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13 October 2022
Responses to uncertainty
Gill Whitehead, former CEO of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum, writes about the importance of regulatory cooperation and the iterative approach of the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF).

In these uncertain times, even tech giants aren’t immune. Indeed, the current climate has seen my former employer Google launch its ‘Simplicity Sprint’, aiming to re-focus the company to ‘get better results faster’, and Meta announcing it will 'plan somewhat conservatively’ and further restructure the company. And the shift in market sentiment from growth to value stocks forces cash conservation and hard choices across many of the UK’s cherished tech start-ups and scale-ups.

It is therefore right that we, both as regulators of digital and as something of a start-up ourselves, stop and ask: Are we, the DRCF prioritising correctly? Are our joint efforts effective and efficient for our member regulators and, where relevant, for you as techUK members? Do we have enough focus on supporting innovation and growth?

To come to a meaningful conclusion, we first need to return to where we began, and briefly explain why we were set up, what we do and what we see as success.

Bringing together Ofcom, the CMA, ICO and FCA, who each have statutory responsibilities for regulating UK digital markets, the DRCF was created as a voluntary forum to drive greater cooperation and coordination between members on digital regulatory matters.

Our mission is to enable coherent, informed and responsive regulation of the UK digital economy for the benefit of people and businesses online.

What problem is the DRCF is trying to solve?

The internet has brought many benefits, with many more still to come, but also many harms – some of which are central to the remits of our member regulators. With global platforms that operate across national boundaries, and technology that services every sector of the economy, comes the need for regulators to work ever more closely together.

And with multiple new regimes, including the Online Safety Bill and the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, that have many interactions comes the need for clear guidance – for businesses and consumers.

Launched in July 2020, we have already made strides in delivering against the priorities outlined in our workplan, which we refer to as our ‘3 Cs’: increasing coherence between regulatory regimes; fostering collaboration on cross-cutting issues, and building capabilities across our member regulators.

A new approach to digital regulation

The DRCF is, however, far more than four digital regulators working a bit more closely together. It is globally a first of its kind, genuine step-change in the way we approach regulation – be that by publishing joint position papers, sharing collective thinking on topics such as algorithms (herehere and here), or by offering practical resources such as collating regulators’ research on digital issues.

We seek to listen to a wide range of stakeholders. We want to hear about the challenges that innovators experience when interacting with regulators: In April we were in Manchester, speaking with fintech and cybersecurity start-ups and SMEs, and are shortly headed to Edinburgh to engage with innovators working in the video-gaming industry.

Wide stakeholder input is also essential as we continue to develop our understanding of future issues of importance. In May, we held a horizon scanning symposium on the Metaverse, bringing together major industry players, regulators, academics and Government. Our next planned symposiums are on Web 3.0 and quantum. These engagements help us to build and share our collective understanding of emerging technologies and their potential cross-cutting impacts.

Iterating as we go

So, while I am pleased with our progress so far, we have, at the mid-point of our second year, also considered how we should iterate based on our learnings to date and amidst economic uncertainty.

We will be extending our joint work on algorithms, working closely with OAI, CDEI, the Alan Turing Institute and others to help enable a principles-based, context-specific approach to AI in the UK. And we will accelerate our Enabling Innovation workstream by exploring multi-agency advice solution(s) with innovators.

We’re also turning our attention to next year’s workplan and are keen to hear your perspective on our future work, so if you’d like to get in touch, please drop us a line at DRCF@ofcom.org.uk.