Traditional ways of regulating are not able to keep pace with technological disruption, shifting sectoral boundaries, new types of problems and the opportunities innovation can bring. The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee set up the UK Government that identifies the implications of technological innovation, and provides government with impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support its rapid and safe introduction.
In 2019, the UK Government published a paper on "Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution". The paper recognised the need to reshape the UK's regulatory approach so that it supports and stimulates innovation that benefits citizens and the economy and recommended setting up the Regulatory Horizons Council to act as an independent expert committee and supported by Government officials.
In 2 years, the Council has delivered four reports on regulatory reform in its first year (fusion energy, medical devices, genetic technologies and drones). In 2022, we have produced our first crosscutting report on "closing the gap" between regulatory principles and practice on regulating new and emerging technology. By the end of the year, we will be producing reports on AI as a medical device, neurotechnology, and hydrogen in maritime.
Firstly, we work with a wide range of subject matter experts and non-experts (often around 50 per project). This will include other government departments, academics, SMEs, venture capitalists, civil society groups, regulators, and international stakeholders.
- For example, in partnership with the Royal Society, the national academy of sciences in the UK, we hosted a workshop on public attitudes on neurotechnology and engaged with patient groups on their views on AI as a medical device.
- We also engage internationally with not just the usual suspects in the developed world, but recognising innovation happens across the world, we engaged with counterparts in countries as far and diverse as Rwanda, Ukraine, Argentina on their approach to regulatory reform for drones and genetic technologies and what the UK could learn.
Secondly, it is not enough for us to explore regulation on exciting innovative technologies. We aspire to be innovative and work with others in how we arrive at our conclusions.
- We embrace innovative approaches like horizon scanning and futures techniques in our work (e.g. we commissioned an external consultant to help us use the "7 Questions" technique for a report).
- We also catalogue and hold sessions on innovative policy tools, and we’re always planning to use more (like backcasting and hackathons). For example, we ran a Red Teaming session in our team to test our approach to stakeholder engagement and policy options.
- We also aim to take an agile approach to policy making (we were chosen to present on this at a 2021 event for UK Civil Servants) and have in-depth retrospectives on what works well and not and we publish the findings on our website for transparency. Retrospectives are a tool typically found within Agile software projects and involve a team looking back on its work to understand how to improve its processes and delivery in the future.
- We employ a wide range of evidence and have published an evidence framework.
Impact so far: While our reports encapsulate our evidence gathering and conclusions, the ultimate litmus test is the ability for the Council to influence and enact change. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has accepted the Council's recommendations on fusion energy and the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association welcomed the report. He said: “The rest of the world should take note, this report shows how the U.K. intends to lead on commercializing fusion energy". The Council is working with other UK Government Departments to respond to the other reports. Other feedback on the RHC so far include some select quotes below:
- "It certainly was a success in how it engaged with the community"
- "Very engaged, transparent process".
- "They balanced the engagement process with NGOs and all the other kinds of pressure groups. We had a whole range of people."
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Regulatory Horizons Council is an innovative venture in response to the lack of systematic overview and capacity of regulators and Government departments to consider the regulatory implications of emerging technologies in a timely manner to enable innovation and to capitalise on socio-economic and environmental opportunities.
Furthermore, the Council is innovative not just in the 'what' it focuses on but also the how. It aims to embrace innovative tools and methods in engaging stakeholders, generating recommendations, undertaking monitoring and evaluation. This is outlined in more detail in 'innovation summary'.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Council has undertaken two rounds of reports and have published our evaluation findings on our website (a mixture of qualitative interviews and findings from our team retrospective where we discussed what went well, what less went well, and what we have learnt.
We are now refining our approach to how we select priorities for our next programme of work and establishing a monitoring and evaluation framework to monitor progress on our recommendations and the impact of them.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The establishment of the RHC was as a result of a recommendation from the Government Paper on the Regulation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a letter from the Council for Science and Technology which advises the UK Prime Minister on science and technology.
To inform its recommendations, the Council works with
- Government Officials
- Civil Society Organisations
- Businesses and Innovators
- International organisations
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Sometimes, Government officials/regulators have limited resource to focus on the regulatory implications of new and emerging technologies. For example, the Council was commissioned by the UK Cabinet Office and Deputy National Security Adviser to explore the regulatory approach the UK ought to take towards neurotechnology.
For companies, academics and NGOs, the Council has acted as an effective conduit to voice their views to Government and inform the Council's recommendations to Government.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- Evaluation of our first four reports have been published and this is based on interviews with stakeholders and a team retrospective. We are refining our evaluation approach for future work.
- The feedback was that the RHC's independence added credibility to its reports and recommendations and enabled external stakeholders to be frank on where Government or other key actors could do better.
- The interviews highlighted that the RHC stakeholder engagement was incredibly effective. The RHC were generally seen to have spoken and engaged with the right groups and the right people, and critically, balanced these engagements well
- Participants discussed how the reports have been able to stimulate a lot of thinking on the areas of emerging technology; often bringing forward timetables for government consultations, taking bold steps within the recommendations, and/or providing balanced views that are not afraid to go against the grain of existing work and thinking in the wider discours
Challenges and Failures
- Participants across the interviews noted that it was quite soon after publication to determine whether the RHC had been successful in enacting impact on the regulatory system.
- Resourcing challenges were encountered on the RHC’s deep dives though most interviewees appreciated this was unavoidable as there was a wider diversion of resources across government to focus on COVID-19.
- The work extensively engaged with a variety of stakeholders from each of the respective fields but there was discussion around the value of external assistance to develop reports. Going forward, we will consider formal or informal 'peer reviewers' or technical advisors' and partnering with organisations to deliver the project.
Conditions for Success
- Political will and passion for setting up a body but also an environment where the independence of the Committee to set its direction and develop its recommendation free from interference.
- Resources (both financial and human) is critical to ensure success. The team supporting the Council was lean to begin with and then with increased demand and awareness, the team has grown.
- Clarity on the purpose of the organisation is fundamental. Articulating the exam question of the organisation, how it is unique but also how it complements existing organisations is important.
There are multiple organisations within and outside the UK who have similar but not the quite same remit as the RHC (see examples below)
- Japan (Council on Investments for the Future);
- Sweden (Committee for Technological Innovation and Ethics, Komet);
- Singapore (Committee on the Future Economy)
- Canada (External Advisory Committee on Regulatory Competitiveness);
- UAE (Dubai Future Foundation)
The RHC has liaised closely with the Swedish body above with their respective Chairs attending and we have learnt from each other on how we address certain challenges . I have spoken to other countries in Europe and outside Europe interested in replicating the RHC.
- Conduct ‘pre mortems’ - Exercises that are run at the beginning of a project and consider everything that could possibly go wrong
- Maintain flexibility in processes - Be willing to change an approach, even if it has worked previously.
- Continue to nurture an atmosphere of support and constructive challenge - Encourage flat hierarchy and value opinions from the entire team.
- Improve information management - Implement more robust structures/databases for information and ensure that these are maintained over time.
- Develop processes for trialling new approaches - Build in defined time to project timelines for testing and reviewing.
- Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
- Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
24 January 2023