Legislative frameworks for professional self-regulation depend on professions autonomously governing themselves. The governing body is tasked with safeguarding the public, upholding trust, and overseeing critical regulatory functions such as licensing, continuing competency, ethical standards, and disciplinary actions.

Historically, there was an assumption that governing bodies could effectively oversee the regulation of their peers because they were exclusively composed of licensed professionals possessing the necessary knowledge and expertise. However, as self-regulation has evolved over the past century, there has been a growing recognition that genuine public protection relies on these governing bodies including greater public representation.

For instance, the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom has reported on a transition from traditional self-regulation to a more collaborative approach termed "shared regulation." This model emphasizes a more equitable balance between professionals and public representatives on governing boards. The aim is to ensure that regulatory decisions reflect a collective commitment to the well-being of the public and align with the broader interests of society. It represents a paradigm shift recognizing that public members are not merely symbolic figures but are a strategic necessity.

The role of public members  

Public members with positions on engineering regulator boards or councils carry the same responsibilities as their professional counterparts to uphold public trust in the profession and ensure effective governance. Whether participating in board meetings or serving on committees, public members play a dynamic role, ensuring a comprehensive approach to decision-making and reinforcing the commitment to the well-being and safety of the public.

While they may not possess the same technical engineering expertise as their professional peers, public members bring valuable knowledge from diverse domains, such as legal, technological, or accounting expertise, enhancing the board or councils’ overall capability. Moreover, their distinct perspective sheds light on how proposed professional requirements and standards may be received by the broader public and viewed through a consumer lens, providing a crucial dimension to regulatory decision-making.

Successful public members embody traits such as curiosity, engagement, and a willingness to voice their perspectives. Their effectiveness is heightened when they approach their roles with a readiness to learn and comprehend the proceedings. By questioning the appropriateness of decisions and ensuring alignment with ethical considerations, public members further enhance their impact in fostering a constructive and accountable regulatory environment.

The contributions of public members  

With proper support, including public members on engineering regulatory boards or councils significantly strengthens and enhances the robustness and trustworthiness of regulatory processes. Their presence reflects the diversity, transparency, and accountability essential in contemporary regulatory processes and helps to bolster public safety, mitigate professional bias, and enhance overall accountability.

Board or council members from outside of the engineering profession can mitigate potential biases and promote fairness and more balanced decision-making processes that avoid unduly favouring the interests of the profession. Furthermore, these public members serve as a reflection of the wider population that the regulator aims to serve, offering valuable insights into how decisions can resonate with and affect the broader public.

Finally, public members educate the public. They serve as communicators, breaking down complex professional issues into plain language to build awareness and understanding about the engineering profession, its standards, and the regulatory body's role. Through clear and accessible communication, public members foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility among the broader population, thereby strengthening the connection between the profession and the public it serves.

The proportion of public members  

The proportion of professional to public members remains one of the most discussed topics about public representation in professional regulation. Legislation in most Canadian provinces and territories stipulates the inclusion of public members on engineering regulator boards, with the specific number of positions outlined.  
In the Canadian regulatory landscape, boards or councils tend to have a greater representation of professionals than public members.  This is true of Canadian engineering boards too. For engineering regulators that currently incorporate public members on their boards, the proportion of public members remains quite low. However, newer engineering legislation, such as that enacted in British Columbia in 2018, includes a much higher percentage of public members. Other Canadian professions are seeing similar changes as legislation is updated.  

Despite existing legislative frameworks, there is movement toward a more equitable 50/50 distribution between professional and public members to promote a fair and diverse governance perspective. This shift may necessitate moving away from electoral processes, favoring a comprehensive appointments system for all members, irrespective of their professional or public status. Notably, the UK's Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care underwent significant reform in 2008, transitioning its governing board to exclusively comprise public members with no prior registration under the regulator. 
Fundamentally, the inclusion of public members on boards or councils ensures a thoughtful consideration of the interests and perspectives of both professional members and the broader public. In turn, this enhances the effectiveness of governance through fostering more collaborative decision-making and providing safeguards for the integrity of regulatory processes.



CLEAR Regulation Matters Podcast Series. (2020) Episode 35: The Role of Public Members. http://clearweb.drivehq.com/podcast_transcripts/CLEAR_podcast_episode35_Public_Members_111720_transcript.pdf  

UK Professional Standards Authority. (2013) Fit and Proper? Governance in the public interest. https://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/docs/default-source/publications/thought-paper/fit-and-proper-2013.pdf?sfvrsn=c1f77f20_6