the OECD. Find out more
Created by the Public Governance Directorate

This website was created by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), part of the OECD Public Governance Directorate (GOV).

How to validate authenticity

Validation that this is an official OECD website can be found on the Innovative Government page of the corporate OECD website.

The Regulators’ Pioneer Fund (RPF)

The rate of innovation often exceeds the speed at which regulatory systems can adapt, blurring lines between sectors and cutting across transitional regulatory and geographical boundaries. The RPF aims to keep the UK at the forefront of regulatory thinking and experimentation. It sponsors projects, led by regulators, aiming to help create a UK regulatory environment that encourages business innovation and investment. It is market-led and uses real-world innovation settings to deliver.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Regulatory frameworks can sometimes act as a barrier to innovation if they unintentionally slow down or prevent innovative products or services from reaching the market. In 2017, the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund (RPF) was developed and launched by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to address this – recognising the important role regulators play in enabling an innovation friendly environment and encouraging innovative regulatory thinking and experimentation. It was a way of helping encourage innovation without risk.

The RPF provides grants to market-led projects by regulators and local authorities which help to develop a UK regulatory environment that encourages business innovation and investment. The emphasis is on projects that are ambitious, collaborative, innovative and reflect a research, learning and experimentation approach to regulation. They also address regulatory challenges associated with market innovation, emerging technologies or new/disruptive business models. Projects which embody “innovation friendly” regulation thereby encouraging investor conditions within the UK. It enables regulators to address real challenges through novel and/or experimental approaches, support innovation in their sector and build capability to work more innovatively themselves. The opportunities within the RPF are endless.

There have been 3 rounds of the RPF to date, each with its own competition and aligning with the UK Government’s priorities of the day (the current third round has a particular emphasis on seizing opportunities arising from the UK’s new global trade arrangements, reducing regulatory burdens on business, reducing the cost of living and making a difference to the everyday lives of people and businesses, place-based innovation, and the transition to a net zero economy). It is a competitive bidding process for RPF grants, with projects needing to demonstrate how their project isn’t just BAU but innovative and benefits businesses and consumers.

Independent evaluation of RPF 1 and 2 shows the majority of RPF projects reported that, without the RPF funding, they would not be able to undertake such projects due to a lack of available funding and resource. The RPF created the space and finances to innovate, allowing truly innovative work to be conducted without significant consequences of failure. Where regulators and local authorities reported that they would have taken their projects forward without funding, they also noted that they would not have had such an emphasis on collaboration with other stakeholders within their sector, or with other regulators or local authorities. Several regulators have continued to enhance or further develop outputs created during their RPF project along with using evidence gathered to build business cases, develop new projects and secure additional funding for continued innovation work outside of the RPF.

Businesses, consumers, regulators, local authorities, government, etc. all benefit from these innovations. Regulators, local authorities and government benefit from increased regulation transparency and so more trust from consumers and business in their ability to deliver regulation that is proportionate and fit for purpose. In addition to this, all parties benefit from increased collaboration and communication resulting from RPF projects. Projects can result in a saving in time and resource within Government and other bodies and particularly within business. For example, Cornwall Port Health Authority refined and validated a computer model for predicting harmful algal blooms. These blooms can produce toxins, which can accumulate in shellfish and can cause a danger to consumers. This project could help reduce the overall frequency of regulatory sampling and help prevent retrospective recall of shellfish from the market. In this scenario consumers benefitted from eating safer shellfish.

In RPF 3 projects can be 8 months in length or 12-18 months. This has been developed based on feedback from projects in earlier RPF rounds. By continuously changing and adapting to ensure it is fit for purpose and benefiting to participants, the RPF continues to innovate as part of its development, alongside financing innovative projects. The greater the exposure the RPF gets the more variation in bids submitted and so the more innovation options there are to assess. There have been schemes that replicate this funding incentivisation programme. Going forward there are opportunities to increase the value of the fund and replicate this internationally.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The RPF is the first market-led fund whereby regulators and local authorities identify key issues within their areas, to remove barriers to innovation for business and help businesses get innovative products and services to market. This involves real-world delivery, cutting-edge research, testing of concepts, the opportunities within the Fund are endless. Other funds have targeted businesses however, the RPF specifically targets the areas where regulatory systems can be seen as a barrier to innovation, giving businesses more opportunities and a direct route to work with Government on improving the business environment and public policy outcomes, helping foster a pro-innovation culture and overcome risk-adversity.

Collaboration is key to success in the RPF whereby multiple parties are either linked together or come together to solve barriers identified. With every iteration of the RPF lessons learned are disseminated across public bodies, Government and published for wider application.

What is the current status of your innovation?

We are delivering a third round of the RPF, having just completed the competition stage and supporting regulators and local authorities in the development of high-quality applications where there is a market need for change. Applications will now be assessed against the competition selection criteria with selected projects announced later this year, and with project delivery starting in January 2023.

We are also about to publish our independent evaluation of the second round and share further the findings with our stakeholders. The RPF is independently reviewed combining elements of impact and process evaluation. There is a logic model used to understand outcomes along with a contribution analysis and case studies. Dissemination of findings is key to the success of the RPF programme, this is ongoing.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The RPF actively encourages collaboration and partnerships between multiple regulators and local authorities, businesses, civil society groups and academia (domestic and international) to explore cross cutting issues of mutual interest and/or provide more joined up, efficient and effective services e.g. one project launched a multi-agency advice service for water innovators. The RPF also collaborates with an independent evaluation partner to assess its impact at both project and programme level.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The regulators and local authorities benefited from the opportunity to test innovations in a risk-free environment. The RPF emphasises collaboration benefiting businesses and citizens by increasing regulation transparency and knowledge of the necessity of regulation. This ongoing collaboration and sharing of lessons learned will help innovation within regulation continue. With this, it strengthens Government’s ability to implement and continuously develop regulation.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The RPF has led to the establishment of Innovation Hubs and advisory services for business and innovators, technology driven solutions and data tools, frameworks and new regimes (some world-first), research to inform/improve regulatory approaches and new guidance or standards for business innovation.

The RPF is independently reviewed combining elements of impact and process evaluation, these include qualitative interviews, case studies and analysis of management information and project reports. Within this evaluation the RPF was seen to directly increase collaboration between regulators and sector stakeholders, helping increase confidence in regulation and the role of regulators in encouraging innovation.

Participants have also shared lessons learned from their projects which will impact the development of future innovations, thereby influencing wider regulatory practice. Given the success of projects many have been able to secure funding from core budgets to continue their RPF work.

Challenges and Failures

Programme challenges included monitoring the delivery and financial spend. Ensuring that we had up to date information to assess effectiveness and timeliness of projects delivering outputs. Robust monitoring and regular meetings with projects ensured challenge was only minimal. Other challenges included when a project scope had to change, in one case, significantly due to many external and unforeseen factors including political interest, resourcing and ambitious deliverables in a short time. We overcame this by working with the project, rescaling the scope and ambition to outputs that could be used to achieve RPF aims in future work.

During the independent evaluation multiple projects mentioned that more time would have been beneficial to facilitate recruitment activities. RPF 3 has been developed to help facilitate this and ensure that they do not take away a significant proportion of project time. We are constantly evolving the RPF to incorporate feedback.

Conditions for Success

Being market-led, the quality of bids received and communication of the programme is key to the success of the RPF. In order to get a variety of bids, Ministerial support is required to boost the visibility and importance of the RPF and to obtain the funds for the programme. This in combination with strong stakeholder engagement so that regulators and local authorities understand the purpose of the RPF and the added value it provides, ensures buy-in. The independent evaluation with each round further impresses the importance of the programme and disseminates lessons learned from it.

Each project requires a significant time commitment to understand and identify barriers to innovation, to bid, undertake an RPF project, evaluate, learn from previous work and disseminate learnings.

These aspects and the motivation to remove the barriers to innovation and help businesses get innovative products and services to market, are key to the success of the RPF.


Regulation can be seen as a barrier to innovation, this is why programmes like the RPF are key to showing regulation can keep pace with innovation and enable it. As well as international interest in the RPF model, we are aware of 3 international schemes that bear some similarities to RPF, but with lower levels of funding and a narrower focus on sandboxing. This view of regulation being a barrier is not unique to the UK, all governments have potential to increase business and consumer confidence in regulation. For this, schemes like the RPF where funding is used as an incentive are ideal.

To successfully replicate the RPF the following conditions are required:

  • A scheme that emphasises collaboration
  • Supportive governance
  • Sector wide expertise and an appetite for innovation
  • Ring fenced targeted funding
  • Eagerness to continuously improve and disseminate lessons learned

At project level there is potential to scale up and spread best practice including, internationally.

Lessons Learned

From the initial conception of the RPF we tested the value of such a fund with stakeholders. This and constantly incorporating lessons learned was vital to ensuring that the fund with each iteration was adapting, improving and achieving overall aims for both Government and stakeholders. It showed that Government was taking a supportive role giving stakeholders the freedom to innovate without being overly prescriptive and supporting delivery.

Without the RPF funding, a lot of projects would not have happened and those that would have happened, would not have had such an emphasis on collaboration. Collaboration was key to the success of RPF projects and this increased collaboration is expected to continue past the duration of the RPF projects. In addition to this, the flexible funding of the RPF helped free up resource to innovate, both within regulator and local authorities and amongst their stakeholders.

Anything Else?

One example of an RPF project is the CAA’s to establish a test and approval regime for crash-protected containers. In 2021, the CAA’s Innovation Hub identified compelling use cases for drones carrying ‘dangerous goods’, such as the distribution of high-value chemotherapy drugs within minutes instead of hours.. As the CAA relies on income from charges levied on the airline industry but not on drone operators, there is no expectation from airlines that these funds should be invested in areas that have no impact on them.

RPF funding allowed the CAA to dedicate time to an innovative and collaborative project with the industry. The CAA made a significant achievement for their industry through successfully producing the world’s first test procedure for crash protected containers which will allow drones to carry sensitive or dangerous goods such as medical products to remote areas.

A link to further information on the breadth of projects RPF covers is in the link section.


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

20 January 2023

Join our community:

It only takes a few minutes to complete the form and share your project.