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What is regulation science anyway? And how can you make it less boring?

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

I have a great new skill. I can put people to sleep within minutes. All I have to do is start talking about how much I love environmental regulation science. Like I really, really love it. I can see people zoning out, starting to fall asleep, so boring… but it really is my super-power to make sense of how science and regulation fit together.

Julia and I were talking about how regulation feels a lot like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. It is unknown, often talked about in a negative way, and has seemingly scary repercussions. Once you get to know it, however, regulation is more like the Wizard himself; initially big and bad, but full of illusion.

Regulation science is about bringing together scientific evidence and legislation. In the Wizard of Oz, the Wizard and Glenda really wanted Dorothy and her friends to find the evidence they need to achieve their goals. This is the same for regulation; bringing scientific evidence within a regulation to achieve a goal. You have a set of rules you need to follow (yellow brick road), an outcome you have to achieve (the removal of the Wicked Witch), you have something you want to achieve (a brain, a heart), and you use the science (using the winged monkeys to go back to the emerald city) to work out how to get there!

Regulation science for me is not boring at all, and I do a range of regulation science work. Sometimes my work is about helping people through legislation by providing evidence to achieve their goals. Other times I am doing technical research to provide evidence of new science in a regulatory context. Research can help people achieve a goal, to make a decision, or to update the regulation itself. Lately I have also been reviewing legislative barriers. This is about understanding why regulation, the science of an activity and what happens on the ground sometimes don’t fit together, and we provide potential solutions so people can achieve their goals.

One of my favourite projects has been helping an expanding waste recycling service to overcome a legislative barrier. The waste service had done a lot of research to demonstrate their process, product, and that they were minimising the potential for harm to the environment. When they tried to expand their business, they found they just couldn’t get traction. I reviewed the science they were undertaking, what was actually happening on the ground with the waste, and the legislative hierarchies in their jurisdiction. I found that there were a range of economic and legislative barriers that stopped them from being able to effectively use their jurisdiction’s waste hierarchy. Using this knowledge, I wrote a proposal on the opportunities to resolve some of these barriers. This is now under consideration by the jurisdiction.

To get back home, Dorothy had to follow a lot of strange rules in the Land of Oz. Yet follow them she did, and she worked out a way to achieve her goal. Sometimes it was scary or frustrating, but both her and her companions utilised the knowledge they had and learnt new things so that they could follow the rules and achieve what they wanted. Dorothy after all, just had to click her heels.

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