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The Challenge of Interdisciplinarity in Compliance Scholarship

The Network’s first outing was at the Inaugural Conference of ComplianceNet in Irvine, California. ComplianceNet is working to create an interdisciplinary and international network of scholars on the broad topic of compliance. Its inaugural conference was a great success, with many interesting and novel papers being delivered by a huge cross section of disciplines, from Economics, Business and Management, to Political Science, to Law and Regulation. A vast array of topics and methods were also covered: from research with roots in quantitative methods, qualitative and mixed methods, and theoretical and practice based insights.

The CRN Co-ordinators, Dr Sara Drake and Dr Melanie Smith, each gave papers on the Regulatory challenges associated with Passenger Rights Regime in the EU, and the necessity of Mapping before Measuring the EU regulatory landscape respectively.

Dr Sara Drake
Dr Melanie Smith

Stand out papers included the Plenary papers of Eugene Soltes (Harvard) and Judith van Erp (Utrecht) tackling the design and utility of corporate compliance programs in the US and the Volkswagen Diesel Fraud using international relations theory respectively. Both tackled, in different ways, the necessity of measuring compliance in a meaningful way, and the importance of ‘buy in’ from those being regulated. Ryan Copus’ paper (Harvard) was not without controversy. Entitled ‘Detecting inconsistency in governance’, this paper presented some preliminary findings from an algorithm being built at Harvard which seeks to predict the outcome of judicial decisions on the basis on an amalgamated dataset from judicial panels (not individual judges) in a particular circuit. All areas of law were included in the dataset. This provided a febrile topic of debate, particularly with regard to the utility of a dataset which attempted to combine 3 judges and case them as one, and have no regard to the area of law being decided or any other qualitative measure of how judges make decisions and why.

Another notable paper was that of Paula Chadderton, (University of Canberra), assessing Money Laundering Regimes in Australia in which she drew on regulatory coherence theory, particularly the work of Sheehy and Feaver (2015) to construct an analysis of a regulatory issue and find a measure of effectiveness (the lining up of the operational problem – characterisation of problem – policy framing – regulatory approach – structure – substantive operation). This particular way of assessing effectiveness is especially relevant in the EU and our research since the problem and policy framing of that problem by the European Commission which has the right of legislative initiative can be out of line with the interests of the Member States and other stakeholders. Difficulties in compliance can follow from this lack of consensus at the beginning of the regulatory process. Framing disruption to airline travel as a consumer protection issue and conferring individual rights as opposed to a safety or efficiency concern has arguably had a significant impact on compliance by airlines with the EU Passenger Rights regime.

Melissa L. Rorie (University of Nevada) delivered an insightful paper on the use of ‘factorials’ or vignettes in the study of corporate compliance, using factorials not just for ex post evaluation but as part of the process of regulatory design. A theoretical paper on regulatory vagueness and its effects on regulatory compliance was also particular apt for the study of EU compliance given the often vagueness-by -necessity of its regulatory regimes, through instrument choice, legislative compromise or judicial pronouncement. There were many other excellent papers.

The cross-over with this CRN was immediately obvious, as were the obstacles to such interdisciplinarity. It was particularly interesting that the opening remarks by Benjamin Van Rooij (UCI Irvine) were aimed at tackling measurement and the requirement in this endeavour for interdisciplinarity. He acknowledged it was important to engage policy makers with the research (impact) but that first we must seek to tackle the problems of compliance using interdisciplinarity – that academics must first get their own house in order before taking findings to practitioners. Nonetheless it was interesting to note the resistance within the room to this idea – that sitting down with other disciplines, rather than those who already work in your area and know your language, was essential to solving compliance issues or that this should be the network’s main raison d’être. Impact of course is the main driving force of the utility of academic research by funding bodies and government agencies.

Interdisciplinarity is hard. Learning the paradigms of another discipline, being able to listen and translate what is being said, whether substantively or methodologically, so that your own research can be moved forward is of course academically challenging. Presenting at these conferences, where you may be told ‘this is old hat’ in discipline X can also be intimidating. But without this multi-discipline engagement a circular conversation can start to take place within a discipline where each new ‘insight’ merely builds on what has been said a thousand times before but doesn’t move on the research agenda in a meaningful manner. This is also the key reason that we started the CRN on ‘effective enforcement’. In order to provide solutions to policy makers who are concerned about non-compliance in their particular policy domain, scholars need to work together to learn the lessons from other disciplines.

An interdisciplinary panel: Law, Regulatory and Political Science Scholars

Dr Sara Drake, Prof. Judith van Erp, Dr Melanie Smith and Prof. Esther Versulis at ComplianceNet

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