Definition of Compliance

Compliance: A state of accordance between an actor's behavior or products on the one side, and predefined explicit rules, procedures, conventions, standards, guidelines, principles, legislation or other norms on the other (Foorthuis and Bos, 2011, Foorthuis, 2012).

Although we do not focus on compliance with the implicit, broader spirit of the norms, we do acknowledge relatively (high-level) principles as norms - on the condition that they be made explicit. A compliant state can be achieved regardless of the motivations, causes or circumstances that have lead to it [20,21]. In our view, therefore, an actor can be compliant without internalizing the norms and without necessarily changing his beliefs or behavior. Furthermore, unintentional compliance is also compliance. Finally, compliance should be distinguished from effectiveness, as a compliant state need not necessarily result in achieving the desired end goals [20,21].

We will use the term conformity here as equivalent to compliance, as it has been used inconsistently in the literature. We will elaborate on this below. Similar to compliance, conformity is regularly used as adherence to prescribed rules [3,21,23,24,25,26]. Compliance has also been contrasted with conformity, with the former following an explicit or implicit request, and the latter referring to a state of accordance in the absence of a request [27]. In this context, conformity is sometimes said to necessarily involve a change in belief or behavior [28,29], whereas an actor can be compliant without a position change (see above). Finally, according to [30] compliance is a form of conformity, representing public instead of private agreement.

The term conformance, likewise, is not used in a single, specific manner [cf. 23,31,32]. Therefore, unless specified otherwise, we will use the terms compliance, conformity and conformance interchangeably (using the definition presented at the beginning of section 3.1).

Click here to see the dimensions of compliance.

Foorthuis, R.M., Bos, R. (2011). A Framework for Organizational Compliance Management Tactics. In: C. Salinesi and O. Pastor (Eds.), CAiSE 2011 Workshops (GRCIS 2011), LNBIP 83, pp. 259–268. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Foorthuis, R.M. (2012). Project Compliance with Enterprise Architecture. Doctoral dissertation (PhD thesis). Utrecht University, Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Center for Organization and Information. ISBN: 978-90-393-5834-4.
Foorthuis, R.M. (2012). Tactics for Internal Compliance: A Literature Review. Chapter of "Project Compliance with Enterprise Architecture", Doctoral dissertation (PhD thesis). Utrecht University, Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Center for Organization and Information. ISBN: 978-90-393-5834-4.

Other references:
[3] Tyler, T.R., Blader, S.L.: Can Businesses Effectively Regulate Employee Conduct? The Antecents of Rule Following in Work Settings. The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 48, No. 6, pp. 1143-1158 (2005)
[20] Zaelke, D., Kaniaru, D., Kružíková, E.: Making Law Work: Environmental Compliance & Sustainable Development, Vol. I & II. London: Cameron May Ltd. (2005)
[21] Mitchell, R. B.: Compliance Theory: An Overview. In: Cameron, J., Werksman, J., Roderick, P. (eds.). Improving Compliance with International Environmental Law. London: Earthscan (1996)
[23] Merton, R.K.: Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press (1957)
[24] Schapiro, T.: Compliance, Complicity, and the Nature of Nonideal Conditions. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. C, No. 7, pp. 329-355 (2003)
[25] Currie, W.: Institutionalization of IT Compliance: A Longitudinal Study. Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS 2008), Paris, France (2008)
[26] Ellis, D., Barker, R., Potter, S., Pridgeon, C.: Information Audits, Communication Audits and Information Mapping: A Review and Survey. International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 134-151 (1993)
[27] Cialdini, R.B., Goldstein, N.J.: Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 55, pp. 591-621 (2004)
[28] Zimbardo, P.G., Leippe, M.R.: The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence. New York: McGraw-Hill (1991)
[29] Rowe, F.: Are Decision Support Systems Getting People to Conform? The Impact of Work Organization and Segmentation on User Behaviour in a French Bank. Journal of Information Technology, Vol. 20, pp. 103-116 (2005)
[30] Levine, J.M., Resnick, L.B.: Social Foundations of Cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 44, pp. 585-612 (1993)
[31] The Open Group.: TOGAF Version 9: The Open Group Architecture Framework (2009)
[32] Alter, S., Wright, R.: Validating Work System Principles for Use in Systems Analysis and Design. Proceedings of ICIS 2010, St. Louis, USA (2010)

Updated: February 7th 2015
Ralph Foorthuis