Regulation of food in the platform economy: a Q&A with Jose A Bolanos

Tackling complex policy problems

Jose A Bolanos is a Postdoctoral Research Officer at the Centre for Analysis of Risk & Regulation (CARR)

If we iteratively apply systematic/academic thinking to unfolding policy problems, academic impact may become more timely and consider more parameters than it currently does.

Jose A Bolanos

Jose A Bolanos

What are you currently researching?

On the broadest of levels, I study how organisations tackle complex policy problems.

More specifically, I’m working on a policy project that feeds into the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) thinking about the regulation of food in the platform economy. The platform economy is where social or economic activities such as ordering food are supported by platforms that are digital in nature. Platform examples include Uber Eats or Deliveroo.

In addition, I’m working on a scholarly manuscript that examines policy entrepreneurship in the public sector. The manuscript builds on and has informed all policy projects I have undertaken for the FSA.

What attracted you to this area of research? 

The ability to learn on the job. I’m a jump-first ask-later type of person so I enjoy this. However, there is a scholarly justification.

Academics often spend years learning the causes of very particular phenomena and then have an impact via the lessons learned. This is an approach that should continue to be encouraged.

However, doing only this may promote impact that comes after problems need to be solved or builds on a very narrow set of parameters.

I aim for method-driven rather than output-driven impact. If we iteratively apply systematic/academic thinking to unfolding policy problems, academic impact may become more timely and consider more parameters than it currently does. That’s the hope, anyway.

What have been the highlights and challenges of your research work so far? 

An interesting highlight is that my work is beginning to suggest a need for institutional theory to pay much more attention to something like charisma.

Said differently, aspects of my work are beginning to suggest that to solve complex policy problems you need to be charismatic and no amount of data or resources can offset this need (this does imply charismatic leaders without an ounce of analytical acumen will out-perform non-charismatic leaders regardless of evidence background - sorry about that! I do not get to decide how society works, I only study it).

Despite similar ideas having been proposed by scholars like Vincent Ostrom, this raises eyebrows in public policy circles, where many see charisma as borderline magical.

The challenge is time. I must split my time between policy and academic projects and publish on both fronts. I can’t say I have quite figured this one out yet.

You’re based in the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) at LSE. What areas of research does the Centre focus on? 

CARR’s core objective is to provide for an interdisciplinary research infrastructure for the study of regulation, risk management and organisational control, accounting, and accountability. It has a cross-sectoral and -jurisdictional focus so a full list of research interests is impossible. Instead, I’ll mention my current favourites.

  • Work led by Andrea Mennicken and Martin Lodge in the space of regulation of/by emergencies  virtually foreshadowed many COVID dynamics.
  • For completed research by early career CARR academics, watch this YouTube video, where my predecessor speaks about information cultures in food safety regulation. I really like his work because it helps you see the existence of significant differences in how some regulatory actors gather and interpret information.
  • And for a sign of where current early career CARR academics are heading, check out this blog where Andrei Guter-Sandu and I discuss acceleration in policy data cycles.

There is a rationale that joins these three examples, but I suppose this is where I tell you to stay tuned! 

What advice would you give other early career researchers? 

I would not term it as advice, but I believe a challenge early researchers face is that new ideas will never be as robust as those with decades of continued development. So, my “advice” to us is not to forget that maturing ideas is a long-term endeavour that we need to start sooner rather than later – or else the force of practice might even make us forget there is such a thing as new ideas.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

During lockdown I’m doing a lot of Coursera (an online platform providing free courses). It keeps my mind busy, which is as close to de-stressing as things go these days. In less restricted times, I swim and go out dancing regularly. Never at the same time!