Many regulators aim to be data-savvy, focused on the key risks or harms, and be outcomes oriented. But let’s face it, putting this into practice isn’t always a walk in the park. Data can be spread across multiple systems, including paper-based forms, emails and individual spreadsheets. It can be unreliable, difficult to extract in real time, to identify trends, to dig into specific cases, or to identify bottlenecks.

One big step toward better performance is having solid reporting systems in place. As the Australian National Audit Office pointed out:

A solid performance management framework is key for a regulator's effectiveness. It's not just about managing the agency internally but also showing stakeholders that we're following the rules, doing things efficiently, and getting the outcomes we want (2014, p.27).

In this post, let's dig into the main things that make regulatory reporting top-notch, split into five key parts:

Relevant and Quick to Respond

    To provide effective and efficient reporting, we need to know what decisions matter most in our organization. This means engaging with decision-makers at all levels to make sure the data we collect and how we present it is actually helpful and seen as a strategic asset for the organisation and used for the greatest impact.

    An ideal reporting system is supported by a developed information collections approach, which lets us pull out different levels of data and information to create actionable insights for strategic, operational, and tactical decisions. A monitoring and evaluation focus will help determine how effective we have been and identify areas for improvement. And it should allow us to export data to other analytical tools, like Power BI or Tableau.

    Getting it Right

      Accuracy is at the heart of effective reporting. It’s essential to make sure data is well-integrated, well-governed, and well-managed, this reduces the potential for fragmentation and duplication. Re-entering data when field staff get back into the office not only wastes time, it makes errors more likely. And, it's not just about numbers matching; it is about having the ability to draw meaning from the data and use it to support decision making.

      To keep things accurate and increase data quality, we need clear standards and guidelines for data entry and reporting. Data governance needs to include good data entry standards and business rules. Without that, data may be entered in several different ways and the effort required to cleanse that data will increase. That means defining what data we're collecting, why we are collecting it and how it will be used. Using tech tools like automated checks and real-time reporting can up our accuracy game.

      Teamwork and Sharing

        Working well together and sharing information and insights across different parts of a regulator is key to seeing the big picture. We might have data from our own licence approvals, inspections, plus insights and information from public complaints, outside audits, and reports from the businesses we regulate. Bringing all this together helps us spot issues and trends early on, but sometimes, data is scattered across different systems or even spreadsheets. Our survey found that only 18 per cent of respondents had an integrated licensing and inspection/investigations management system – but more than half of the rest were planning or considering such a system.

        Ideally, we should also team up with other regulators for data and information exchange. For example, agencies like WorkSafe Victoria and Energy Safe Victoria coordinate inspections during solar panel installations, using data from Solar Victoria to know when and where things are happening.

        Keep it Timely

          Being on time with our reports is super important. Systems that automatically schedule follow up actions reduces the risk that something will slip between the cracks. Systems that document processes, not only strengthen the consistency of decision making, but also highlight processing bottlenecks. And it means decision-makers get the latest information and insights they need to effectively prioritise and allocate resources and take action where needed.

          Using tech like data analytics and reporting tools can speed up the process, cut down errors, and keep things on schedule. This can be challenging to achieve, however it is possible. Agencies that are effectively utilising their data often have an organisational commitment to invest in new tools that aim at increasing productivity - increasing efficiency and effectiveness and improved data literacy.

          Keep it Clear and Honest

          Transparency and accountability are the backbone of good reporting. Being transparent means sharing information openly, so everyone knows why we're making certain decisions. Accountability means taking responsibility for what we report and making sure it is accurate meeting the needs of privacy and confidentiality policies

          Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow is famous in regulatory circles for his simple advice:

          Pick important problems, fix them and tell everyone.

          Malcolm Sparrow

          Professor of the Practice of Public Management, Harvard University

          A good reporting system allows regulators to highlight what they have achieved. For example, Wage Inspectorate Victoria is able to use its reporting systems to produce an annual infographic to ‘tell everyone’ how they are performing in addressing the problems they are targeting.

          Regulators play a big role in keeping things transparent and honest by setting clear reporting rules, doing regular checks, and giving feedback. When we're open and honest, it builds trust with everyone involved and makes our regulatory world work better.

          To sum it up, great regulatory reporting means being responsive not reactive, understanding what is possible and what can be delivered, working as a team, being on time, and being transparent and accountable. By sticking to these basics and using tech to our advantage, we can boost the quality of our reporting, make our regulations stronger, and keep our markets fair and honest.