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  • CSN: Mapping Commonwealth participation in standards development

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    Ben Hedley

    The CSN has been mapping Commonwealth participation in standards development 

    The story about the blind men and the elephant has been told for thousands of years.

    A group of blind men describe what an elephant is like based on the part each one is touching. The man who feels the tusk says an elephant is hard and smooth, the one stroking its side says the elephant is soft and wrinkly, and so on.  Each man is not entirely wrong, but only has part of the picture.

    This is a familiar parable, but a useful one. By incorporating a diversity of viewpoints, we come to a fuller appreciation of the whole and a greater depth of understanding. It’s a principle that applies as well to standards development as to other areas of life.


    Diversity within standards development

    It is now widely accepted in the corporate world that incorporating different viewpoints is not only equitable, it is also a strategic strength. Executive teams that incorporate ethnic and gender diversity outperform those with low diversity.

    When it comes to standards development, however, diversity remains a challenge. This includes the representation of developing countries alongside developed nations.

    Around three quarters of ISO members are from developing countries, but there is still a perception that ISO and other international standards bodies reflect the priorities of developed nations. Many ISO standards have their origins in national standards developed in Western countries.

    ISO has developed an action plan for 2021-2025 to help developing countries use standards to meet key goals, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


    We need to know more about how different countries engage with standards

    The CSN is determined to ensure that diversity of opinion is reflected in international standards. To find out more about how standards are viewed throughout the Commonwealth, CSN is preparing a report to give more detail about how Commonwealth nations engage with standards and what the barriers are to participation.

    The report, built on data collected from a detailed questionnaire, will look at issues such as environmental management systems, governance of organizations, drivers for participation of National Standards Bodies in ISO technical and standards committees and sustainable finance.

    The report will give insights into how standards are perceived around the Commonwealth, including case studies detailing the experience of different NSBs. The findings should help CSN to ensure diversity and inclusion is at the heart of its activities. The in-depth report will be accompanied by training materials and resources to help NSBs explore the issues.

    Why diversity matters in standards for Commonwealth countries

    Use of standards has many benefits for Commonwealth countries, helping to support trade and development, reduce waste and improve efficiency, managing environmental risks, ensuring interoperability and more.

    However, for these benefits to be available within Commonwealth countries, the standards need to be suited to the needs of those societies. A standard that does not take into account the full range or perspectives across the Commonwealth is less likely to be used, or may be applied inappropriately.

    The report is due to be published next week March - check back to get your free copy.

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