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Compliance Theory: A Goal Framing Approach


  • Funding support for this work was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the British Academy. The ideas developed in the article were presented in the LSE Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR)'s Discussion Papers series and at the Third Biennial Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Standing Group on Regulatory Governance. I am grateful for the advice and comments received from Richard Balme, Olivier Borraz, Mathilde Bourrier, Sharon Gilad, Olivier Giraud, Bridget Hutter, Patrick Le Galès, Siegwart Lindenberg, Ronald Mitchell, Christine Parker, Gerhard Schnyder, and anonymous reviewers. The usual disclaimer applies.

Julien Etienne, Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom. Fax: +44 (0) 20 7955 7420; E-mail:


Despite a wealth of publications on compliance and noncompliance, regulation scholars still lack a consistent and comprehensive compliance theory and entertain a collection of partial and incompatible theories instead. This article is an attempt to improve this situation by taking up two interrelated challenges that compliance theorists are facing: to account for the multiple motivations behind compliance and noncompliance behaviors with one internally consistent framework and to account for the interactions between these motivations in other than an additive or ad hoc fashion. The article builds on Siegwart Lindenberg's Goal Framing Theory, which provides consistent accounts of the cumulated and interactive influence of heterogeneous motivations on decisions. The goal framing approach is illustrated with an extensive range of examples borrowed from the empirical literature on regulatory compliance. It thus provides a synthetic framework to account for different types of responses to regulation.