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Viewpoint: Right-touch reflections


Harry with the Authority's Chair George Jenkins at the event held on 19 September


In my 11 years at the professional Standards Authority I have had the privilege to work with many talented, opinionated and dedicated individuals. In that time people have, of course, come and gone, each leaving their mark and also taking something of our values and ideas with them to new places. A select few have stayed, as I have, bringing continuity to our approach to regulatory oversight and policy.

Colleagues catching up: Former Chair Baroness Pitkeathley catches up with one of the Authority's former scrutiny officers, Teena Chowdhury

HarrysLeavingDo-113We are a small organisation. Everyone is an expert in their own right and we are diverse in background and interests. So I have been thinking about what qualities we share, what brings us together and indeed what qualities might be characteristic of the best people in our regulatory field.

I’d like to suggest; curiosity, tenacity, scepticism and precision.

Let me start with the last because regulation is essentially a nerdy occupation; it requires attention to detail, it thrives on process, it loves rules, it resists change. Precision however does not mean pedantry but accuracy and a thorough commitment to facts.

This is where curiosity comes in. ‘An enquiring mind’, is a more lofty way of putting it but I’ve always preferred simple English. Curiosity wants to know, it pursues enquiry, it always asks another question. It’s not merely nosiness; it doesn’t seek information for its own sake but rather to find the truth.

Tenacity is the enabler of effective curiosity but also of the possibility to effect change. In social policy and law, which after all is what regulation is, tenacity is necessary to bring about change. Winning the argument is relatively easy; winning changes in behaviour let alone in government policy or law is not. That is a long-term endeavour and without tenacity we will not succeed.

But why scepticism? Quite simply because when I first came into regulation I found a complacent somewhat self-regarding world. Characteristics one might say that are not unknown to our royal colleges and learned societies of the Liberal Professions. I found regulators who earnestly advised their registrants to reflect on their practice, while themselves reflecting very little on what they did or why.

‘Why do we do it like this?’, indeed, ‘Why do we do it at all?’ were the  questions that came to my mind when I encountered professional regulation for the first time. Many, many colleagues here at the Authority and in regulators around the world have helped shape some answers to those questions and some alternative ways of thinking and acting as regulators.

In leadership programmes they go on a lot about vision and values. I sometimes do myself. But vision and values are pointless without the curiosity, scepticism, tenacity, precision and simple hard work to put them into practice.

I leave the Professional Standards Authority as I started, with many unanswered questions and full of curiosity as to what happens next.

More photos from the 19 September celebration