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Consistency in regulatory work

Institutions
London School of Economics
Start date
2015
End date
2015
Objective

"Study 1: Consistency and cognitive influences on the expert judgement of Environmental Health Officers: An experimental study The project investigated psychological factors that lead Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) to make inconsistent judgements about catering outlets. It draws on research from the fields of ‘cognitive biases’ and ‘naturalistic decision making’ to understand decision making on food hygiene. These fields of study examine how variations in decision-making arise from heuristics (rules and habits that influence decision-making) and cognitive bias (errors that arise from a heuristic being applied incorrectly). To investigate variance in decision-making by EHOs and the extent to which psychological factors explain this variance, decision-making on food hygiene was studied through a series of experiments. Based within a food and beverage outlet at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) campus, two ‘simulated kitchen’ environments were created, and EHOs were asked to inspect and assess them. Scenarios were designed to examine the impact of three specific biases upon the decision making of EHOs: anchoring, confirmation, and overconfidence. The simulated kitchens replicated aspects of a real catering environment (e.g. equipment, facilities food preparation, catering staff, food storage), and contained a number of positive (e.g. food storage) and negative informational cues (e.g. out-of-date records) that were expected to influence ratings in food hygiene (environmental health) inspections. To assess whether an ‘anchoring bias’ influences assessments of food safety, the team examined whether the assessments of the experimental catering facilities by inspectors are in-part determined by information on a previous inspection. To assess if ‘confirmation bias’ influences assessments of food hygiene, the team examined whether the decision-making of EHOs is influenced by an early informational cue presented during an inspection. To assess ‘over-confidence bias’, the team examined whether high or low confidence in EHOs (as measured by a post-study survey on self-assessed confidence and confidence on a number of knowledge items) results in differential assessments of catering facilities. Read the report on consistency and cognitive influences on the expert judgement of Environmental Health Officers. Study 2: Analysis of LAEMS data to inform a study on inconsistencies in the delivery of official food safety controls Data from the Local Authority Enforcement and Monitoring System (LAEMS) was analysed to identify potential inconsistencies between local authorities in the delivery of official controls, in particular with regards to the Confidence in Management scoring of food establishments and enforcement activity. This was to inform the selection of local authorities for the third study: Consistency in the delivery of official food safety controls: the role of organisational-level factors. Read the report on analysis of LAEMS data to inform a study on inconsistencies in the delivery of official food safety controls Study 3: Consistency in the delivery of official food safety controls: the role of organisational-level factors The study aimed to explore how organisational-level factors impact on the delivery of official controls by local authorities, and how they might contribute to inconsistencies in (i) the scoring of Confidence in Management (CIM) in food businesses, and (ii) enforcement responses to non-compliance with food hygiene inspections. Thirteen factors were identified for exploration in the research. They were categorised into three broad themes (management practices, structure, and communications and engagement). From the outset, the Agency was interested in distinguishing variations in the delivery of official controls that might be justified or acceptable (e.g. targeted interventions), from other variations that could be considered ‘true’ inconsistencies. The latter were the core focus of this research. The study has contributed to clarifying that distinction for the field of food hygiene controls by looking at numerous specific examples arising from the data. In order to achieve this, a small-scale, comparative approach was adopted, based on a programme of qualitative research with five pairs of comparable English local authorities, representing different categories of urban-rural classification. The local authorities were selected by the FSA on the basis of the statistical analysis of the LAEMS data. Between four and six in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals occupying various roles in each authority, to gather feedback from a range of perspectives (totalling 49 interviews across the case studies). The interview findings fed into a comparative analysis process that explored the role of each organisational-level factor on inconsistencies in CIM scoring and enforcement action. Read the report on consistency in the delivery of official food safety controls: the role of organisational-level factors"

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project source
View this project
Project number
FS516019
Categories
Natural Toxins
Bacterial Pathogens