Compliance Motivations: Affirmative and Negative Bases

By May, Peter J. | Law & Society Review, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Compliance Motivations: Affirmative and Negative Bases


May, Peter J., Law & Society Review


This research addresses affirmative and negative motivations for compliance with social and environmental regulations. Affirmative motivations emanate from good intentions and a sense of obligation to comply. Negative motivations arise from fears of the consequences of being found in violation of regulatory requirements. The relevance of these is examined for data concerning the motivations of homebuilders to comply with requirements of building codes. The findings highlight the importance of affirmative motivations for situations such as homebuilding for which regulation is better characterized as fulfillment of a social contract than solely as compliance with enforced directives.

Regulatory scholars have turned attention in recent years from asking whether regulations are unreasonably designed and enforced to asking why individuals and firms comply with regulations in the first place. This change calls attention to the role of other factors than deterrent fears in motivating compliance with regulations. It also broadens thinking about regulation from the enforcement of directives to fulfillment of a social contract. This research adds to the understanding of compliance motivations and these differing regulatory perspectives.

The prior studies reviewed in this article suggest that individuals and firms comply with regulations either because they fear detection of violations and subsequent punishment, feel a duty to comply, or feel social pressure to comply. These motivations can generally be categorized into those that are affirmative and those that are negative. Affirmative motivations emanate from good intentions and a sense of obligation to comply. Negative motivations arise from fears of the consequences of being found in violation of regulatory requirements. The line between the two sets of motivations is not always easy to draw because they interact in influencing compliance. Nonetheless, the distinction is useful in helping to draw a contrast between different ways of thinking about regulation and compliance.

Clarifying the nature of these motivations and the factors that influence them is important for thinking about regulatory alternatives. Much of the existing literature on regulatory practices addresses the deterrent basis for regulatory compliance and thus addresses negative motivations (e.g., Burby & Paterson 1993; Gray & Scholz 1993; Helland 1998; May & Winter 1999). Yet, greater emphasis on quasi-voluntary compliance with regulations has been viewed by some regulatory scholars as an important basis for improving regulatory outcomes (e.g., Ayres & Braithwaite 1992; Gunningham & Grabosky 1998; Gunningham & Sinclair 2002; Haines 1997).1 A better understanding of affirmative motivations is important for figuring out how to strengthen such voluntary compliance.

The distinction between affirmative and negative motivations also suggests a more fundamental difference in ways of thinking about regulation. Regulations are usually thought of as enforced directives for which compliance is compelled by enforcement practices and sanctions for violations. A different way of thinking about regulation that is developed in this article is thinking of it as a social contract for which compliance is based on a shared commitment to carry out the provisions of the contract. Much of that commitment rests on affirmative reasons for entering and adhering to the contract.

The two sets of motivations are examined in this research for the regulation of building safety. A variety of characteristics of building regulation make this an exemplary case of the social contract perspective on regulation. The evidence presented here shows that both affirmative and negative motivations are at work in influencing homebuilders' compliance with regulatory provisions. The discussion that follows presents the different ways of thinking about regulation and compliance, expectations about how regulatory practices and other factors affect compliance motivations, the data and measures used in this research, and empirical findings concerning the variation in compliance motivations. …

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Compliance Motivations: Affirmative and Negative Bases
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