North of the Border: Regulatory Experimentation

On a cold, snowy day in late November, I joined more than 500 people in Ottawa for Day One of the Community of Federal Regulators (CFR) 2018 annual conference. “Agile Regulation: Ensuring Safety + Enabling Innovation” was an extraordinary event - a two-day conference to promote modernization of Canada’s regulatory system.

Emerging Technologies and Regulatory Innovation

Senior government officials, legal and regulatory experts, and consultants from Canada, the US, UK and Zambia were alternately insightful and provocative about how regulators might change their ways in balancing safety with economic and social good amidst a revolution in emerging technologies.

Day One’s high point was provided by Dominic Barton, Senior Partner and Global Managing Partner Emeritus, McKinsey & Company, and Chair of Canada’s Advisory Council On Economic Growth. Barton’s keynote speech, “Accelerating Canada’s growth in an age of disruption,” was lively, informative and energizing.

Regulatory Experimentation Case Studies

Before lunch, I joined a case study panel on regulatory experimentation. Handing off the mike after opening comments, I spent the session furiously scribbling notes as my fellow speakers offered their observations and insights to an audience of nearly 150 people:

  • Patricia PledgeTreasury Board Secretariat of Canada. Patricia shared her research about regulatory sandboxes, highlighting opportunities and challenges while also providing a game plan for her Canadian colleagues.

  • Leigh Sharpington, UK Government’s Food Safety Agency. Leigh talked about his agency’s groundbreaking proof-of-concept using DLT/blockchain to improve traceability and transparency in the meat supply chain, specifically abattoir data and the slaughterhouse process. Witty and insightful, Leigh offered lots of information about the what, why and how of the agency’s POC, including lessons learned.

  • Hieu Vu, Health Canada. Hieu finished things off by sharing what he’s learned as a public servant driving innovation in the area of artificial intelligence. 

Regulatory Experimentation Workshop

In the afternoon, I led a workshop on regulatory experimentation. We started with tools and techniques regulators might use to identify target areas and experiment types.

General use technologies included AI/ML, AR/VR, IoT, DLT/blockchain, brain-machine interfaces, drones, nanotechnology, robotics, and 3D printing.

Sector-specific technologies ranged from CRISPR/gene editing, eHealth and regenerative medicine in health and life sciences; autonomous vehicles, smart traffic management, and predictive maintenance in transportation; synthetic biology, geo-engineering and smart dusts for the environment; and astro-mining, commercial space flight and small satellites/Cube sats for space.

Participants explored and shared how they might frame proposed regulatory experiments considering such factors as:

  • Evidentiary/scientific rigor (Low to high)

  • Risk of harm (Low to high)

  • Expected impact/outcomes (Tactical vs. strategic)

  • Other agency/jurisdiction impact (Yes/No)

  • Gating criteria (Merit/Competitive implications)

  • Time horizon (Months to years)

Back outside at day’s end, warmed by coat, scarf and gloves, I tipped my hat to CFR’s Executive Director Dhurata Ikonomi and her team for setting such a high bar for regulators across the globe.