Public Sector Future Podcast: Episode 1 | Rules as Code

podcast guest Alex Roberts

Rules as Code

with Alex Roberts

Alex Roberts is the Deputy Head of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As our podcast guest, he provides clarity to the concept of “Rules as Code” and how it could bring legislation and regulation into the digital age.

Episode 1: Rules as Code

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

New research is rethinking one of the core functions of government – rule making. In this episode, we talk to Alex Roberts, Deputy Head of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation at the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). He provides clarity to the concept of “Rules as Code” and how it can improve the compliance, efficiency, and integration of rules. We discuss this new model for rule making and the efforts to help governments take a more strategic, deliberate, and systematic approach to innovation through digital systems.

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

New research is rethinking one of the core functions of government – rule making.   

Whether it be legislation (which sets out what tax we pay or what benefits we are eligible for) or regulation (which governs how transportation is designed and operated), rule-making has been a function of governments for hundreds of years and impacts all our day-to-day lives.

But the way rules have been made and published has remained static. Is that about to change?  

Governments are facing the dilemma of digital growth. Currently, laws are viewable in a digital format and only interpreted by people. The concept of Rules as Code sets out to change who or what can interpret these rules with the implementation of modern technology.

In this episode of Future Public Sector, we are joined by Alex Roberts, Deputy Head of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation at the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).  

“If the world is changing, then what governments are doing will also need to change. It’s an ongoing process,” Roberts says.


If the world is changing, then what governments are doing will also need to change. It’s an ongoing process.
– Alex Roberts

What is Rules as Code?

“Rules as Code is a new approach, but what it’s inherently about is drafting rules in a machine-consumable format, so that machines can not only decipher them, but potentially act on or to make decision pathways from that,” Roberts says.

The goal is to establish human interpretable laws that are also machine understandable to ensure fair interpretation and applicability in the field, as well as to ensure rules are administered in an accurate and transparent way.

The process has been amplified with an open approach to research collating conversations and data from the broader community to truly understand who is doing what and what has or has not worked.

Why is this important?

Time and money are spent on tasks such as efficient rule making, effective compliance, and how to free up the inevitable legal efforts that go into these continuous actions that are never fully transparent or understood.

“It’s also in part about trying to reduce the gap between what you intended a law to do and what it’s actually going to do in practice,” Roberts says.

Digital innovation is making it possible for many organizations and governments to leverage technology for the greater good, interfacing rules as code creates a system that is efficient and compliant.

Rules as Code in governments around the world

The States of Jersey have been looking to use rules of code for the drafting process for legislation. They have been using Excel to map the different logic pathways and if/then pathways to make the legislation itself clearer and more easily potentially translatable, further down in the process.  

France has been looking at service delivery. They are looking at approaches to best increase the efficiency and transparency of that process, and make sure what is being delivered to citizens is matched by what the law says.  

Where next?

Countries around the world are testing new approaches in this space. Roberts recognizes that this has the potential to be uncomfortable, as it is challenging accepted and established processes. However, through these pilots we are starting to see opportunities to increase transparency, ease of administration and compliance, and bring rule making into the digital age.

To find out more:

Observatory of Public Sector Innovation

OPSI research on Rules as Code

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About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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