Standards Stakeholders: Who Does (and Who Should) Set Standards?


With more than a million standards in place in the world today, it is axiomatic that we are all profoundly affected by their existence. Yet only a very small number of people are involved in the creation of these standards, relative to the billions that are impacted by their implementation. As a result, the ranks of the affected vastly outnumber those of the affecting. Most ITC standards are created by consortia that don't permit individual participation at all (there are significant exceptions, such as IEEE), and the rest are set by "accredited" standards developers that honor the goal of including all stakeholders, but have a hard time getting many of those affected (such as consumers) involved. The result is that standards creation is primarily a vendor-controlled process, and there are real consequences that flow from the fact that a single type of stakeholder - vendors - has most of the influence, as compared to end-users, consumers and others

As a result, I decided to use the April issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin to examine the concept of the "stakeholder" — an identifiable class of people and/or entities that are affected by the implementation of standards — and whether these classes are adequately represented in the standards development process. 

Here’s what you’ll find in the April issue, if this topic interests you:

In my Editorial, I focus on one of the most problematic of stakeholder issues: if one assumes that individual end-users should have a say in standards development, how can this be accomplished?  Historically, involving such stakeholders has proven to be a difficult ideal to achieve. But with the Internet and the dramatic success of collaborative projects such as the Wikipedia and open source software projects, both the technical means as well as the willingness of individuals to participate in on-line activities without compensation have been demonstrated.  I believe that it’s time to experiment with these new technical tools in order to bring this last, and largest, stakeholder group into the standards development process in at least an advisory capacity.

The Feature Article this month provides an in-depth explanation of how stakeholder groups are defined, how the concept is used in serious research, and how the various types of standards development organizations do (and do not) attempt to include all affected parties into their process.

This month’s entry form the Standards Blog addresses the stakeholder topic from a very different perspective, comparing two current (and quite different) experiments directed at bringing third parties into the development of semiconductors.  Traditionally, such designs have been among the most proprietary forms of intellectual property.  Now, however, both IBM and Sun have launched initiatives that allow other vendors to influence (and in the case of the Sun initiative freely use) chip designs developed at great cost by these influential vendors.

My Consider This piece for this month examines what can happen when one type of stakeholder — in this case, a state government — decides to use its legislative and procurement powers (perhaps inexpertly) to influence the type of standards that vendors decide to implement (this is an expanded version of a prior blog entry).

I’m also pleased to pass along an Open Invitation from ANSI, which is sponsoring a follow-on meeting to the very successful meeting of consortia and accredited developers that my firm hosted last March.  The hope of this new meeting is to build upon the ideas exchanged at the first get together, and discuss ways in which these two systems — each of which serves the same stakeholders — may work together more productively in order to better serve those affecting, and affected, constituencies.  Last year, I was elected to the Board of Directors of ANSI, and I am pleased to be able, in this and other ways, to assist in bridging the unnecessary and counterproductive gap between accredited and non-accredited standard setting organizations.

As usual, this issue closes with the Rest of the News — a collection of what I thought were some of the most significant and interesting stories of the past month, selected from those that I posted on a daily basis at the Standards News Portal.

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