International vs. National Standards Development - Sister Processes

International voluntary consensus standards and national voluntary consensus standards share a common history in terms of how they are developed, but the goals of each differ in a number of ways. A usual common aspect of international as well as national standards, though, is the effort made to ensure the integrity and relevance of the final standards issued. That effort includes an emphasis on fair and balanced selection and the informed participation of volunteer stakeholders – usually achieved through open communications, voting by consensus, and transparency in all standards development processes, as well as an appeals system. Without those processes in place, the integrity and relevance of a specific standard could be justifiably questioned.

International consensus standards – more specifically, ISO (International Standardization Organization) standards – are developed based on their international relevance. In other words, the ISO goal is to produce standards that are agreeable and important to many countries, give no preference to specific countries, and result in no adverse effects on fair competition – e.g., standards for transportation security. The specific standard must also be performance-based and adaptable to a broad range of regulatory, scientific, and technological situations.

Stakeholders – i.e., individuals and/or groups with an interest in the standard (because they are directly affected by it) – are selected, and consensus is pursued. Typically, the stakeholders selected include representatives of national delegations of industry and trade associations, science and academia, consumers, governments, and regulators, all of whom: (a) are appointed by the member bodies of ISO; or (b) participate through liaison organizations.

The redrafting of a proposed international standard occurs – several times, if necessary – until consensus is reached on the technical content of the standard in its final form. The ISO member bodies then have a five-month deadline for voting and comments. The last version, if approved by the technical committee (TC), then becomes a Final Draft International Standard.

If the Final Draft is not approved it is returned to the TC for further revision, then re-circulated by the ISO Secretariat for voting and, if necessary, additional comments. The Secretariat circulates the approved Final Draft International Standard to all ISO member bodies – this time with a two-month deadline. After final approval, the new standard is published (but later reviewed periodically).

National Standards Development: A More Tightly Focused Goal 

National consensus standards, on the other hand, are developed by individual countries with that nation’s needs as the driving force, and giving no preference to a particular sector of stakeholders. For example, following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, it was immediately apparent that the United States needed to develop new and more stringent standards for building infrastructure in order to prevent collapses similar to those of the Twin Towers in New York City.

Administration and review documentation and practices differ in several ways between and among national standards development organizations (SDOs), which are usually private-sector associations, organizations, or technical societies involved in the development of voluntary consensus standards – as described in the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA). All SDOs use the same agreed-upon procedures, employing and adhering to such important procedural attributes as openness, balance of interest, due process, an appeals process, and consensus voting.

Proposed new standards are then developed by the voluntary team.eally, half of the voluntary team consists of members from federal, state, county, and city governments, with the other half coming from industry. The team also works with other experts as needed to ensure a satisfactory technical product.

The selection of appropriate stakeholders is determined through a transparent, fair, and balanced process, and all stakeholders are included in the distribution and review of the draft standard. If the voluntary team does not approve the draft standard, the team and stakeholders continue to rework the proposed standard until they reach consensus on a draft that can and will be approved. After the draft standard is approved, edited, and published, it is scheduled for further periodic review by the voluntary team. Here it is important to note that national consensus standards can also be adopted by the ISO if they are found to be internationally relevant as well.

The accompanying table compares the current international and national processes used for standards development.

diana hopkins
Diana Hopkins

Diana Hopkins is the creator of the consulting firm “Solutions for Standards.” She is a 12-year veteran of AOAC INTERNATIONAL and former senior director of AOAC Standards Development. Most of her work since the 2001 terrorist attacks has focused on standards development in the fields of homeland security and emergency management. In addition to being an advocate of ethics and quality in standards development, Hopkins is also a certified first responder and a recognized expert in technical administration, governance, and process development and improvement.



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