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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Standards Development and Social Media.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the collective body of world standards development bodies play an essential role for Quality.  Without them the documents that provide rules and guidelines for consistent practice and activities would not likely exist.   Standards based on the combined results of science, technology and experience and bound together by consensus are the foundation of trade, common societal goals which today includes consistent medical laboratory practices including quality management. 


I would like to think that there is some truth to the notion. 


As mentioned, the reason that standards can work is because they are developed using a consensus model in which there is a requirement for solid agreement that substantial objections are resolved.  This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be happy.  It only means that everyone has to be able to accept or at least live with the document.  While to some it may sound like an invitation to the “tyranny of the minority” consensus requires that every person who has legitimate concern needs to be heard and every attempt to resolve their major conflicts be resolved.


It sounds so good.

But all too often the process gets hijacked because everyone in the room is of like mind.  Get a group of scientists or engineers or industrial design folks in a room and it is very easy to come to common understanding.  It is not so much a nefarious plot, but rather you have people from a common background, common education, and generally a common point of view.  Even if you would want to extend the group, while you may introduce differences in politics or single issue differences, the pool continues to have consistency in the understanding  that matters the most.  Folks from disparate regions all too often can’t afford to participate, even if they get to know what is happening.  And often consumers and public representatives (patients, students, less educated, less funded, and people who don’t belong to the specific professional organization or folks with a longer range vision) do not get their point of view included.  In fact since most of the folks on the inside wouldn’t even know where to find these alternate opinions, they don’t even get asked.

So it should not be too surprising that sometimes standards or sections within standards  that look great on paper fall apart in practice.

And this is where new technology comes to play.  Organizations like the Canadian Standards Association have introduced public access points where the general public can visit and view documents and comment on them during the period of public consultation.  Truly different points of view can get raised and need to be considered and examined.  They can not be ignored.  In Canada it means that interested parties living in Iqaluit or Yellowknife or Regina (a joke; it’s just a joke!) can in the comfort of their home of office review documents and make informed comments before the document is actually published.  This may give a committee pause to consider or reconsider.  The committee may even consider contacting the person by phone for further discussion.  Or they may, upon reflection, decide that the issue is sufficiently off-topic or does not meet the level of substantial objection that it can be noted by rejected. 

Well you can say that this is not really a democratic or balanced extension to the consensus process because when push comes to shove all that they have done is figured how to include more people who (a) know where to look (b) have a computer (c) have an internet connection (d) can read and communicate in the common language and (e) can understand the language of standards development committees.  And that argument has some merit.  

But the public access sites can be promoted on Twitter© or Facebook© or blogs and forums.  Distribution of knowledge will get broader and deeper, as will the diversity of opinion.

But until the day comes that all the world governments widely dispense free  Google© glasses to all the world citizens at birth, I am satisfied that giving more consumers and other folks who potentially can be directly impacted new requirements a voice that they did not have before is a pretty big deal. 

So “good on ya” to the CSA and other standards development bodies taking a bold step forward.  And to the others, what’s taking you so long?


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