Homologation Special! Regulation *can* Drive Innovation.

But, it depends… Whether or not a regulation process (including inspection, audit and any other ‘control’ method you can think of) actually ‘drives’ innovation depends on a lot of things. For me, the biggest influence is ‘purpose’.

If your main purpose is to ‘enforce’ compliance with clearly defined rules or standards it could be a challenge. The challenge will be even harder if you’ve got a ‘sanctions’ mindset, “catch the guilty and punish them…” (said with wide staring eyes and a little bit of spittle… you know them!); the ‘Cruel by Fair’ dogma, applied by the Spanish Inquisition characters of Monty Python sketches. I touched on it in this post Regulation, Inspection and Audit. It really, really shouldn’t hurt…

What is Homologation? In it’s strictest sense homologation is simply about a set of rules (or standards) that describe how something should be done. The homologation process means that you comply with the rules, or meet the standards, and you are now approved to do whatever it is they apply to. It comes from the ancient Greek homologeo, “to agree”, apparently.

It’s not a word commonly used much outside of sport as far as I can see, but it is useful. I particularly like an explanation around the use of Climbing Walls. There is a homologation requirement for representatives of the International Federation of Sport Climbing to approve climbing walls before events. If you’ve every seen or used a modern climbing wall you’ll probably understand why that is necessary.

And what’s it got to do with innovation? This is where things get a bit sketchy. There’s a lot of discussion around vehicles designed for racing being approved (homologated) for use on the Public Highway (everyday roads). But I don’t want to go there.

What I would like to steer you towards is a conversation around homologation and innovation in Formula 1 (F1). A while back I met some engineers (post here) who were very excited about homologation as the main driver of innovation in F1. The way they described it to me was along the lines of:

  • The Regulatory Body establishes a set of rules (tick)
  • They enforce those rules and everyone complies (tick)
  • Failure to comply (or cheating) gets you sanctioned (tick)
  • It all gets a bit boring.
  • All the competitors have designed engineering solutions up to the limit of the rules.
  • Everyone goes as fast as everyone else and there is virtually no difference between what the cars do on the circuit.
  • The Regulatory Body changes the homologation process (the rules).
  • This might be as technical as the ratio of how much energy needs to be used from batteries compared to petrol engines.
  • There’s a scramble to develop new solutions (innovation) that comply with the new rules (tick)
  • New engineering methods are routinely used on the racing cars (tick)
  • The Regulatory body enforce those rules and everyone complies (tick)
  • It all gets a bit boring.

Forced Innovation. The big point I wanted to make is that the Regulatory Body has deliberately forced (driven) innovation by changing the rules. The people on the receiving end of the change ‘rise to the challenge’ and come up with innovative solutions. In fact, the engineers I spoke to positively looked forward to Homologation changes. It’s what made F1 ‘interesting’ for them.

It Takes Two to Tango. The other point I wanted to make is for this approach to work, it needs both parties to take place in the ‘dance’, enthusiastically. A while back I wrote that ‘Regulation is a Social Process. A Contact Sport… People Doing Things With Other People.’ It was based upon a review of the Health Regulator in England, the Care Quality Commission, carried out by the Kings Fund and Manchester University. The point that relationships absolutely matter, for me stands out in that report. If your ‘purpose’ is to do more than just ‘hold to account’ and ‘catch and punish’; you really need to work on the relationships. It does after all take Two to Tango.

I did ask Twitter if there were any examples of ‘homologation, by another name (thread here) and I was pleasantly surprised by what I learned:

  • Building Standards – setting higher standards for things like thermal efficiency delivering warmer homes via @epistatcadarn
  • Health Care – changing the targets for things like waiting times led to local innovations via @joyfurnival
  • Cycling – differing views on how it would be useful versus avoiding giving advantage to people with better bikes via @Point1Athletic and @DyfrigWilliams
  • Sport Funding – changing criteria to encourage gender parity on governing bodies via @REDavidKnight

What this has made me realise is that there is already plenty going on in the world of homologation. Regulation being used to ‘force’ innovation (and improvement). To misquote William M. Gibson, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed”

Regulation *can* Drive Innovation. Getting back to where this post started I think Regulation can dive innovation, but it always ‘depends’ on a number of things. For me, ‘purpose’ matters most. The future might be already here, but the willingness to use the ‘power’ of regulation for the purpose of supporting innovation is a choice and habit. And like lots of habits, the more you practice it the easier it becomes…

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Regulation has a big impact upon what people and organisations actually do.
  2. Changing the ‘rules’ can force (or encourage) people to do different things like innovation,
  3. ‘Purpose’ and how regulators approach this challenge is important. The impact can be as stark as ‘opening things up’ or ‘closing them down’.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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