Coordinating Intermediaries: Professional Associations in Decentralized Regulation

2019, Regulation & Governance, with Nadia Mahallati

Full title: “Coordinating Intermediaries: The Prospects and Limitations of Professional Associations in Decentralized Regulation”

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A key question in understanding regulation through independent intermediaries is the extent to which intermediary actions are either coordinated, thereby supporting consistency in regulatory application, or uncoordinated, leading to monitoring and enforcement disparities. This paper examines professional associations as one mechanism by which policy action may be coordinated in decentralized arrangements. Professional associations provide means and venues for members to interact, offer training and education that develops shared understanding of policy directives, are collective representation bodies for professional members, and may play an important role in establishing and enforcing collective standards for appropriate behavior. We examine these functions in the decentralized administration of United States organic food certification, focusing on two relevant professional associations – the Accredited Certifiers Association and the International Organic Inspectors Association. Drawing on multiple methods, including interviews and survey data, our findings indicate that professional organic certification associations provide valuable education and training, disseminate information, and facilitate knowledge sharing among administrative entities and with regulatory authorities. We conclude with a discussion of the prospects and limitations of professional associations for third‐party regulation, and how accounting for professional association functions can improve our understanding of regulatory intermediary coordination and conduct.