Responsive regulation is about ‘tripartism’ in regulation. It highlights the limits of regulation as a transaction between the state and business. It argues that unless there is some third party (or a number of them) in the regulatory game, regulation will be captured and corrupted by money power.

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Responsive regulation involves listening to multiple stakeholders and making a deliberative and flexible (responsive) choice from regulatory strategies that can be conceptually arranged in a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are more frequently used strategies of first choice that are less coercive, less interventionist, and cheaper.

Below are some examples of responsive regulatory pyramids. There is a presumption for trying the strategies lower in the pyramid until they fail. Then the weaknesses of these strategies might be covered by the strengths of strategies higher up the pyramid. Signaling to stakeholders the capacity to escalate to ‘the tough stuff’ higher up the pyramid motivates cooperative problem solving at the base of the pyramid:

Assumption pyramid

An Australian nursing home enforcement pyramid

Australian nursing home regulation pyramid from the 1980s.

Australian Office of Transport safety responsive regulatory philosophy

Australian Office of Transport Safety Responsive Regulatory Philosophy. Note: TSPs are Transport Safety Plans.

The essence of responsive regulation (J.Braithwaite 2011, UBC Law Review 44(3), 475-520) describes why the flexible listening components of responsive regulation are more fundamental than the pyramid.

Over time we realized it was important not only to pick problems and fix them but also to pick strengths and expand them. For example, industry leaders take self-regulation up through new ceilings and then drag laggards up toward their standards. So we complemented the pyramid of sanctions with pyramids of supports. This example is for pharmaceuticals regulation:


The South Australian Environmental Protection Agency has simplified this idea elegantly for its regulatory strategy:


Because poor countries struggle to escalate state regulation against powerful corporations, the next move was then to a pyramid of networked escalation. Peter Drahos’s influence on the development of this pyramid is discussed in J. Braithwaite, “Responsive Regulation and Developing Economies”, World Development, 34(5), 2006, 884-898:

Pyramid of networked escalation

Pyramid of networked escalation

Recent publications provide evidence that responsive regulation is effective and include:

The following books developed the ideas of responsive regulation in the early years. Only after Ian Ayres joined us was ‘responsive regulation’ used to describe this work:


The following books are extended applications and refinements of responsive regulation: