Week 18 —All About the Regulatory Sandbox

Scott McNaughton
4 min readJul 12, 2019


This past week has been a blur of activity at work. It’s been one of those weeks where you were busy and yet it’s hard to recall what you were busy with…probably because it was a lot of jumping from one task to another. I remember when I first joined government over 10 years ago, my first boss told me “it eventually isn’t busy”. Well over 10 years later and 6 jobs later, I’m still waiting for that “not busy” period to start.

Last week, I talked about Regulatory Experimentation At Scale which was my attempt at unpacking some initial thinking around how a model for regulatory experimentation could take place within the federal regulatory system. Since then, a lot of ideas have sprouted around regulatory experimentation work such as: more Rules as Code pilot projects, linking administrative data to regulatory data, the use of virtual reality and augmented reality to support inspector training and more. For better or worse, I’m finding myself informally building a portfolio of regulatory experimentation exploring many potential experiments beyond my current work on regulatory artificial intelligence and Rules as Code. As I unpacked last week, the space for Regulatory Experimentation is ripe though the way forward and how the different forces in the space come together remains unclear and in need of more thinking. In future weeks as I have time to unpack the concept of regulatory experimentation, I hope to offer more insight.

Regulatory Sandboxes — What are they?

Lately, the discussions I’ve had about regulatory experimentation have included the concept of regulatory sandboxes. What are regulatory sandboxes? Depending on who you ask, the definition of a regulatory sandbox varies greatly. Definitions range from “a space where regulators can work with companies to get products out to market faster” to “customized and attentive help to solve regulatory problems” to “co-development of regulations in an agile and responsive manner”.

In spite of multiple working definitions of regulatory sandboxes, there is a lot of interest in creating regulatory sandboxes with a few Departments working on setting one up. So where does that leave the question of what is a regulatory sandbox? Well, the answer isn’t so clear. But I am going to offer up a theory: one that draws upon my background in user experience design and service design. A regulatory department is a service delivery department. Let me repeat that. A regulatory department is a service delivery department.

Traditionally, a regulator will see their role as one of making rules and enforcing rules. Typically, this is built off an assumption that the role of the regulator is similar to police in the sense that a regulator is there to make sure no one breaks the rules and to punish those who do break the rules. I am proposing that regulators change how they seem themselves and see themselves as a service delivery department. Regulators provide an essential service: both to the parties they regulate and to Canadians in general. Ensuring the health and safety of Canadians while providing social license to companies (e.g. you are following the rules) is a valuable service.

If regulators see themselves as service providers, it starts changing the role of the regulator. The regulator is now prioritizing making it as easy as possible to be compliant; not through reducing the number of regulatory requirements or softening the rules but rather through service delivery improvements like making it easier to understand how to be compliant, making inspections more streamlined or offering more effective and faster to get licenses, permits or certificates.

So if the regulator needs to shift to become a service delivery agent first and foremost, what does that mean for the regulatory sandbox? I throw out the idea that the regulatory sandbox becomes a concierge service where regulated parties can seek on demand advice, support and guidance to encourage regulatory compliance. It becomes a concept that replaces informal advice (e.g. inspector shopping) with official designated regulatory navigators who help regulated parties move into compliance with personalized and customized help navigating the regulatory system.

If regulatory departments are committed to a shift to become service delivery organizations then the above definition of regulatory sandbox is one that could offer a new level of service to regulated parties.

AI Demonstrator Projects (Incorporation by Reference and Regulatory Evaluation Platform)

A short update on both projects this week.

Incorporation by Reference: A demo of the low fidelity prototype was provided to senior management. It’s a major milestone for the project. Soon real data will be populated and regulators will have a tool at their fingertips which streamlines a process that takes 1300 hours a year into a 1 hour task.

Regulatory Evaluation Platform: No major update on this file as we finalize procurement documentation.

Rebuilding the Public Service From The Ground Up: Week 5

The rules are no assumptions, no restrictions since we are rebuilding from the ground up.

Idea 5: Building Passes Work at Any Building

This week’s idea is a minor annoyance but I think speaks to some of the core trust issues the public service has with its employees. Why do I need to sign into every government building that isn’t my own Department? Understandably, I need to be signed in to access areas where secret files are kept as there would be no way for the security desk to know what level clearance I have. However, by virtue of having a government building pass you know I (at the very least) have a reliability clearance. So why do I need to sign into every building especially when accessing areas where secret files are not handled? Why can’t we trust that I’m a cool dude because the Canada School of Public Service does? So my proposal for this week is to eliminate the need for visitor’s passes for people who already have a government building pass from another Department.

Week 18 is in the books. See you next week!



Scott McNaughton

Working on public sector innovation one problem at a time. Found biking and hiking on weekends. Father of young baby… what is sleep?