“Times They Are a Changing” Regulatory Foresight and Change Drivers

Authors: Paul De Civita, Andrew MacDonald, André Downs
Document Type: Policy at a Glance
Published Date: Friday, April 1, 2011 - 4:00am
ISBN number: PH4-85/2011E-PDF, 978-1-100-18783-9


The future holds multitude unknowns for regulatory departments and agencies. What are the issues, challenges, and threats that need to be addressed in the coming months and years?  Is it possible to prepare and plan for such uncertainties?  While some regulatory interventions are unanticipated and required on an urgent basis, others may at least allow for a degree of preparedness that may be developed through the practice of regulatory foresight.

While regulatory foresight will not predict the future, the practice employs a set of tools that assist in systematically considering and exploring credible futures. The purpose of regulatory foresight is to develop a better understanding of emerging issues, the implications for existing regulations, and the requirements for new regulations. Foresight can assist regulators in several ways, particularly by:

  • Reducing the frequency of crisis-mode reactions to situations;
  • Allowing faster reactions to changing situations, which reduces the cost of change to Canadian society;
  • Setting priorities earlier, which leads to more effective use of government resources;
  • Preparing government for change and reducing resistance when change is needed;
  • Allowing more time for discussion and debate of key issues; and
  • Reducing regulatory failures by adjusting regulations more quickly to new situations.

Policy Horizons Canada has developed capacity in the practice of foresight and conducted an initial regulatory scan to identify significant “drivers” of regulatory change.  Identified drivers include:

  • increasing reliance on regulation as a means to effect behavioural change;
  • growing movement toward common global regulatory governance; and,
  • increasing power among a modern class of activists who forego traditional politics to change practices of economic agents.

Do we need a more comprehensive scanning exercise that can identify some areas of current regulation that are at increasing risk of failure due to changing social, demographic, economic, and technological factors, and, propose some directions for those regulatory areas to reduce the risks of failure?1


  1. A Policy Brief prepared by Policy Horizons Canada begins presents an original regulatory scan to explore the potential of foresight and scanning practices.