European Standardization: characteristics, added value and methodology

business partners putting puzzle together

 André PIRLET , Ir

Standards are defined as documents established by consensus that provide, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context. Standards should be based on consolidated results of science, technology and experience, and aimed at the promotion of optimum community benefits. Standards contain unambiguous requirements, but also, when needed, definitions and testing methods, to assess whether the prescribed requirements are fulfilled. Standards are built on consensus, and therefore groups of experts need to meet, communicate, discuss and finally reach that consensus. This calls for management, rules and procedures, which form a standardization framework. Non formal standards can be written by consortia, whether national, European, or worldwide

Formal Standards can be defined as standards prepared using formal procedures of openness and transparency and published by permanent and non for profit recognised standardisation organisations. Most of the countries on this planet have a National Standards Body. At European level we find 3 European Standardisation Bodies: CENELEC for Electro-technical Standardisation, ETSI for Telecommunications, and CEN for the rest. At worldwide level, we have similarly IEC for Electro-technical standardisation, ITU for Telecommunications and ISO for the rest.

It is essential to write the standards in such a way they allow evolution and progress, and do not block innovation. There should be flexibility for meeting the requirements specified in the standards, therefore the modern emphasis on “performance standards”. Let us now discover the different possibilities among the standardisation deliverables. We present the possibilities offered by CEN and CENELEC, while the ETSI standardisation system is rather different and focuses only on telecommunications. .

An EN is a European Standard, and enjoys the highest status. A very important aspect is that when an EN is adopted by CEN or CENELEC, the Members of CEN or CENELEC, who are National Standardisation Bodies, are forced to adopt the full EN as one of their national standards, and also to withdraw any conflicting national standard. An EN is issued by CEN-CENELEC in the 3 official languages (French, English and German), but the National Standardisation Bodies in Europe do then generally issue these standards in their national language(s), and this is a key advantage which is frequently overlooked.

A Technical Specification (TS) is a prospective standard for provisional application. It is mainly used in fields where the innovation rate is high, or when there is an urgent need for guidance, and primarily where aspects of safety for persons and goods are not involved. Conflicting national standards may be kept in force in parallel with the national implementation of the TS.

A Technical Report (CR) is a non-normative CEN (or CENELEC) publication authorised by the CEN (or CENELEC) Technical Board.

A CEN Workshop Agreement (CWA) is a document prepared rapidly by experts, without formal consultations (Enquiry, Formal Vote) at national level. It is a frequent standardisation deliverable from research projects. This type of publication aims at satisfying market demands for a more flexible and timelier alternative to the traditional EN, but it still possesses the authority derived from the openness of participation and agreement inherent in the operations of CEN. These CWAs are produced in flexible structures called CEN Workshops, where the registered participants are in charge of both the drafting and the management. CEN Workshop Agreements (CWAs) are particularly suited for the exploitation of results of Research Projects, and that approach is much appreciated by research consortia.

Formal standardisation usually takes place in Technical Committees, TCs, where national delegations are in charge of the management, while the drafting of standards is made by experts sitting in Working Groups, reporting to their relevant Technical Committee. The cross-fertilisation nature of standardisation committees, due to the involvement of researchers and the various stakeholders, is felt as an additional benefit. Whenever possible, preference should be given to the drafting of performance standards, which are defined as standards where requirements allow evolution and progress and do not block but rather enhance innovation. They offer flexibility for meeting the requirements.

The different deliverables described here above are rather similar to those found in the International Standardisation Organisations ISO and IEC, but there is however no mandatory national implementation of the standards published by ISO and IEC. When wishing to initiate a new standardisation activity, it is important to take into account the pros and cons of these deliverables, and then choose the most relevant procedure, in a tailored manner.

Let us now consider the logic for creating a new standard, case by case. We observe that large scale beneficial changes rarely happen by chance but result from a set of well planed moves and actions. The “driving” forces should logically be the groups penalized by an existing situation and who could expect substantial improvements by taking the right steps. There is therefore a need to use a Project Approach. The starting point should be to clearly define the difficulty, the challenge(s), to address, in sufficient details. We consider here difficulties faced by “groups” having a sufficient critical mass. Then there is a need for that group to express a clear objective, which should logically be to minimize or to entirely suppress the difficulty. Once there is a consensus within the group on the objective to be reached, the necessary time must be allocated to the careful drafting of the corresponding “Business Plan”. To reach an ambitious objective, a multi-faceted approach should frequently be used. Some results of research might be needed, whether from already carried research, or from current research projects or already planned research. In certain cases it will be necessary to initiate specific new research activities. Then comes the issue of legislation. A current legislation might apply and the stakeholder group should examine how to adapt to any new legislation, but also whether amendments of the legislation are needed (or are desirable) for reaching their objective, or no legislation yet exist but is nevertheless needed and should be put in place, for example a European wide legislation. The same approach applies to standardisation. Amendment of existing standards or drafting of entirely new standards might be a necessity. This would take place rarely at a purely national level but more and more frequently at the European or worldwide level. Finally, but quite importantly, come the “complementary measures”. Here we find actions like marketing, education, training, promotion, protection of Intellectual Property Rights,, , in order to have a comprehensive approach, also called Integrated Approach. Using such an “integrated approach” will give the confidence that the goals can be reached in practice, in an efficient way. Standards can provide clarity on issues of terminology and definitions, durability, recyclability, sharing and comparing data, warranties,

Of course, having the right business plan, using this integrated approach concept, is a good start, but the “driving force” needs to select the right people to ensure the best implementation of the plan, within the decided time scales. This calls also for careful monitoring of the implementation, and possibly some amendments and contingency measures

Finally, it is necessary to briefly address the “motivation” factor. In research activities, people are frequently “super motivated”, even passionate. Motivating legal experts to work on new pieces of legislation is in general not too difficult. On the other hand, it is important to use a careful message in order to ensure a long term commitment in a standardization activity, frequently characterised as “non-sexy”, almost jokingly! People there need first to be convinced by the intrinsic importance of the end goals, and secondly need to be convinced that a “support through standards” is vital to help reach these goals. The importance of these goals will then generate the necessary motivation. It is however harder and harder to find the right kind of people for writing new standards : they must combine solid technical experience with the necessary patience and tenacity, while also being at ease with wordings to formulate precise requirements and explain in all necessary details the most relevant testing methods. To compound the difficulties, these persons are generally multi-skills, and might be “diverted” from their standardisation tasks to fulfil instead a set of shorter term goals, as decided by their hierarchy.

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