Here at Document Center Inc., our goal is to help our customers and others become better standards users. But many people don’t even know what standards are. So I use this space to answer some of the basic questions about standards and standardization. “How are standards written?” is one of those questions.
Why is it important to know how standards are written? As a standards user, you’ll become very familiar with one or more standards. You may have questions about the technical content. Or you may find something that you think should be corrected. (I’ve found mistakes in standards before!)
Knowing the standards process can be helpful when you’re implementing standards. It will provide you with guidance on how and where the requirements matter.
First, what are standards? The easy answer is that they are technical documents used to describe a material, a test, a product, a process or a service. By adhering to these “norms,” the things around us are safe and are interoperable.
Who usually writes standards? Standards are usually written by National Standards Bodies (NSBs) or by Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs.) These groups can be developing standards to promote safety for those folks within their jurisdiction. Or their goal may be to promote safety and interoperability for products and services within their industry.
How can standards like this be developed? Standards are usually written as “consensus” documents. They are written by a variety of experts. When a standard is developed, the goal is for the standard to meet the needs of all interested parties, both technical and lay.
This means NSBs and SDOs first serve an administrative function. When the need for a standard is put forward, they need to find experts from many areas of society to work on it. Good standards practice requires the input of all those who might be affected by a given document.
Different groups have different development processes. But standards usually pass through a number of common benchmarks. First is the committee draft. This is the initial pass at standardization, used within the committee to iron out differences and goals of the participants. It may go through a number of changes until the committee is satisfied. At this point, the draft will normally be issued for “public review.”
All standards users with critical interest in specific areas of standardization should pay attention to these public review drafts for standards in their industry. This is the time when anyone not on the committee can bring forward comments and concerns. Committees usually take a look at all comments. They will determine if a given comment necessitates a change to the standard.
When a draft standard has made it through the public review stage, it is normally brought forward to the SDO or NSB’s membership or other authorizing body. At this point, the source organization votes or has some other mechanism for adoption. If accepted, the document is now a final draft.
Final drafts head off to the organization’s publications department for layout and other editorial corrections. Soon afterwards, the publication of the accepted standard is made. Now the document has official status and can be used legally. Drafts do not have the same legal authority as the published standard.
Review of standards on a five-year basis is starting to become the industry norm. If there are no technical changes, a committee will usually have a reaffirmation or reapproval status to use. Technical updates can be released in a number of ways, depending on the organization’s processes.
Some things I’d like you to note. Most standards are developed by committees. There is usually a committee chair and many times an administrative liaison. Most SDOs make some information on these committees public. Certainly, if you have a question, correction, or other concern, most organizations can help you contact a technical expert or authority connected to the committee.
When our customers have these types of questions, we often do the legwork to help them find the correct contact. We do have many friends in high places within the standards world. So we are able to help you either pass your information along or get in touch with the appropriate person. (Connect with us by phone (650-591-7600) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Standards developers want your input. If your company is going to be impacted by a developing standard, the committee would like your participation. Standards are only as good as the people who are writing them. In fact, many times committees not only need technical experts, but also public emissaries. The point of view of the user is valid and desired in many standards organizations.
I hope I have shed some light on the question, “How are standards written?” And I hope I have encouraged you to be a more participatory standards user. Standards are living documents. They change over time. And they are sensitive to changes within society and the environment. When you use a standard, please take a moment to share any concerns or questions with the standards developer. Only in this way can standards continue to positively impact our world.