The concept of decoupling refers to the gap between the formal and the actual world in organizations in which a policy is formally introduced but not actually implemented and effective. Although the phenomenon of decoupling in organizations has been studied widely since the late 1970s, little is known about the reverse process of recoupling. Little is also known about the abilities of public regulators to discover decoupling in regulated organizations and to promote the recoupling that is necessary to diminish the gap between the formal and the actual world.
In an experimental project of the Dutch Health and Youth Care Inspectorate, we ethnographically followed how this public regulator changed the focus from prescriptive regulation based on quality and safety indicators to the supervision of the management system of a regulated organization. We call this type of regulation system-based regulation.
We found that, by using system-based regulation, a regulator can identify several forms of decoupling that have not been recognized in earlier research. Interestingly, we found indications that, by applying SBR and thus recognizing decoupling, a process of recoupling was supported. With SBR the government can reclaim its influence on the meta level while maintaining the level of freedom of management at the organizational level. Instead of aiming for more or stricter regulation, the government could shift its role to meta-regulation, meaning that the public regulator redefines its role as an assessor and stimulator of the quality of governance in terms of self-regulation. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

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Keywords decoupling, healthcare, institutional theory, organizational learning, recoupling, supervision, system-based, regulation
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Journal Organization Studies
de Bree, M.A, & Stoopendaal, A.M.V. (2018). De- and Recoupling and Public Regulation. Organization Studies. doi:10.1177/0170840618800115