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Swedish Federation of Disabled Persons
DHR Katrinebergsv. 6
117 43 Stockholm
The Swedish Federation of Disabled Persons (DHR) and the Swedish Handicap Institute (HI) run a project to find a model for effective end-user influence in the international work of standardization.
The two main problem areas are the lack of financial resources earmarked for end-user and consumer participation in standardization, and the sometimes low priority given to the work of standardization by end-user and consumer organizations. The study has focused on the technical aids field as a practical study object.
The project vision of the good standards work, where end-users and consumers participates on equal terms, can be achieved through insight of the importance of education, opinion-building and lobbying. The different organizations must take their responsibility when it comes to giving priority and implement a strategy that encompasses collaboration and co-ordinating between different representatives in standardization. The implementation of consumer and end-user influence needs efficient training of representatives and creation of effective information exchange through networks and reference groups. Good international co-ordination is one important step to encourage effective national participation in the standardization process.
Standards are becoming more and more important in the global marketplace for most products and services. Despite the significance of standardization, the influence of consumer and end-user organizations is minimal. This can be explained by the lack of awareness about the importance of standardization on the part of end-user organizations, and the fact that such organizations have not found a functioning model for their work. The main reason, however, is to be found in the various obstacles facing end-user organizations in their work of standardization, where the prime obstacle is probably a lack of resources with which to finance their influence.
The shared view of Swedish Federation of Disabled Persons (DHR) and the Swedish Handicap Institute (HI) that something had to be done to strengthen the user-influence in the technical aids field have led to a three year project for effective user influence in the international standardization work. The work is based on these four general conclusions drawn by the project:
The result of efficient user-influence is products or services that fit the need of the user, in other words reduces the misfit in the process for meeting the need of the end-user.
In ancient times the criteria for designing products and services were much based on functionality, reliability and cost. Today products and services are designed for comfort, satisfaction and usability. In old times the relation between the producer and user was close, the one extreme was the self-subsistent household. During the twentieth century the mass production has become the major system for providing the goods one need. Effective user and consumer representation in standardization is one efficient way to reduce the distance between the user and the producer, in other words a market system with good communication between the producer and user, which is the key to good products and services. One challenge for the business of today is to find strategies to incorporate the user view in the development of products. Traditional expertise, like Engineers and Business Administrators, must to a larger extent be complemented with expertise suitable for strengthening the communication between business and customer.
The focus of the project is on the end-user's opportunity to exert an influence in standardization. Up till today, both end-user organizations and consumer organizations have had very limited experience in participating in the work of standardization. The
main reason for this is the obstacles that face end-users and consumers when it comes to taking part in the national and international work of producing standards. As a result, many organizations find it difficult to give priority to standardization for both practical and economical reasons.
The obstacles to active participation in standardization are of varying character. One basis for eliminating obstacles is to create the right financial and administrative conditions for end-user participation. This requires insight into the benefit of end-user influence in the production of good consumer-related standards. The parties affected must take responsibility for carrying out steps to strengthen the position of end-users and consumers in the process of standardization.
Efforts to promote end-user and consumer influence are fairly unusual, both nationally and internationally. There are organizations and individuals who spread the message about how important end-user and consumer influence is, but there have been no obvious practical results. There is some form of consumer influence on standardization in most European countries, but it is somewhat more developed in the northern European countries. When it comes to the influence of organizations for the handicapped, the situation is worse and it is mainly in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and the U.K. that organizations for the disabled take part in standardization, albeit to a marginal extent.
The U.K. is the EU country which has managed to achieve quantity in consumer influence. This has been made possible through the establishment of a strong Consumer Policy Committee within the framework of the British Standards Institute, BSI. Their model is based on recruiting volunteers and training them to represent consumers.
In Sweden and some other countries, there is a tradition of having strong authorities. In Sweden, this means that the voices of consumers are heard in committees in which the Swedish Consumer Agency, for example, is represented. A complement of people in standardization who represent both society as a whole - through an authority - and individual user and consumer organizations is the best guarantee for good, user-friendly standardized products and services.
Consumer influence is of course necessary in all consumer-related standardization. At present, the need of consumer participation is being especially noted in the rapid expansion of standardization in the field of information and communication. In 1996, a working group was set up in Sweden within ITS (Swedish Information Technology Standardization) to work with handicap issues in the standardization of information technology. The Swedish Handicap Institute has together with its Nordic counterparts started an Information and Communication Technology project partly dealing with standardization and disabilities. The project started last year and is planned for a three-year period. The European organization for consumer influence in standardization, ANEC, has also noted the importance of influence in this field and has made it one of its priority areas.
In future, the importance of social benefit and thereby end-user influence will permeate the entire process of standardization. Consumers and end-users will be regarded as an important part of the process of producing and revising standards.
The community, volunteer organizations, business and standardizing bodies are working together to facilitate and stimulate this effort. Joint efforts are being made to train representatives in the work of standardization.
Financial means are being allocated for end-user and consumer representation and the special needs of the functionally disabled. The energy of the organizations can be used to find qualified persons for the standardization work they intend to take part in, and financing such representation is a purely administrative question.
The organizations involved are working together to create good standards for products and services. New and revised standards will become a powerful social instrument with broad-based support among different sectors of society.
An organization that wants to influence the society cannot ignore standardization. Insight about the importance of user influence in standardization is needed to strengthen the users position. It can be obtained by educating user organizations, attracting attention in the media and effective lobbying. Not until this insight has become an integral feature of volunteer organizations, business and industry, the standardizing bodies and the government, will the conditions be right for effective consumer influence.
Responsibility on the part of user organizations is important for effective user influence. Active participation in the work of standardization must be on an equal level with other forms of lobbying. The organizations appoint representatives and there must be good forms of cooperation between different user and consumer organizations. Essential is a policy program that supports the implementation of an effective administrative and economic model for user influence.
To implement user influence in practice, individual representatives need to be trained. The organizations themselves are responsible for the ideological aspect, whereas the standardizing bodies provide training in the standardization process as a whole. Participation in a reference group is a good way to strengthen the voice of the users. There must be methods for implementing networks between user representatives-nationally and internationally. Needless doubling of effort can be avoided by exchanging information gained from experience. Organizations representing a particular interest should review their priorities on standardization issues in relation to their other work. I often see that the process of influencing standards is regarded as basically separate from an organization's other lobbying efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Influencing a standard that touches on an organization's field of interest is often a necessary and effective way to promote an organization's views.
To obtain effective influence some basic conditions must be met. Without sufficient financial support the voice of the user will always be marginal in the standardization process. In this respect the government has a decisive responsibility. The standardizing bodies must make participation easier. Good international co-ordination encourages effective national participation in the standardization process.
The main activities in the project at this stage are to make the different policies of the project more explicit, to educate consumer and user organizations and lobby for support and funding for the important work done by consumer representatives in standardization. A seminar will be arranged for end-user representatives in connection with the presentation of educational material. Via the project, support will be continuously offered to existing end-user representatives involved in standardization.
The project will take an active part in the international effort to promote end-user participation in standardization. This can be done through participation in standardizing bodies, on committees or in lobbying organizations like ANEC (The European Association for the Co-ordination of Consumer Representation in Standardization). At the same time, work must be carried out on a national level to find ways of coordinating consumer participation in standardization - for example, cooperation between consumer and end-user organizations within the framework of the Swedish Consumers' Association.
Lobbying, with the aim of facilitating end-user representation, will be carried out successively during the course of the project. Results of the project will be presented at national and international conferences and late this year in a final report.
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