Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fun Side of Standards Development.

The Fun Side of Standards Development.

Today I am at a semi-annual meeting of our Working Group for development of ISO standards.  I am in London at the British Standards Institute’s Chiswick Building.  I am sure that some (maybe many) see this as a scam to get to travel around the world while using other people’s money (OPM).  [As an aside I have always thought that it is not by coincidence that the two most powerful addictions in the world are spending OPM (in the sense of money) and consuming OPiuM (the drug)].  I will also tell you that while it is true that ISO standards meetings are held around the world, in most resource wealthy countries, governments most often provide financial assistance for about 25 percent or less of costs.  Many governments provide no support at all.  The rest often comes from delegates’ employers who may recognize some corporate advantage in participating in standards development.   A large chunk comes from personal resources.  

People interested in the process of standards development are similar to athletes at the national level; they do what they do because they are driven by personal satisfaction and personal passion and ambition. There is something satisfying in being involved in the development of  documents that are likely to be used around the world.  For me, I am not particularly driven by altruism; I also enjoy the travel and meeting with like-minded people, and I also  find standards development personally intellectually stimulating and challenging.  

There are all sorts of hobbies in which adults can get engaged.  For some it is buying art or cars or bicycles or boats, for others it is travel or sports or collecting stamps; for me it is getting into the nitty-gritty of creating documents that I know will be used around the world, and I am prepared to use some of my own resources, to some extent, to get the opportunity to be engaged in the process.  But I would not recommend this as a plan for folks on a fixed income.  

I will say that being engaged in standards development is not purely an intellectual exercise; in some regards it is a self-preservation exercise.  I spend a lot of time involved providing proficiency testing materials and education for medical laboratories.  PT is driven by requirements and expectations that are largely driven by standards that focus on quality performance.  Our program is driven by these standards.  If I am going to be expected to live by these standards, they by gosh I want to make sure that they are written in a way that I can live with.  If I choose to ignore standards development I may be stuck with requirements that I don’t agree with and don’t work with my vision of the activities with which I am engaged.  

I will give you an example.  In one of the drafts of a document being written now there was a phrase that said that laboratories should not allow financial or political considerations impact decisions on laboratory performance and test selection.  It was inserted by a delegation from a large country with a strong socialist political bent.  Their belief is that entrepreneurial activity in the laboratory arena leads to unethical practices at the expense of the poor and sick and public coffers.  

Well that sounds nice but in my world that is an unreasonable expectation.  My employer is clearly not-for-profit, but at the same time makes it really clear that it certainly is not-for-loss.  If my program offers surveys and challenges or courses that cost money to develop without a chance of recouping expenses, then my program will not last for very long.  Every decision that I make has to include financial consideration.     

I, and other like-minded folks could not let a toss-away phrase about being indifferent to financial considerations, no matter how well intentioned end up in a standard which could impact on my operation, and we were pretty vigorous at making the point that the phrase had to be removed.  

So for me standards development is a perfect activity; it is intellectually stimulating, and involves meeting and discussing and debating with similarly involved people with a full range of opinions.  I get to assert my knowledge and opinions and get to influence documents that can have local, and national and international impact, and I get to travel and see the world or sometimes invite the world to Canada. 

All things being equal it is a very good activity.  

PS:   Registration for the POLQM Quality Management Conference for Medical Laboratories is now open.  Visit our web-site (and click on the link for the conference announcement now to get registered.  
Attendance will be limited, so register early.

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