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Here are the best books on inspection and regulation from a street-level, front line perspective. Our principle for selection is ‘the best books on inspection practice that will help street-level inspectors’. Click on the links below to view our choices for the best books on inspection and regulation.


Ayres, I. & Braithwaite, J. 1992. Responsive Regulation: Transcending the Deregulation Debate, New York, Oxford University Press.

This book was intended to transcend the binary debate on regulation. In this context regulation was a  ‘burden’ to business or, from the opposing point of view, a protection to consumers of regulated services. It brought together Braithwaite’s own experience as a regulator together with theoretical views on ‘tit for tat’, the enforcement pyramid and the role of public interest. A responsive approach is being aware and considerate of the particular situation, characteristics and environment of the firm/individual regulated. It has been a popular book with regulators because it provided a rationale as to possible strategies to adopt (see also our post on Right Touch Regulation)


Ayres, I. 2013. Responsive Regulation: A Co-Author’s Appreciation. Regulation & Governance, 7, 1, 145-151.

For a recent discussion by John Braithwaite on Responsive Regulation see:

Braithwaite, J. 2017. Chapter 7. Types of Responsiveness. In: Drahos, P. (ed.) Regulatory Theory: Foundations and Applications. Australian National University

Baldwin, R., Cave, M. & Lodge, M. 2010. The Oxford Handbook of Regulation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

This book is by academics for academics and describes the dominant concepts of socio-legal studies

Baldwin, R., Cave, M. & Lodge, M. 2012. Understanding Regulation : Theory, Strategy, and Practice, 2nd ed. , Oxford, Oxford University Press.

This second edition of Understanding Regulation is aimed at the academic marketplace intended for undergraduate and masters students. It is a comprehensive coverage of the major concepts of socio-legal studies.

Blanc, F. 2018. From Chasing Violations to Managing Risks: Origins, Challenges and Evolutions in Regulatory Inspections. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Florentin Blanc has worked for the World Bank and is now a senior policy analyst at the OECD.The author presents an evidence-based analysis of what works in regulatory inspections, what makes people change their behaviour and the factors that make people resistant to control and change. However, the author argues, although inspection is an essential element of successful regulatory delivery it remains neglected.

Discussion of inspection takes place without an understanding of what inspections actually are or how they function in practice and their impacts. Preconceptions abound analysis is scarce. (Blanc 2018, p.2).

Providing this analysis is the theme of the book. Over the last few decades inspection practice has been transformed. No longer is counting the number of violations or the number of inspections a valid measure of effectiveness – inspection strategies should be evaluated on the outcomes produced.

Utilising prominent international research on regulatory delivery and the authors experience of international inspection structures (World Bank and OECD) Blanc surveys the UK, France, Germany and Former Soviet Union States. He concludes that where countries have embraced risk-based inspection the evidence supports better outcomes. Effective Inspection is more than deterrence or burden but holds the potential to create trust and to reduce risks and hazards.

However, in regulation and inspection risk is a complex topic. Blanc summarises the relevant risk literature and identifies three types of risk used by regulators:

Probability of non-compliance with applicable regulations

Relevance of the type of establishment to a specific ‘risk type’, and

Combination of likelihood and potential magnitude of hazards, based on data analysis, experience and practical insights.

All three are in use by regulators but the most effective, he concludes, is risk as likelihood (probability) and potential severity of the hazard.

In a stimulating and readable analysis of the regulatory literature Blanc brings together the main perspectives on why firms comply. Discussing smart regulation, responsive regulation, problem-based regulation, procedural justice and ethical principles of regulation the case is made that successful inspection should be fair, include advice and be responsive to the values of those regulated.

It is not a textbook. The focused discussion sets out the evidence and rationale for improving inspection strategies. In doing so it provides sections on regulatory theory and international practice which surpass that available in most regulatory textbooks. You will find it a valuable addition to your university or work library. It is also available as an e-book.

Brady, J. & Brady, A. 2016. Regulation: Audit, Inspection, Standards and Risk – a Handbook for Street-Level Regulators, Second Edition, Ireland, Precepts Books

‘A splendid contribution’, John Braithwaite, Australian National University. ‘It is a very useful and distinctive contribution to the literature on regulation, a hands-on approach that will be of considerable value to front-line regulators’ Neil Gunningham, Australian National University

Unlike the other books in this section this is a practical guide for hands-on frontline staff. Written in an accessible style, this unique text contains comprehensive sections on Risk, Standards, Planning, Audit, Inspection and Improvement. The book provides a stage-by-stage guide to an inspection or audit using the model ‘Plan, Inspect and Improve’, stages designed to identify problems and to promote improvement. Any stage can be modified or removed dependent on the regulators environment. Authoritative and fully referenced, it is approximately 42000 words and available in paperback.

Coglianese, C. (ed.) 2016. Achieving Regulatory Excellence, Washington DC: Brookings Institution.

What makes a regulator best in class? What is regulatory excellence? A Panel of world-class academics were asked to answer these questions and their essays are within this edited volume. I liked the way there were so many different points of view and often essays one was particularly sympathetic with. The edited book is available but there is also a lot of information and freebies at the Penn Law website. Enjoy!

Drahos, P. (ed.) 2017. Regulatory Theory: Foundations and Applications: Australian National University.

This volume introduces readers to regulatory theory and includes chapters on the social-psychological foundations of regulation as well as theories of regulation such as responsive regulation, smart regulation and nodal governance. The book can be described accurately as ‘cutting edge’.

Each chapter introduces the reader to key concepts and ideas and contains suggestions for further reading.  You can  download  the  book  and  individual  chapters  here.

Gunningham, N., Grabosky, P. & Sinclair, D. 1998. Smart Regulation : Designing Environmental Policy Oxford, Oxford University Press.

At the heart of smart regulation is a series of regulatory design principles:

  • The desirability of complementary instrument mixes over single instrument approaches
  • The virtues of parsimony: why less interventionist measures should be preferred
  • The benefits of an escalating response up an instrument pyramid (utilising not only government, but also business and third parties)
  • Empowering third parties (both commercial and non-commercial) to act as surrogate regulators
  • Maximising opportunities for win–win outcomes and encouraging business to go ‘beyond compliance’ within existing legal requirements (adapted from Gunningham and Sinclair: 2017).

Gunningham, N. & Sinclair, D. 2017. 8. Smart Regulation. In: Drahos, P. (ed.) Regulatory Theory: Foundations and Applications. Australian National University

Lodge, M. & Wegrich, K. 2012. Managing Regulation: Regulatory Analysis, Politics and Policy, Palgrave Macmillan.

As the title suggests this book is for managers. It is a valuable tool for understanding regulatory strategy in the political and policy environment. Whilst the sources are academic they are arranged around problems such as – standards, regulatory failure, theories and enforcement, amongst others. While the book has a value to front line staff it does not deal with the everyday theories and practices of an inspection. Nevertheless, a useful tool for executive managers in inspection and regulation.

Sparrow, M. K. 2000. The Regulatory Craft: Controlling Risks, Solving Problems, and Managing Compliance, Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press.

The book is aimed at practitioners including managers. It is about meeting the risk challenges presented in any regulation mandate. Regulators should ‘pick important problems and fix them’. This notion leads on to a discussion of controlling resources and reporting results. Like Smart Regulation a mix of regulatory strategies is advocated.

Sparrow, M. K. 2008. The Character of Harms: Operational Challenges in Control, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Here Sparrow continues with the themes of Regulatory Craft but in more detail and depth. Again it is about fixing problems but risk and problem solving are given far more attention. An important concern is the institutional characteristics of regulation agencies which, he argues, are constructed around services and functions. Resources are consumed by the perceived priority of services leaving meeting risk and harm challenges under-resourced.

National Audit Office 2017. A Short Guide to Regulation, London, National Audit Office

This guide only looks at UK regulators but nevertheless has something to offer to a wider audience. Clear and pragmatic approach to defining regulation and its activities with a useful section on Brexit and Regulation – well illustrated with comprhensive details on major UK regulators. You can download it here.