Research on regulation has crossed paths with the literature on policy instruments, showing that regulatory policy instruments contain cognitive and normative beliefs about policy. Thus, their usage stacks the deck in favor of one type of actor or one type of regulatory solution. In this article, we challenge the assumption that there is a predetermined relationship between ideas, regulatory policy instruments, and outcomes. We argue that different combinations of conditions lead to different outcomes, depending on how actors use the instrument. Empirically, we analyze 31 EU and UK case studies of regulatory impact assessment (RIA) – a regulatory policy instrument that has been pivotal in the so-called better regulation movement. We distinguish four main usages of RIA, that is, political, instrumental, communicative, and perfunctory. We find that in our sample instrumental usage is not so rare and that the contrast between communicative and political usages is less stark than is commonly thought. In terms of policy recommendations, our analysis suggests that there may be different paths to desirable outcomes. Policymakers should therefore explore different combinations of conditions leading to the usages they deem desirable rather than arguing for a fixed menu of variables.