A structured policy review of the principles of professional self-regulation


  • Funding: This study has not been supported by any funding or grant source.
  • Conflict of interest: The principle author is the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses and has an interest in making sure that ICN policy positions and principles reflect the latest thinking and evidence.

Correspondence address: Mr David C. Benton, International Council of Nurses, 3 Place Jean-Marteau, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland; Tel: +41 229080100; Fax: +41229080101; E-mail: dcbenton.swiss@gmail.com.



The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has, for many years, based its work on professional self-regulation on a set of 12 principles. These principles are research based and were identified nearly three decades ago. ICN has conducted a number of reviews of the principles; however, changes have been minimal. In the past 5–10 years, a number of authors and governments, often as part of the review of regulatory systems, have started to propose principles to guide the way regulatory frameworks are designed and implemented. These principles vary in number and content.


This study examines the current policy literature on principle-based regulation and compares this with the set of principles advocated by the ICN.

Design and Data Sources

A systematic search of the literature on principle-based regulation is used as the basis for a qualitative thematic analysis to compare and contrast the 12 principles of self-regulation with more recently published work.


A mapping of terms based on a detailed description of the principles used in the various research and policy documents was generated. This mapping forms the basis of a critique of the current ICN principles. A professional self-regulation advocated by the ICN were identified.


A revised and extended set of 13 principles is needed if contemporary developments in the field of regulatory frameworks are to be accommodated. These revised principles should be considered for adoption by the ICN to underpin their advocacy work on professional self-regulation.