Pandemic impacts, technological disruption, and the future of work: Highlights from CNAR 2022

CNAR 2022 explored important regulatory topics like regulating in the digital age, the future of work, and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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From Oct. 24 to 26, more than 650 registrants from regulatory agencies in every Canadian province gathered for the Canadian Network of Agencies for Regulation’s (CNAR) 2022 Conference, held this year in the picturesque city of Charlottetown, PEI. This year marked CNAR’s first hybrid event and its largest ever annual conference, with regulatory leaders from agencies spanning various sectors from health care to finance in attendance, as well as HR representatives, lawyers specializing in regulation, and technology companies (including Thentia, which participated as an event sponsor).

CNAR 2022 addressed an array of timely issues for regulators, featuring sessions on themes such as equity, diversity and inclusion; the future of work; truth and reconciliation; discipline and investigations; testing; governance; the impacts of an increasingly digital world on regulation; and the lasting impacts of COVID-19.

For those who attended in person, many were excited to be able to connect face-to-face with peers for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives. But while everyone is eager to leave the worst days of the pandemic in the past, its lingering effects and impacts were top of mind for attendees – particularly regarding how the quick pivot to remote working and digital services will impact regulatory operations going forward now that the acute phase of the pandemic has subsided.

Regulators displayed an enormous amount of resiliency and flexibility throughout the pandemic. When the first COVID lockdown necessitated transformational changes in the way all organizations operate almost overnight, many regulators ushered in new solutions that allowed them to offer key regulatory services online, from testing, to applications and renewals, to payments. CNAR 2022 provided a valuable learning opportunity for regulators to share experiences with peers as they take stock of these changes, identify new opportunities, and decide how to move forward in a world that seems forever changed.

CNAR 2022 explored pandemic’s impact on disciplinary actions, investigations, and examinations

The pandemic’s impact on disciplinary hearings and investigations was a prominent theme at CNAR 2022. For professional regulators in the health care field, COVID-19 brought several complex issues to the forefront when it comes to what licensees can be disciplined for when sharing personal views through their social media accounts. As several CNAR sessions explored, the lines between personal and professional communication become considerably blurred when someone has a professional title and shares information or opinions in their field of expertise, even if they are speaking from a personal social media account. During the pandemic, as a small number of medical professionals started using social media to share inaccurate information regarding COVID-19, treatments, and/or vaccines, many regulators faced difficult decisions about whether they should get out in front of this issue by implementing widespread policies or respond to licensee behavior individually on a case-by-case basis.

In a panel session titled “’They posted what!??’ Regulators’ response to registrants’ COVID-related conduct and communications,” regulators from various jurisdictions shared their experience with investigations where licensees were accused of breaching COVID-19 protocols or using their unique position of trust and influence to share personal views that could undermine public health guidance. And in a session that explored the impact of an increasingly digital world on investigations and regulation beyond the context of COVID-19, a panel of legal experts examined the challenges of regulating professionals in the social media age more broadly and discussed the new tools and resources that are now available to regulators for investigating an individual’s behavior.

Technological changes to the way that regulators conduct testing, a major shift spurred by the pandemic, was another area that conference attendees explored in-depth. In one session, the Canadian Organization of Paramedic Regulators (COPR) shared insights and lessons learned from its adoption of a remotely proctored delivery model for its examination program. In 2020, COPR initiated the development of a new Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) exam – an already complex undertaking that was made much more difficult by the pandemic. Tammy Leach, examination manager at COPR, explained how the organization overcame various challenges throughout the development process related to mobilizing and training an EMR panel of subject matter experts in a virtual environment and developing and validating the EMR examination blueprint.

But while technology has brought new opportunities for how regulators develop and facilitate examinations, it has also brought new regulatory challenges. Data forensics has become widely used to identify cheating in entry-to-practice examinations, as it can both establish a baseline of “normal” data and flag outliers. But what happens when an exam candidate is flagged? CNAR attendees explored this question as well as the broader regulatory limitations to data forensics and enforcement in a session featuring representatives from the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA) and Meazure Learning. Melanie Therrien, deputy registrar and director of registration and competence at CLPNA, walked attendees through how her organization responded when candidates were flagged (one for a second time) using data forensics in 2021. The candidates in question ended up re-writing and passing the exam, but Therrien noted that the learning experience led to CLPNA developing a policy for flagged candidates and moving to a linear-on-the-fly (LOFT) exam format.

Regulators continue to grapple with how the pandemic has changed the way we work

Of course, one of the most profound impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the way that the quick transition to remote technologies has reshaped the way we work, a shift that will likely continue in one form or another well into the future. Like all organizations, regulators are now grappling with how to respond to workers’ desire for continued hybrid or remote working arrangements, and this was also a prominent theme at the conference.

In the Day 2 keynote address, economist Linda Nazareth explored the megatrends that are reshaping the future of work and what employers can do to keep up with the changes. Additionally, representatives from the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario and the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario shared how they navigated the challenges of remote work and the great resignation during a lunch and learn session, including how they approached virtual hiring and onboarding and helped current employees stay engaged and productive during the transition to a remote work environment.

Digital transformation remains top priority for Canadian regulators

There was broad consensus among CNAR attendees that there is no going back to pre-pandemic times. Regulating in today’s complex climate undoubtedly presents challenges, but the atmosphere at CNAR 2022 showed that regulatory leaders are focused on the opportunities that the future holds. For organizations that haven’t yet upgraded their legacy IT systems or transitioned from manual processes, many are now curious about comprehensive technological solutions that can help improve efficiency, cut costs, and support evidence-based regulatory decision-making. CNAR’s annual conference was a fruitful opportunity for these regulators to network with peers and learn about the benefits that others have achieved through digital transformation, which can help them plot their own journeys going forward.

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