Ex post evaluation

All laws are experiments to some extent – there are often uncertainties about how regulations might actually affect citizens and businesses in practice. Ex post evaluation helps to assess whether laws are working as originally intended and, if not, to propose improvements. Evaluations can highlight unforeseen technological and other changes that may render laws ineffective. Left unchecked, the stock of laws will continue to grow unabated creating unnecessary red tape for citizens and businesses. Evaluations also operate as an important check to ensure that laws are still justified and in the public interest. In turn, this helps to build community support for laws and boost trust in government action as it increases the level of transparency and accountability.

Levels of evaluations across OECD countries remains low despite their importance in ensuring that regulations continue to improve societal wellbeing. Only one-third of OECD countries have systematic requirements in place to conduct ex post evaluations, with the number essentially unchanged since 2014. This represents a significant weakness as committed leadership is crucial to a well-functioning ex post evaluation system. To some extent this is unsurprising – governments are often concerned about the political and economic consequences of being shown to have made “bad” decisions previously. Yet this is an unduly narrow view of the benefits that a sound evaluation system provides. Evaluations may incidentally provide opportunities to learn from past mistakes, but this is in order to avoid repeating them, rather than to enter into some sort of “blame game”. Evaluations should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance the certainty and stability of the existing regulatory framework, foster greater competitiveness, and improve wellbeing.

Ensuring that planned evaluations actually take place is an important first step to overcoming a “set and forget” mentality that still persists in many countries. Only a handful of OECD countries have mechanisms to ensure that there are consequences if planned evaluations do not actually take place, such as public reporting on non-compliance (Figure 7.6). Cultural change is required to better appreciate that evaluations are an integral part of a system that assists to deliver good outcomes to its citizens.

Assessing whether regulations have achieved their objectives ought to be at the heart of any evaluation. It is critical to learn if laws have worked as originally intended, and if not, to understand the reason or reasons why not. Results from the iREG survey show that more than 40 per cent of OECD countries are required to identify a process to assess progress in achieving a regulation’s goals at the time when it is first developed. However, OECD countries are less likely to have requirements in place when conducting evaluations to assess whether the underlying policy goals were in fact achieved (Table 7.7). This represents a missed opportunity to learn whether laws are delivering good outcomes in practice for citizens and businesses.

Further reading

OECD (forthcoming), Regulatory Policy Outlook 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2020), Reviewing the Stock of Regulation, OECD Best Practice Principles for Regulatory Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1a8f33bc-en.

OECD (2014), OECD Framework for Regulatory Policy Evaluation, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264214453-en.

Figure note

7.6. and 7.7. Data include Costa Rica and the European Union.

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