“It's not what you see but what you hear…”: understanding environment protection officers' responsive decision making

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Responsive regulation asserts that regulatory enforcement actions are likely to be more effective in promoting compliance when they respond to a duty holder's motives, capabilities, and external pressures. However, operationalizing responsive approaches that also possess qualities of consistency and transparency remains a challenge for environmental management authorities. This study applied a mixed-method qualitative approach to capture the responsive decision making influences on government environment protection officers in a field context when engaging with different duty holders. These insights then informed compliance narratives across a series of business behavior segments to guide more consistent, transparent and responsive decision making among environment protection officers. Our findings revealed how different constellations of observations, interactions and displays of willingness and ability impact the choice of regulatory responses. Challenges encountered in applying responsive regulation in practice involved difficulties ascertaining business capability, identifying causal links between response strategies and compliance outcomes, and how the use of discretion can impact on consistent and transparent decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110336
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2020


  • Behavior change
  • Compliance
  • Environment protection officers
  • Responsive regulation

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