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Wherever we go and whatever we do, there is something consistent about the objects, things, and technologies that touch our lives.
From the food we eat to infrastructure – wherever we look it is there, invisibly working for our benefit.
That thing is standardization.
THE BENEFITS OF STANDARDIZATION
Imagine a world without standardization. With no common ground for the standards in safety and design. With no way of converting between weights and measures and different operating systems.
It would be chaos of an unimaginable scale.
Yet this was a major problem for the world with the advent of industrialization.
For example; the advent of the seven day week can be attributed to the ancient Babylonians.
However, the ancient Romans did not agree and an eight day week was the norm to begin with (around 46 BC) until it was replaced with the more familiar seven day week about a century later.
More recently, France adopted a ten day week during the revolution in 1793, which lasted until 1805!
Maybe the world managed to get its collective heads around the seven day week without needing an advisory body to step in, but there are plenty of others things that do need that guidance.
Which is where ISO comes in.
WHO ARE ISO?
ISO is an NGO (non governmental international organization). Its membership stands at 162 national standards organizations which represent each country.
These members work together to pool resources and information and help to come up with a democratic solution, to worldwide issues in technology.
Since its inception in 1946, it has produced 22354 publications, which have set the standards in pretty much all walks of life. These range from food safety standards to farming and agriculture, industry, health and naturally, technology.
They also comprise everything to do with clothing – including of course footwear – from materials to manufacture.
To put it shortly, international trade would disintegrate if it was not for the agreement of experts about standards.
The organizations’ headquarters are based in Switzerland.
Here is a video showing what ISO standards can do for you from the ISO Youtube Channel.
THE EARLY DAYS…
THE INCEPTION OF ISO 1946-47
ISO begins life in 1946, at a meeting of engineers held in London.
The original wish was to call the organization the International Organization for Standardization. However, it was realized that as an international body, it would end up being known by a number of different acronyms, in the various different countries across the world.
But this would lead to it being known is ION in France, IOS in English, and a whole host of other names everywhere else.
Because the group wanted to have the same name, whatever the nationality or tongue, they took the name ISO.
In Greek isos means equal, which seemed fitting, as the aim was for equality between members, as well as a uniformity in standards worldwide.
ISO’s first meeting was attended by 65 representatives, from 25 different countries.
Its official existence started the following year and comprised of 67 technical groups of experts, each battling one topic.
THE FIRST STANDARD 1951
The first ISO standard came about in 1951. This was for the measurement of industrial lengths.
It has since been revised many times and has become the Geometrical Product Specifications.
THE GROWTH OF ISO 1955
By 1955, the membership of ISO had grown to incorporate 35 members.
It holds its (third ever) general assembly in Stockholm, presided over by Secretary General Henry St Leger.
So far, there are 68 new standards already.
STANDARD UNITS 1960
One of the most important things for engineers is standardization in units of measurements.
Work on this was published in 1960, which sets out the standards on units.
This has since been updated and is now modelled on the SI (Systeme international d’unites).
This standard defines one sole unit for every type of measurement – i.e. a meter to quantify distance.
THE MEMBERSHIP OF ISO
Membership of ISO works in a three-tier system, allowing differing amounts of access to the organization.
The most basic membership is subscriber level; this means that members can be kept informed about ISO’s work, but they can’t comment or contribute to it. They also are not at liberty to sell ISO standards.
At the present time, there are only three subscriber members in the whole world – most members enjoy a higher level of membership.
The next stage of ISO membership is known as correspondent level.
This level allows members to act as observers to the creation of standards. They are also permitted to adopt ISO international standards and sell them nationally.
The highest level of access is only granted to full members. This gives complete participation in meetings on standards and their implementation strategy.
Additionally, they may sell and adopt ISO international standards nationally.
WHO’S A MEMBER?
Members cannot be individuals or companies. Members of ISO represent the leading standards agencies in their country of origin.
For example, in Britain, the member of ISO is BSI; the British Standards Institution.
In the USA, it is represented by ANSI – the American National Standards Institute.
These organizations help establish standards across labor, consumer rights, academia and professional bodies. These standards touch upon footwear in various ways.
HOW ARE THE STANDARDS SET?
ISO liken their role in the development of international standards, to that of a conductor of an orchestra.
The orchestra itself is made up by technical gurus, who are named by its’ representatives.
Each subject or topic has its own technical expert committee. These are the people who initiate the development of standards.
And these committees have a lot to discuss – there are approximately eight ISO meetings taking place every single day, somewhere around the world!
To begin with, the market needs of the standard are discussed. Then a draft document is created. This is voted on until everyone agrees on its content.
Gathering a consensus and establishing an agreement between all the interested parties is not something that happens quickly. It takes about three years for a document to go from start to finish.
THE CRITERIA FOR THE STANDARDS
1) A MARKET NEED
Firstly, ISO does not come up with the ideas about creating new standards by itself.
Rather, it is responding to a need of industry or some other organization, such as a consumer-based group.
What happens is that the industry group tells its national representative what it requires and then that member communicates the request back to ISO.
2) THE EXPERT OPINION
The committees which draw up standards are all experts in their field and they come from the four corners of the globe.
They will raise all relevant issues and identify what needs to be done, in the setting of a new world standard.
3) THE STAKEHOLDER PROCESS
These committees also have consumer groups on board and other parties, such as academic institutes, government bodies and NGOs.
All parties have a say in the development of these standards.
4) THE CONSENSUS
ISO operates by establishing a consensus amongst all the technical experts in their field and the relevant stakeholder parties.
THE LEADERS OF ISO
ISO is led by a team of principal officers.
These are headed by the president and the secretary general.
The current ISO president is John Waters of Canada.
You can learn more about ISO and its representatives here;