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ISO 9001 and the public sector: Two new documents, one big benefit and millions of happy citizens

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How can Government increase efficiency, prevent errors and improve customer service? Answer: ISO 9001.

ISO 9001 is by far the world's most established quality framework, currently being used over 1.5 million organizations in 191 countries. Those are some impressive numbers - and among the primary reasons why the public sector is sitting up and taking notice.


This is reflected in two newly published ISO documents giving ISO 9001:2008 guidelines for the public sector: ISO 18091 for local governments, and ISO/TS 17582 for electoral bodies responsible for the organization and administration of electoral processes.

We asked our two experts, Carlos Gadsden and Tyler Finn, to give us the highlights of the two new documents, and how governments will benefit for the good of all.

So, Carlos, the much-awaited ISO 18091 is expected to be a game-changer for local governments. Can you elaborate?
Carlos Gadsden

Carlos: There's not a country in this world that hasn't had to take stock of their budget, and undertake belt-tightening measures. In these tough economic times, local governments need to effectively manage the available resources and processes, and work together as a system. This is where ISO 18091 makes a difference.

ISO 18091 constitutes an excellent tool for local governments to reassure local citizens that their needs and expectations are fully understood and met on a consistent basis and in a timely manner.

Why choose the ISO 9001 sector-specific approach?

Carlos: ISO 18091 is the first ISO standard for the governmental sector that gives guidelines for the implementation of ISO 9001 in local government. With a quality management system, a local government can direct its activities to satisfy the needs and expectations of the local community.

Local governments are the most important suppliers in the world. Their activities can include transportation, education, water supply, waste collection, sewage and drainage, public lighting and civil protection. If these activities are unreliable or lack quality, it can mean a lot of problems for a lot of people.

In what concrete ways will ISO 18091 benefit local government?

Carlos: ISO 18091 is an essential map for local governments to organize themselves in a comprehensive way, focusing on continual improvement where it matters. It will:

  • Empower citizens and governments together
  • Produce not only effectiveness but legitimacy
  • Provide a common language and understanding between politicians and technicians, and enable comparability among countries and other local governments
  • Serve the local population by making politically viable those things that are technically indispensable
  • Create a useful tool for the UN millennium goals and objectives for a sustainable world and smart cities
  • Produce reliability – essential for society

Tyler, now turning our attention to ISO/TS 17582, in what ways will the new technical specification improve the electoral process?

Tyler: ISO/TS 17582 is important for electoral bodies because it applies the time-tested quality management system of ISO 9001 to a specifically electoral context, specifying how such quality principles apply to eight processes that are fundamental to any election: voter registration; registration of political organizations and candidates; electoral logistics; vote casting; vote counting and declaration of results; electoral education; oversight of campaign financing; and resolution of electoral disputes.

In this manner, ISO/TS 17582 creates the framework for a quality management system that helps electoral bodies provide more reliable and transparent electoral services.

Tyler Finn
Will electoral bodies be required to use ISO/TS 17582?

Tyler: Like all ISO deliverables, ISO/TS 17582 represents a voluntary mechanism. It is aimed at electoral bodies, whose principal aim is to build confidence in elections through increased transparency, planning and efficiency in electoral processes. In this sense, the technical specification will be of particular interest to electoral bodies in developing democracies where promoting confidence in the electoral system can determine the success of an election.

How will electoral bodies benefit?

Tyler: Electoral bodies that choose to adopt the standard stand to benefit in a number of ways. ISO/TS 17582 promotes high standards of organization, efficiency and management throughout the electoral cycle. It also provides a flexible structure that permits the continual improvement of electoral bodies in order to respond adequately to the diverse challenges presented by electoral administration. Furthermore, by certifying against ISO/TS 17582, an electoral body publicly declares its commitment to transparent electoral processes, thereby building public confidence in electoral services.