Standards - What are they?

A standard is an agreement. An agreement between a group or people, organizations, governments, or others. It can be informal or formal, verbal or written, generally accepted or mandated by some power – government, commercial, or otherwise. Things they might agree on include:

How to do something – performing a test, constructing a building, making plastic, training new staff, building a lesson plan, building an ecofriendly business

What something should look and act like – how should it perform, how wide, tall, and thick it should be, what materials should it be made out of, how strong should it be, what features will ensure it is safe (e.g., for kids, adults, seniors, pets, the environment)

How to do something – performing a test, constructing a building, making plastic, training new staff, building a lesson plan, building an ecofriendly business

When you walk down hallways – do you walk on the right or left side? And doesn’t everyone do that or just you? When you cross the street, do you wait for the ‘walk sign’ to indicate it’s your turn to walk? These are examples of generally accepted standards. They will differ by country and region and in some cases city or town. They provide consistency. You have trust that the person next to you will act in a certain way based on this shared understanding of how to walk across the street or pass each other in the hall.

Just like the examples above, a standard does not need to include any requirements. A standard guide is just a set of recommendations, something that most people do as ‘best practice’ but with the understanding that there are other ways to do it.

Your dishwasher comes with instructions on how to clean and maintain your dishwasher. Are they required? Well, some parts of your dishwasher won’t work correctly if you don’t do them, but how you load the dishwasher, how much soap you use, and whether you pre-rinse your dishes are all elements that you control. The dishwasher manufacturer is going to provide recommendations as to what might work best (e.g. a ‘best practice’), but you ultimately decide on what works for you.

What are other types of standards?

    • Classification
    • Codes of practice
    • Guidelines
    • Management system standards
    • Recommendations
    • Regulations
    • Specification
    • Test methods
Graphic of the many kinds of standards

By documenting something in standard, it now becomes possible for others to use those same recommendations, requirements, specifications, or processes. This builds consistency and with consistency comes trust.

Within the international system of standardization, standards are developed by organizations called Standards Developing Organizations (sometimes called ‘standards-setting organizations’ or SDOs for short). And you guessed it, the process of developing standards is established in standards.

In the United States, SDOs accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) must comply with the ANSI Essential Requirements when developing, revising, reaffirming, or withdrawing American National Standards (ANS). If not developing an American National Standards (ANS), an SDO might make use of ISO/IEC GUIDE 17:2016 – Guide for writing standards taking into account the needs of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises or SES 2:2011, Model Procedure for the Development of Standards.

Any organization can develop a standard and listed above, resources are available to help them do that. Corporations may develop internal standards that support their manufacture of products and parts and share those standards with suppliers and subcontractors that build those parts. A group of businesses through an association or consortia may also develop standards to address a specific business need such as IT security standards, financial standards, and more.

To Learn more about standards, visit the following links:

Voluntary vs Mandatory Standards – what are the different types of standards?

Benefits of standards – the value that standards bring

Continue your Standards Education, visit the our resources pages

Who Participates in Standards – In the 2020 Women in Standards study on Inclusion in Standards, find a comprehensive list of different types of individuals included in the standards development process. 

Directory of Standards Developers – Women in Standards maintains a list of standards developers and continuously seeks out new organizations to add to keep you informed of which organizations you might work with to develop standards.

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