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In-depth assessment of ONR’s organisational culture published

Research commissioned by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) provides valuable insights into how its organisational culture influences the delivery of its mission.

The independent assessment found that ONR has a positive reputation as a supportive, trustworthy and transparent regulator. It also revealed how its culture impacts how it responds to challenge, risk and change, both internally and externally.

In April 2022 ONR commissioned a research team at the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) to develop a model of ONR’s culture, identifying its underlying beliefs, assumptions and values.

The rigorous 12-month study drew on interviews with staff and stakeholders, focus groups, a staff survey, a document review and observations of meetings and external interactions, as well as learning from other regulators. This wide-ranging, multi-method approach makes it one of the most comprehensive assessments to be carried out by any nuclear regulator to date.

ONR is committed to carrying out regular self-assessments and commissioning further independent assessments to ensure it continues its progress in embedding a supportive, fair and inclusive culture.

The study found that external stakeholders see ONR as a trustworthy and transparent regulator, allowing it to positively influence dutyholders. Its enabling approach to regulation is also highly regarded.

ONR has four stated organisational values – accountable, open-minded, fair and supportive – all of which were found to be apparent in its external interactions. However, only ‘supportive’ was seen as being lived internally, where instead the predominant values focus on reputation, professionalism, risk aversion, consensual leadership, process orientation, drive for excellence and independence. These values have both positive and negative aspects, for example:

  • A focus on reputation can lead to disproportionate risk aversion, reducing ONR’s ability to respond to challenge, change and innovation;
  • Basing leadership decisions on consensus is good for obtaining buy-in, but can slow down the pace of change;
  • ONR’s independence is vital for regulatory decision-making, but might make collaboration difficult when appropriate to achieve improved safety and security outcomes;
  • An emphasis on following set processes supports effective regulation, but could make ONR less flexible and adaptable; and
  • Excessive focus on professionalism and excellence, while supporting high standards of regulation, can lead to perfectionism and overworking.

ONR is now using these insights and feedback from staff to identify learning opportunities and strategies to improve the effectiveness of its everyday work, on both an individual and organisational level.

This includes prioritising diversity and inclusion across the organisation, through initiatives such as:

  • Establishing networks for mental health, gender equality and confidential support;
  • Enabling a broader diversity of insight and experience through a reverse mentoring scheme;
  • Supporting Women in Nuclear UK’s mentoring programmes;
  • Developing an events programme for leaders to influence cultural change; and
  • Maintaining Disability Confident Leader status and accreditation to the National Equality Standard.

These initiatives are reinforced by ONR’s new Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and refreshed Code of Conduct.

Work is also ongoing to ensure ONR’s stated values are embedded in all its internal and external work (for example, ensuring leaders consistently role model accountability, open-mindedness and fairness) and that staff feel empowered to raise concerns and report errors, contributing to learning opportunities

The research also supports preparations for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) follow up mission to the UK, which takes place in early 2024.

Mark Foy, ONR’s Chief Executive and Chief Nuclear Inspector, said: “We commissioned this study with the aim of understanding what we do well and where there is a need for us to improve.

“It is pleasing that our staff feel we are a supportive organisation. While the study confirmed positive features expected of a regulator, it also identified important areas where we need to focus and do better.

“This was always our expectation for such a comprehensive self-reflection exercise, and we are already progressing a range of initiatives to collectively influence the changes that are required.

“Work such as this is vital to ensure we are an adaptable and inclusive organisation, a key enabler as we strive to achieve our vision to be a modern, transparent regulator delivering trusted outcomes.

“We thank the team at AMBS for their diligent and skilful work on this assessment of ONR’s culture.

“We also thank our colleagues and external stakeholders for informing the study through their open and honest contributions, and for their ideas on how we can maximise the value of the findings as we develop and deliver our organisational priorities.”

Professor Sharon Clarke, who led the team at AMBS, said: “We were granted an exceptional level of access to carry out our research into ONR’s organisational culture.

“The openness of staff, stakeholders and the organisation as a whole supported us in creating a comprehensive model that will help ONR strengthen its culture.

“By sharing the report publicly and publishing our work in an academic journal, we hope to further support their commitment to transparency.”

The full report is available to download in PDF or accessible Word format.

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