Technical standard

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A technical standard is an established norm or requirement for a repeatable technical task which is applied to a common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices. A technical standard includes definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, designs, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, processes, products, systems, services, or practices; test methods and sampling procedures; or descriptions of fit and measurements of size or strength. [1]


It is usually a formal document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes, and practices. In contrast, a custom, convention, company product, corporate standard, and so forth that becomes generally accepted and dominant is often called a de facto standard.

A technical standard may be developed privately or unilaterally, for example by a corporation, regulatory body, military, etc. Standards can also be developed by groups such as trade unions and trade associations. Standards organizations often have more diverse input and usually develop voluntary standards: these might become mandatory if adopted by a government (i.e., through legislation), business contract, etc.

The standardization process may be by edict or may involve the formal consensus [2] of technical experts.


The primary types of technical standards are:


Technical standards are defined [5] as:


Technical standards may exist as:

Geographic levels

When a geographically defined community must solve a community-wide coordination problem, it can adopt an existing standard or produce a new one. The main geographic levels are:

National/Regional/International standards is one way of overcoming technical barriers in inter-local or inter-regional commerce caused by differences among technical regulations and standards developed independently and separately by each local, local standards organisation, or local company. Technical barriers arise when different groups come together, each with a large user base, doing some well established thing that between them is mutually incompatible. Establishing national/regional/international standards is one way of preventing or overcoming this problem. To further support this, the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee published the "Six Principles" guiding members in the development of international standards. [8]


The existence of a published standard does not imply that it is always useful or correct. For example, if an item complies with a certain standard, there is not necessarily assurance that it is fit for any particular use. The people who use the item or service (engineers, trade unions, etc.) or specify it (building codes, government, industry, etc.) have the responsibility to consider the available standards, specify the correct one, enforce compliance, and use the item correctly. Validation of suitability is necessary.

Standards often get reviewed, revised and updated on a regular basis. It is critical that the most current version of a published standard be used or referenced. The originator or standard writing body often has the current versions listed on its web site.

In social sciences, including economics, a standard is useful if it is a solution to a coordination problem: it emerges from situations in which all parties realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions.


PartiesMutual gainsProblemSolution
Mechanical industry companies Suppliers interchange, stock gains, etc. Screw thread compatibility Screw thread standard specifications
Pharmaceutical industry and medic community Enable medical prescriptions, suppliers interchange, etc. Drug uniformity Drug standard specifications
Banks and specialized payment cards companies Enable Credit card holder to pay a merchant for goods and services Credit card uniformity Credit card Technical specifications

Private Standards (consortia)

Private standards are developed by private entities such as companies, non-governmental organizations or private sector multi-stakeholder initiatives, also referred to as multistakeholder governance. Not all technical standards are created equal. In the development of a technical standard, private standards adopt a non-consensus process in comparison to voluntary consensus standards. This is explained in the paper International standards and private standards. [9]

The International Trade Centre published a literature review series with technical papers on the impacts of private standards [10] [11] [12] [13] and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a number of papers in relation to the proliferation of private food safety standards in the agri-food industry, mostly under the multistakeholder governance of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). [14] [15] [16] [17]

BSI Group compared private food safety standards with "plugs and sockets", explaining the food sector is full of "confusion and complexity". Also, "the multiplicity of standards and assurance schemes has created a fragmented and inefficient supply chain structure imposing unnecessary costs on businesses that have no choice but to pass on to consumers". [18] BSI provide examples of other sectors working with a single international standard; ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment), ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety), ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 22301 (business continuity). Another example of a sector working with a single international standard is ISO 13485 (medical devices), which is adopted by the International Medical Device Regulators Forum (IMDRF).

In 2020, Fairtrade International, and in 2021, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) issued position statements [19] [20] defending their use of private standards in response to reports from The Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity) [21] and Greenpeace. [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">American National Standards Institute</span> American non-profit organization that develops standards

The American National Standards Institute is a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. The organization also coordinates U.S. standards with international standards so that American products can be used worldwide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Organization for Standardization</span> International standards development organization

The International Organization for Standardization is an international standard development organization composed of representatives from the national standards organizations of member countries. Membership requirements are given in Article 3 of the ISO Statutes.

Standardization or standardisation is the process of implementing and developing technical standards based on the consensus of different parties that include firms, users, interest groups, standards organizations and governments. Standardization can help maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, or quality. It can also facilitate a normalization of formerly custom processes. In social sciences, including economics, the idea of standardization is close to the solution for a coordination problem, a situation in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fairtrade International</span> Fair trade organization

Fairtrade International, or Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International e.V. is a product-oriented multistakeholder group aimed at promoting the lives of farmers and workers through trade. Fairtrade's work is guided by a global strategy focused on ensuring that all farmers earn a living income, and agricultural workers earn a living wage. Fairtrade works with farmers and workers of more than 300 commodities. The main products promoted under the Fairtrade label are coffee, cocoa, banana, flowers, tea, and sugar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hazard analysis and critical control points</span> Systematic preventive approach to food safety

Hazard analysis and critical control points, or HACCP, is a systematic preventive approach to food safety from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in production processes that can cause the finished product to be unsafe and designs measures to reduce these risks to a safe level. In this manner, HACCP attempts to avoid hazards rather than attempting to inspect finished products for the effects of those hazards. The HACCP system can be used at all stages of a food chain, from food production and preparation processes including packaging, distribution, etc. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) require mandatory HACCP programs for juice and meat as an effective approach to food safety and protecting public health. Meat HACCP systems are regulated by the USDA, while seafood and juice are regulated by the FDA. All other food companies in the United States that are required to register with the FDA under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, as well as firms outside the US that export food to the US, are transitioning to mandatory hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls (HARPC) plans.

A standards organization, standards body, standards developing organization (SDO), or standards setting organization (SSO) is an organization whose primary function is developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, reissuing, interpreting, or otherwise contributing to the usefulness of technical standards to those who employ them. Such an organization works to create uniformity across producers, consumers, government agencies, and other relevant parties regarding terminology, product specifications, protocols, and more. Its goals could include ensuring that Company A's external hard drive works on Company B's computer, an individual's blood pressure measures the same with Company C's sphygmomanometer as it does with Company D's, or that all shirts that should not be ironed have the same icon on the label.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Codex Alimentarius</span> Collection of internationally recognized standards

The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations published by the Food and Agriculture Organization relating to food, food production, food labeling, and food safety.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification</span> International, non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Switzerland

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization which promotes sustainable forest management through independent third party certification. It is considered the certification system of choice for small forest owners.

ISO 22000 is a Food safety management system which is outcome focused, providing requirements for any organization in the food industry with objective to help to improve overall performance in food safety.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BSI Group</span> National standards body of the UK

The British Standards Institution (BSI) is the national standards body of the United Kingdom. BSI produces technical standards on a wide range of products and services and also supplies certification and standards-related services to businesses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Trade Centre</span> Multilateral agency

The International Trade Centre (ITC) is a multilateral agency which has a joint mandate with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations (UN) through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

A Publicly Available Specification or PAS is a standardization document that closely resembles a formal standard in structure and format but which has a different development model. The objective of a Publicly Available Specification is to speed up standardization. PASs are often produced in response to an urgent market need.

A specification often refers to a set of documented requirements to be satisfied by a material, design, product, or service. A specification is often a type of technical standard.

Technical documentation is a generic term for the classes of information created to describe the use, functionality or architecture of a product, system or service.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a private organization working as a "Coalition of Action" from The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) bringing together retailers and brand owners (manufacturers) from across the CGF membership operating as multistakeholder governance with objective to create "an extended food safety community to oversee food safety standards for businesses and help provide access to safe food for people everywhere". GFSI's work in benchmarking and harmonization aims to foster mutual acceptance of GFSI-recognized certification programmes across the industry with the ambition to enable a “once certified, accepted everywhere” approach.

Sustainability standards and certifications are voluntary guidelines used by producers, manufacturers, traders, retailers, and service providers to demonstrate their commitment to good environmental, social, ethical, and food safety practices. There are over 400 such standards across the world.

Multistakeholder governance is a practice of governance that employs bringing multiple stakeholders together to participate in dialogue, decision making, and implementation of responses to jointly perceived problems. The principle behind such a structure is that if enough input is provided by multiple types of actors involved in a question, the eventual consensual decision gains more legitimacy, and can be more effectively implemented than a traditional state-based response. While the evolution of multistakeholder governance is occurring principally at the international level, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are domestic analogues.

ISO/IEC/IEEE 29119Software and systems engineering -- Software testing is a series of five international standards for software testing. First developed in 2007 and released in 2013, the standard "defines vocabulary, processes, documentation, techniques, and a process assessment model for testing that can be used within any software development lifecycle."

ISO Technical Committee 67 – Oil and gas industries including lower carbon energy is a technical committee within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO/TC 67 is responsible for developing and maintaining international standards in the worldwide upstream, midstream and downstream oil and gas industry and related lower carbon energy activities. Its role encompasses the harmonisation of standards for facilities, equipment and operations used for drilling, production, pipeline transport and processing of liquids and gaseous hydrocarbons on, and between, offshore oil and gas installations and onshore terminals and oil refineries.


  1. "Developing Operational Requirements: A Guide to the Cost-Effective and Efficient Communication of Needs" (PDF). US Department of Homeland Security. November 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2021.PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain .
  2. Example of TAPPI standards development regulations
  3. "Standard Specifications". Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  4. "Operational Limits and Conditions and Operating Procedures for Nuclear Power Plants Safety Guide". International Atomic Energy Association. IAEA. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  5. "CIRCULAR NO. A-119 Revised" (PDF). The White House. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  6. "Private standards". United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  7. Example: SAE International copyright policy Archived 2012-11-12 at the Wayback Machine
  8. "Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations". World Trade Organization. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  9. International standards and private standards. International Organization for Standardization. 2010. ISBN   978-92-67-10518-5 . Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  10. "Part I The Impacts of Private Standards on Global Value Chains". International Trade Centre (ITC).
  11. "Part II The Impacts of Private Standards on Producers in Developing Countries". International Trade Centre (ITC).
  12. "Part III The Interplay of Public and Private Standards". International Trade Centre (ITC).
  13. "Part IV When do Private Standards work?" (PDF). International Trade Centre (ITC).
  14. Dankers, Cora (2007). Private Standards in the United States and European Union Markets for Fruit and Vegetables: Implications for Developing Countries. Rome: FAO. ISBN   978-92-5-105779-7.
  15. Henson, Spencer; Humphrey, John (2009). The Impacts of Private Food Safety Standards on the Food Chain and on Public Standard-Setting Processes (PDF). FAO. ISBN   978-92-5-106430-6.
  16. Private Food Safety Standards: Their Role in Food Safety Regulation and their Impact. Food and Agriculture Organization. 2010.
  17. Washington, Sally (2011). Private standards and certification in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO. ISBN   978-92-5-106730-7.
  18. Horlock, David. "Collaborate, innovate and accelerate; how standards build consensus and facilitate trade". BSI.
  19. "Fit for purpose?". Fairtrade International. 2020.
  20. "PEFC response to Greenpeace report "Destruction: Certified"". PEFC. 11 March 2021.
  21. MSI Integrity, Not Fit-for-Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights and Global Governance. MSI Integrity. July 2020.
  22. "Destruction: Certified". Greenpeace International. 10 March 2021.