Self-regulation needs critical eye

Heinrich Winter

‘We simply cannot guarantee quality without self-regulation and accreditation,’ says Heinrich Winter, professor of Public Administration at the University of Groningen and co-director of research and consultancy firm Pro Facto. Nevertheless, it is crucial to critically measure each other on a regular basis. The tragic accidents with ships from the brown fleet were a wake-up call in that regard.

Self-regulation puts responsibility where it belongs

‘The primarily responsible parties for the quality and safety of products and services are the providers thereof,’ Winter says ‘That is fundamental to the system of self-regulation and accreditation. Without this system, the government would have to supervise many activities of a large number of companies. It does not have the capacity for this, nor does it always have the substantive knowledge, while this is present in the sector itself.’

Supervision and self-reflection

Winter does however state that supervision of the functioning of the system of self-regulation is necessary. ‘The Dutch Safety Board concluded in its report that the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate has conducted too little government supervision of the safety of the brown fleet and has given it too little priority.’ The RvA also believes that in the supervision of self-regulation, all parties in the quality infrastructure must be and remain critical, including towards themselves. The RvA is therefore taking the results of the report into account and actively participating in the administrative task force initiated by the Minister, so that passengers will soon be able to board with peace of mind.

Winter believes that if you, as a supervisor or certification body, wish to continue to serve the public interest, you should recalibrate your own working method at regular intervals. ‘Are you doing everything you can to guarantee quality and safety? Take a close look at your own working method, discuss it critically with employees and keep things alive. Are the quality systems still in line with innovations and developments? That’s something you can investigate in dialogue with the sector itself, because that’s where the knowledge is.’

Public interest in the hands of private companies

‘The government places public interests such as safety and quality in the hands of private certification bodies. But it can’t then just sit back. The government must use audits, random checks and interviews to verify whether certified products and services actually meet the standards.’

During a meeting with the RvA and directors of certification bodies concerning self-regulation, it became clear that they attach great importance to the public interest. They said plainly: ‘We are committed to quality. There can be no trade-off between commercial opportunities and the quality we deliver.’ And if the top communicates it in this way, it will have an effect on the organisation. The directors are also positive about the government and journalists looking over their shoulders. Because that serves the public interest.’

“It is the role of the RvA to maintain energy in the system of self-regulation and accreditation”

The system works by the grace of trust and a critical eye

‘The system of self-regulation works by the grace of trust,’ says Winter. If a certificate doesn’t give the public confidence, then there is no value in companies getting certified. And if the government does not have confidence in certification and accreditation, it will have to organise the supervision of quality and safety differently. It is therefore also in the interest of the certification bodies to keep the quality of the system high. In my view, the role of the RvA is to maintain energy in the system of self-regulation and accreditation, so that it remains a living and alert system. By conducting critical yet constructive discussions with certification bodies, for example. Because if we stay alert, the system of self-regulation and accreditation is of great value.’

About Heinrich Winter

Heinrich Winter is professor of Public Administration at the University of Groningen and co-director of research and consultancy firm Pro Facto. He specialises in supervision and enforcement, administrative evaluation and organisational research and general administrative law.

On the invitation of the RvA, Winter discussed the topic of ‘public interest’ during a meeting with directors of certification bodies.

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