Conversations create knowledge and help manage risks

Regulations capture knowledge at a point in time

Intensive research and analysis contribute to the substantial body of knowledge that’s developed when creating or updating regulation. It involves ideas, trade offs, drafting and revising documents – for months or, more likely, years. The resulting legislation, regulations, policies, standards and programs capture all of this distilled knowledge at a point in time. But this is just the beginning …

Risks evolve faster than rules

Issues shift and risks change. Moving forward, there are endless uncertainties about the future. It doesn’t help that rules are static.

New technologies create the need for new rules

Internet technologies have created significant opportunities and challenges for citizens, businesses and many regulators. Regulators must now deal with the growing “Internet list of bad behaviours”: piracy of intellectual property, an explosion of pornography, cyber-racism, spam, cyber-bullying, and gambling.

Even the positive opportunities created by Internet technologies present challenges for regulators of telecommunication and media companies.

Plus there are many other areas where regulators are playing catch up. The private sector is investing billions in nanotechnology to transform products in spectacular ways: cosmetics that promise to make skin look younger; paint that repels hospital super bugs; dressings for burn victims that don’t need to be changed. We also have genetically engineered crops that resist pests and animals engineered for leaner meat. However, scientists are raising concerns about the risks to human health and the environment. To stay on top of emerging issues, regulators need new ways of gathering information and generating knowledge on an ongoing basis.

Regulators need a better way to have conversations with stakeholders

People on the front lines know what’s going on and regulators can tap into that. What we need are ongoing conversations like the “continual input” that Felix Kloman talks about in the February 2007 issue of Risk Management Reports. He is proposing that organizations have open risk assessment websites that invite stakeholders to add comments and data. (His comments are in the Riskipedia topic, which is covered in the Feb. issue.) This would both provide information to those who can learn from it and use it, and stimulate continual input to improve the understanding of risk factors.

How can we keep the conversations going?

The strategy and technology to support continual conversations exist. It’s a matter of applying these to the regulatory setting:

  • Blogs allow people to share ideas and opinions
  • Online forums enable Q & As, suggestions and comments
  • Wikis support the ongoing development of software and much more

Here’s how regulators can embrace these proven techniques

  • First, realize that knowledge sharing and development is a human issue, not a technology issue. Knowledge resides in people. Though some may not be ready to interact online, many are, and the next generation of regulatees is totally conversant with technology.
  • Technology is an enabler – it supports conversations any time, any place. With it, you can reach out to many stakeholders that you might not reach any other way.
  • Next, start the real work. Determine your objectives and the methods, structures and systems to achieve the desired results:

* What – topics and questions
* Who – the stakehoders you want to engage
* How – moderating conversations and capturing knowledge

The era of the websites built solely on the idea of pushing information out, but not receiving it, is ending. Take a close look at new technologies that enable conversations and knowledge development. Regulators have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the constantly changing issues so they can manage the risks that really matter.

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