At a CSIA organised event last Wednesday, an impressive, confident and undeterred woman stands at a podium in front of 70 or more people from the community services industry. Everyone is quiet and eager to hear what she’s going to say about rethinking regulation in Human Services, and if – in fact –  it’s truly even possible.

Liz Forsyth – Global Lead, Human Services and Deputy Chair, KPMG Australia – is a matter-of-fact woman who does not hold back in making sure every single person in the room knows that the need to change the approach to quality assurance in this industry is really not up for discussion… consumers are already controlling this story.

“This will all be taken out of your hands by consumers,” Liz states without doubt.  

“The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a perfect example of this in that we already have a dialogue happening in social media about providers, and about which providers do a good job and which providers don’t do a good job.

“We know across Australia we have a multiple series of innovation labs, start-ups and other organisations setting up the Disabilities’ trip advisor.

“There’s a process government and industry want to go through [for quality and safeguard measures] but the reality is its being taken away from you at quite a rapid rate.

“This is one of those ones you’ve got to gallop to rather than pace it slowly. And the reason you’ve got to gallop to it is there will not be a single source of truth about quality of services.

“And the question you have to think about is what is the implication for vulnerable people that are making decisions with their purchasing power, with information that may not be rigorous or robust, and we need Government or industry in the marketplace with an authorising environment providing a source of truth to help influence and shape the decision-making.”

But quality assurance is only one aspect of regulation in community services, and the room is full of people intently listening for some sort of how-to-guide as Liz positively declares that there is a way and means of doing all this and that it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

The good news was that she did in fact come to the party with the goods in tow.

Here’s what she suggests we do to improve regulation in community services:

  • Fully map the current regulatory arrangements
  • Understand and agree on the risks that have to be managed
  • Rethink the roles of the consumer, the industry and the various levels of governments
  • Focus on co-design that includes consumers in the design process
  • Separate regulation from funding
  • Think about what else could be done to incentivise and shift performance before we regulate
  • Build a differentiated regulatory model rather than a one-size-fits-all approach

When it comes to the future of regulation itself, Liz provides the following guidance:

  • It should be streamlined and simple
  • It should be evidence based (i.e. it works)
  • We need to focus on outcomes (what it’s intended to deliver)
  • We need to be collaborative in a way that involves all parties to the regulatory equation
  • We need to be able to measure the impact 
  • It needs to be responsive and reciprocal (meaning that it actually works with other regulatory regimes)
  • We need to think about behavioural economics.                                                      

And Liz’s final comment on how we do this is to build a strawman.

“You could pick an area where you have radical reform afoot – and radical changes of which there’s industry interest – to start rethinking the regulatory context,” she said.

“Even if you did it as a strawman, so that you do it for proof of concept rather than simply to immediately implement. So at least you’ve got another way of providing a very concrete example back to the decision makers that hopefully opens the gate to get this issue on the table.”

Belinda Drew, CSIA CEO, said Liz Forsyth was spot on and that as industry approaches government, it’s got to come to the table with a more comprehensive and mature view of itself.

“We’ve got to engage the agenda and rethink. We need to be in control instead of waiting for people to tell us what to do,” Belinda said.

“This is a structural transition and lots of industries go through it but they get investment to assist.

“I think our future strength comes from revisiting mission and the people we support.”

Leigh Roach, Deputy Director-General of Strategy, Engagement and Innovation at the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, was also speaking at the event held on Wednesday 17 August, 2016.

Ms Roach said: “It’s a balancing act between the role of government, the user and industry.”

“Most government departments are just starting the journey we take to improve the regulatory environment. With the current review of the Child Protection Act there is a classic opportunity for us to think differently about regulation.”

Anyone seeking more detailed information on the suggestions from Liz Forsyth and KPMG can find their full publication, Unleashing Value: Rethinking Regulation in the Human Services Sector, by clicking the button below.