At the March 22 American National Standards Institute (ANSI) event entitled Through the Looking Glass: A Closer Look at Openness, Balance and Disclosure, in Washington, DC, 170 attendees representing government, consumers, standards developers, and others participated in an engaging cross-stakeholder discussion focused on the ANSI Essential Requirements, and recommendations for improving the American National Standards (ANS) process.
Commissioner Robert Adler of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shared his perspective during the session on The Role of American National Standards, and explained how the CPSC and voluntary consensus standards development organizations work collaboratively and cooperatively for the public good. He emphasized the importance of openness, balance and financial disclosure within the ANS process.
Gaby Davis, chair of the ANSI Board of Standards Review (BSR), and Chris Dubay, chair of the ANSI Executive Standards Council (ExSC), helped facilitate discussions about the current procedural requirements that apply to ANS as reflected in the 2018 edition in the ANSI Essential Requirements. The feedback received during this session will be shared with an existing ANSI ExSC Task Group already considering these procedural issues and related proposed revisions.
The ANSI Essential Requirements govern the processes by which standards developers are accredited by ANSI and American National Standards (ANS) are approved based on compliance with a set of core due process provisions. Approximately 240 organizations have been accredited by ANSI. A complete listing of ANSI-Accredited Standards Developers (ASDs) is available at www.ansi.org/asd.
Claire Ramspeck, ANSI Organizational Member Forum (OMF) chair, led a panel entitled Openness and Participation in the ANS Process, which included discussions of and suggestions for outreach, targeted outreach, effective mechanisms for public notice, and how these activities relate within the ANS process and an ANS consensus body. Attendees discussed whether some current ANS provisions should be less flexible - for example, should safety standards require a strict one-third balance, regardless of the extent of the outreach undertaken. Panelists agreed that a dynamic and flexible approach to outreach intended to engage participants in the ANS process is critical, and this should include tailored messages to relevant stakeholder groups to encourage involvement and explain why participation is valuable.
A discussion on Balance and Interest Classification of ANSI Consensus Body Membership covered different approaches to the categorization by interest categories of ANS consensus body membership. This second panel, moderated by Ms. Davis, discussed best practices for ensuring the accurate identification of relevant interest categories for a proposed ANS and the associated assignment or selection process. Panelists also discussed how the three broad interest groups identified in the ANSI Essential Requirements producer, user, and general interest do not necessarily always fit a standard and so customization of categories is common. Attendees and panelists also discussed openness and transparency within working groups and consensus bodies, and how procedural requirements can apply differently to each.
Paula Watkins, ANSI ExSC member, moderated a discussion on Affiliation, Disclosure, and Accurate Accounting of ANS Consensus Body Members, in which participants were asked to consider the importance of a consensus body member's affiliations and funding sources in relation to their interest classification, and whether mandatory disclosure in some or all circumstances would be feasible and improve the resulting ANS. It was noted that some ASDs already require financial and other disclosure as part of the consensus body membership application process - and some of these approaches were shared.
The fourth panel, moderated by Ms. Ramspeck, honed in on the discussion topic, Should the ANSI Essential Requirements be further refined to distinguish among types of ANS? With limited exceptions in some aspects of the ANS process for "safety-related standards," ANS due process criteria apply equally to all types of proposed ANS. Panelists debated whether a separate set of criteria for "safety-related" or "safety-and-health-related standards" (or some other subset of ANS) should be establishedand discussed the pros and cons of a single set of ANS criteria versus bifurcated or multi-pronged requirements based on the nature of the proposed ANS. Some panelists emphasized the need to better define and isolate the category of documents that would be considered "safety" standards (or the like) and therefore subject to additional or more rigid requirements. It was noted that ICT standards are especially sensitive to procedural requirements that extend a standardization process, and such considerations are important to balance when considering proposing revisions to the ANSI Essential Requirements
Mr. Dubay highlighted some key points in his final recap during the closing session of the day, noting that while "bad standards" can happen, the ANS process provides mechanisms for review, such as appeals and withdrawal for cause provisions, that can address issues of procedural non-compliances, and for process improvements. He also emphasized that ANSI can only address the issues it knows about, which is why use of the appeals and withdrawal for cause processes is necessary. He noted that while some stakeholders believe ANSI needs to take the lead and set the clear expectation that appropriate consumer outreach and representation is essential for an ANS to succeed, others feel the responsibility lies more directly with ASDs - and with participants in the standards development process.
He noted that a number of the topics discussed throughout the day could serve as areas where the ANSI ExSC could consider providing additional guidance documents to further clarify and share best practices, including the process for handling written claims of dominance, what to do if appropriate balance on an ANS consensus body appears not to exist, defining and handling conflicts of interest, outreach to engage consumers, and effective mechanisms for promoting disclosure (financial and non-financial affiliations.)
Mr. Dubay also noted that to ensure future standardization success, ANSI must take into consideration the views of all stakeholders - including consumers and those concerned with sustainability issues - as voiced during the day's discussions, but not to the exclusion of other stakeholders, which include standards developers, industry, government, and others. ANSI is up to the task, as ANSI's president and CEO Joe Bhatia noted, recognizing that events like this one provide valuable input that will be considered fairly by the ANSI ExSC in its oversight role. The ANSI ExSC has a number of options at its disposal, including the issuance of guidance documents, the establishment of a pilot project to test procedures and concepts, and the vetting of procedural revisions. Any proposed procedural revisions that may result will be announced for public input through ANSI's Standards Action (www.ansi.org/standardsaction).
All event attendees are welcome to submit further comments to ANSI's Anne Caldas, email@example.com.
See images of the event on ANSI's Flickr, and view the agenda page with panelist details on ANSI.org.