People behave better when there are not explicit regulations dictating how to behave. This idea is explored by Jonathan Zittrain in his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. As an example, a European traffic planning approach called “unsafe is safe”, where all traffic signs, parking meters and parking space markings are removed. The only rules are to yield to the driver on your right at an intersection, and if your parked car blocks another you will be towed. The result of this approach — a dramatic improvement in traffic safety. People are forced to think about how they drive and what they do. Rules strip us of the ability to be considerate, standards work better than regulations.
This idea can be seen in the success of Wikipedia. Wikipedia has few rules — no copyright violation (strictly enforced) and you cannot create or edit entries about yourself or your company. Anyone can edit it or create content. Frequent contributors can become Wikipedians, sort of “editors in chief” of Wikipedia. Instead of regulating Wikipedia entries, standards are enforced. Repeated violators may lose rights to create content.
Although teachers may have disdain for Wikipedia citations, a recent (2005) study in Nature showed that the error rates for Wikipedia were not significantly greater than traditional encyclopedias. (Also see 20 page rebuttal from Brittanica.) Wikipedia is updated much faster (often the same day as an event), includes information not found in encylopedias such as different opinions about subjects, and comments from users about reasons for change made. The generativity of the wiki format facilitated the creation of an amazing storehouse of knowledge. Wikipedia facilitates futher generativity by allowing others to use its content in other applications or forms.
The idea of removing regulations and instead enforcing standards could be applied to many other areas of our lives. I wonder what would happen if we tried to do it?