Threading the regulatory research maze

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Embracing Regulatory Research, the 2020 education meeting, will be held April 23–25 in Chicago. Look for registration information in late January!

Like a Classical Greek labyrinth, research is full of intricate passageways and blind alleys. Venturing into this maze will reveal ideas that lead to tantalizing places and ideas that lead to anticipated outcomes that support regulatory best practices.

Threading the regulatory research maze began at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Delegate Assembly. Jennifer Henkel, senior director of member services and strategic initiatives, and Jan Fitts, education and research senior manager, held focus groups at the Administrators Forum, the Board Member Exchange, and the Board of Directors meeting to ask attendees to help identify research topics that they thought would be most useful in helping them make board decisions. Focus group participants were asked to go broad—selecting all topics that looked interesting—and deep, prioritizing three areas. Henkel and Fitts invited participants to add topics that were not included. Henkel explained that she and Fitts, with help from Cara Sanner, regulatory support services coordinator, produced the list during a brainstorming session.

Henkel also asked participants what types of research they had relied on in the past when making board decisions. In the Board of Directors focus group, a few Board members mentioned gathering research related to licensing fees, complaints from consumers, types of violations and sanctions, and license eligibility when an applicant has a criminal history. In the Board Member Exchange focus group, participants also sought research about disciplinary sanctions, criminal history and license eligibility, and licensing fees. They shared other examples, such as research around supervision hours in Kentucky, public awareness about the importance of licensure for public protection in New Brunswick, and electronic practice in Oregon.

In the Administrators Forum, Kim Madsen of California shared that she gathered research on licensing laws across the United States when the board was developing its license portability legislation. Ruthie Bain said that research helped the Arkansas board make decisions related to licensing fees. Lucy Richards, administrator of the Montana board, brought up the need for research into license titles, which led to a discussion of expanding the research into other behavioral health professions for those administrators managing composite boards.

“The focus groups were narrative exercises that yielded qualitative data,” said Henkel. “Early in December we sent out a survey to capture quantitative data.” Staff will compile the results to share with the Board of Directors at its January meeting. At that time, the Board will sift through them to come up with the list of research priorities that will be presented to membership at the 2020 education meeting, Embracing Regulatory Research.

For those whose eyes glaze over when the conversation turns to research, Henkel offers an interesting anecdote. She learned about a doctoral dissertation that examined the factors influencing people in their decision to become licensed. The study found that the only barrier to becoming licensed was the fee. The researcher got a grant to pay the licensing fees for the research group, and everyone who met the eligibility criteria got licensed.

Research can inform—sometimes with unanticipated outcomes. Research can also substantiate—as several members have reported. Backing regulatory decisions with research has offered them legitimacy when providing testimony to policy makers and helped legislators accept the information because it was based on facts.

Embracing Regulatory Research, the 2020 education meeting, will be held April 23–25 in Chicago. Look for registration information in late January!