Consumers and Standards:
Partnership for a Better World

3.1 Consumer representatives, who they are and how can they help

A consumer representative is not only a consumer but is also a person representing consumer interests in a formal setting. See section 2.1 for definitions of both ‘consumer’ and a consumer representative within standards development.

A person representing consumers is typically nominated by a relevant and credible consumer organization. This ensures that they will formally represent their consumer constituents rather than promote a personal opinion.

A consumer representative participates in meetings of national or international technical committees where standards are developed.

Note: This is the same principle that applies to representatives of other stakeholder groups.

How consumer representatives help

The consumer representative’s role is to ensure that the standards being developed address issues of concern to consumers . One useful source of information is the ISO IEC Guide 76 Development of service standards — Recommendations for addressing consumer issues. There are also links to various other helpful documents at the end of this section, as well as in the Materials and resources section.

As noted earlier, issues may include any one or more of the following:

  • Health
  • Safety
  • Performance
  • Ergonomics and comfort
  • Quality
  • Choice
  • Reliability
  • Environmental protection
  • Ease of use
  • Interoperability
  • Accessibility
  • Information (including instructions and warnings)

(Also see 2.2 for more discussion on “what consumers want”)

Note: refer to relevant guides (Section 7 of this module)

There are several ways that a consumer representative can influence the outcome of discussions, resulting in a better standard, and therefore a more desirable end product or service.

A practical example of the way consumer issues can be addressed in developing a standard, for instance, for a pushchair (stroller) or pram (baby carriage) is given below.

A consumer representative can contribute by:

  • Influencing the scope of the standard.
    For example, the standard might only cover strollers for children below a certain weight.
  • Providing hazard data, which show past safety problems due to children’s behaviour or small size.
  • Providing data on consumer complaints which help to identify areas where standards can help address grievances amongst consumers.
  • In some countries consumer or other organizations offer complaints handling or alternative dispute resolution services to consumers.
  • Addressing issues of safety, durability and ease of use.
    For a stroller this may mean choosing characteristics for belts, buckles, straps, wheels and other moving parts and how they fit together.
  • Providing information about how products are used in practice, and common types of misuse.
    Children might move around or rock the stroller, so a minimum width might be needed to ensure stability.
  • Ensuring marks and instructions for use are suitable.
    Example: including warnings to always use the belt to attach the child, use the safety brake, etc. within the instructions.
  • Checking that test methods and performance requirements reflect how products and services are actually used.
    Example: How many loaded shopping bags can hang off the back of a stroller...?
  • Questioning assumptions: just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it always will be!

3.2 Useful organizations to help you get started

Indifferent countries the focus for coordinating or developing consumer representation in standardization will lie with different bodies. In some countries there may not yet be a focus for this. If you decide to get involved and want to find out more, then you can:

  • Contact a relevant consumer association in your country

Consumer associations often cooperate with national standards bodies or with other larger consumer organizations, or both. They are in a position to select and nominate consumer representatives. There may also be specific interest groups looking after the needs of elder people, children and disabled people, for example. There may also be organizations devoted to specific consumer issues such as safety.

  • Contact the ISO/IEC member body in your country or accredited standards development organizations.

This body is the representative national standards body of your country. Contact details are available on ISO’s Web site, ISO Online (www.iso.org), or by contacting the ISO Central Secretariat (central@iso.org).

 

Example: A network of about 30 consumer organizations in Argentina joined together into the "IRAM Consumer Committee", which coordinates the work of these consumer organizations with IRAM, ISO's NSB member in Argentina.
  • Contact international and regional consumer associations

Consumers International is the worldwide organization for consumer groups which has its Head Office in Europe and has regional offices in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. (www.consumersinternational.org).

In Europe, ANEC is a regional association representing consumers in standardization (www.anec.eu).

  • Contact the ISO Committee on consumer policy (COPOLCO)

For more about COPOLCO, see section 1.6 or www.iso.org (See Resources for ….Consumers – on the Home Page) COPOLCO can also give you details of relevant regional groups who may assist you.

3.3 How consumer representatives can influence standards development

Consumer representatives can positively impact standards work in several ways:

At national level

  • Generally: by participating in policy, technical or advisory groups that decide national priorities for standardization, and that set overall work programmes, and related policy;
  • Specifically: by appointment to a Technical Committee, Subcommittee or working group developing a standard or standards in a particular field;
  • Commenting on relevant standards during public review or enquiry stages. The development of social media has enhanced this possibility, but caution should be taken when considering responses directly from individuals of the public rather than recognized organizations.

At international level

  • Being part of the national delegation of the NSB to the ISO Technical Committee
  • Being part of a national ‘mirror’ committee also has some benefits but influence is less direct
  • through Consumers International which, as a liaison organization to ISO, participates in a few international technical committees. Contact a representative organization of Consumers International in your country to find out more.

Whether nationally or internationally, experience shows that to make a maximum impact, consumer representatives should participate as early in the process as possible.

3.4 Challenges to consumer representation

Even though consumer participation confers many benefits on standards, there may be a number of obstacles in your country which consumer representatives will need to consider. This module should provide a first step in identifying and overcoming some of these obstacles, and the next section has more details about this. Frequently mentioned challenges include:

Lack of familiarity of standards by consumer representatives and organizations.

ISO and other standards organizations have evolved a specialized vocabulary and "jargon". There may also be a perception that "standards are for industry”. This can be off-putting to individuals and organizations new to standards development. The brochure, “Your voice matters” provides a useful down to earth introduction in clear language.

Lack of awareness of the role of standards in legislation

Lack of awareness by consumers and their associations about the role of standards in providing consumer protection, is one of the biggest hurdles. In many countries, consumer organizations work to influence their governments to pass and enforce laws to protect them. However, this might not be the only answer.

The following three examples show the ways that standards, can support legislation:

  • Standards can provide the basis for legislation as mentioned in section 1.2. Consumer input can shape and influence these standards.
  • A law might not be comprehensive enough; it might not contain the technical specifications that a standard for a product could.
  • Standards can provide a valuable indicator for minimum criteria to protect vulnerable markets. It is easy to forget that some consumer protection laws may be increasingly difficult to enforce due to market deregulation and globalization of trade. The "dumping" of substandard products across borders is one unfortunate result...

Many organized consumer groups campaign for better, safer, or more environmentally friendly products, but miss the chance to amend and improve specifications for the products themselves by becoming involved in standards development.

Consumer organizations not fully exploiting networking potentials

Consumer organizations may realize the value of standards – but have not been able to contribute effectively. They need to interact with the national standards body and/or with national, regional or international consumer organizations, on standards issues. In liaising with other consumer organizations and public interest groups, with a similar interest it can be easier to influence a standards development process.

Insufficient recognition by national standards bodies

In some cases there may be insufficient recognition by national standards bodies of the value of consumer participation. The brochure ‘involving consumers’, aimed specifically at ISO members, is relevant in this case. A national standards body needs to ensure that adequate consumer representation happens at various levels:

  • Through consumer representation either on their governing or policy-making board. As a result, the standards programmes and priorities can then reflect consumers' interests.
    For example, a consumer representative on a governing board might promote a standard for food packaging (either national in origin, or adopted from an existing International Standard).
     
  • Consumer participation in key national technical committees as identified by the national standards body or a consumer group. It is neither practical nor feasible to support consumer representation in all technical committees, especially as many do not develop standards that impact directly on consumers or their environment.
  • Consumer representatives within national delegations attending international technical committee meetings. The delegations should reflect a balanced view of all stakeholders within a subject area.
  • Consumers' participation in NSB structures: by adequately informing consumer organizations about meetings, and by providing practical help in identifying financial resources to enable consumers to attend meetings.
  • Sharing information about forthcoming meetings, standards programmes, new work item proposals, and so on. This can increasingly be facilitated using electronic fora.
Inadequate resources for consumer representation

Inadequate resourcing is often the main obstacle for consumer representation. Consumer organizations often have limited financial and human resources. Consumer representatives often rely on standards development organizations themselves to help defray the costs of attending meetings. Other sources of support are government agencies or outside donor agencies. These challenges are more marked when developing standards at the international level where more resources are required.

Despite these many obstacles consumer representatives have made a positive contribution to many international standards. The key to overcoming these obstacles is for the NSB and consumer groups to organize ways of communicating and working together effectively to find common solutions relevant to your country.

3.5 A useful exercise to help identify priorities and challenges, and develop your strategy

This exercise is appropriate for consumer organizations wishing to prioritize their input into standards and provides a strategic thinking tool for consumer representatives.

A useful start is to have a good understanding of the current situation in your country, develop a strategy, and identify your priorities.

The range of priorities identified may include:

  • Participating directly in a technical committee, to advocate on behalf of consumers and contribute to a standards body’s work programme
  • Encouraging government agencies to consider the use of standards as a solution for consumer protection issues
  • Identifying which actions need to be taken individually and/or collectively, to maximize the return on investment of time, money and energy by a consumer representative, committee or association.

You may find it useful to work through the exercise below to see how can this be done practically, with the greatest impact. This exercise is based on experiences gained from international training sessions, involving consumer organizations, national standards bodies and other relevant organizations. The exercise will help you plan a strategy and decide your priorities.

The first thing to do is to assess the situation by asking some questions:

About the standards framework:

  • How is standards development organized in your country, and how effective is it?
  • Where do consumer issues fit in, how are they considered?
  • What standards are needed by consumers in your country?

About consumer organizations or groups:

  • Are consumer groups organized and, if so, how?
  • How do local laws, culture, and standards organizations affect consumer representation?
  • What are the consumer priorities?
  • What is the consumer impact?

Consider the following and compare your country’s situation with how this is done in other countries:

  • Is consumer representation managed by the national standards body, or is it managed by a consumer organization or by an NGO?
  • What sources of funding are there – government, NSB, or other agency?
  • Who are your staff? Are they paid staff or volunteers?
  • What is the staff's educational and professional background, and what briefing (courses, meetings or materials) is given?
  • How are consumer representatives chosen?
  • How do government, standards committees or bodies, and consumer agencies or groups fit together?

Set goals that are well-adapted to your current organization situation

These goals can be short, medium or long-term.

Decide: What should we try to accomplish in six months …. one year…. five years …ten years?
Ask: what steps are needed for each goal?

Examples of some useful goals:

  • Engagement of consumer organization with NSBs and/or government to lead to regular consultation between the NSB and consumers on policy matters
  • Consumer representation on committees producing national standards of priority interest to consumers
  • Consumer representation on one or two national "mirror" committees for international standardization work of priority interest to consumers
Note: A "mirror" committee prepares the position of a given country – comments, votes – on an International Standard sent out for ballot to ISO members
  • Participation in one International Technical committee as part of the national delegation
  • Consumer representative on the management board of the NSB or the group which considers strategy and priorities
  • Consumer representation internationally: as members of several national delegations, or as representatives of Consumers International

Develop a plan to realize your goals:

  • Develop a good interactive relationship with your national standards body
  • Set goals that are achievable
  • Try to break tasks down into manageable parts
  • Assess: What works and what doesn't? Change actions in light of experience!
  • Try not to be isolated – try to identify colleagues in a similar position as yourself, doing the same things
  • Develop or participate in training activities – by accessing this module you have already started!
  • Pay attention to resources: constantly seek funding, personnel, commitment
  • Organize sharing of knowledge and optimum use of resources

The results from this exercise should help you focus on using your resources efficiently when considering consumer representation in standardization.

Now we go on to consider supporting documents, which can assist consumer representatives with their contribution to standards development. This is followed by some practical suggestions for doing this effectively as a consumer representative.

3.6 Key documents supporting and assisting consumer participation in ISO and IEC standards development

Section 1.4 provided an introduction to how standards are developed.

The best source of information on how standards are developed in any particular country is the standardization body in that country and its accredited standards development organization, if applicable. (Contact details for the ISO network of NSB’s are available on ISO’s Web site, ISO Online (www.iso.org).

ISO and IEC have issued a policy statement on consumer participation that describes steps that NSBs can take to promote consumer participation in the standardization process. It also provides information about the seven stages for developing an International Standard and key moments for consumer involvement.

Consumer participation is also emphasized in ISO’s Code of Ethics.

Other resources exist to help technical experts and stakeholders better understand the process:

My ISO job - Guidance for delegates and experts (International Organization for Standardization) (This brochure offers delegates and experts a quick reference to the ISO system and its processes.)

Other helpful sources are:

3.7 Practical suggestions for being an effective consumer representative

Earlier in section we considered how to get started, whom to contact, and proposed a checklist to assist in developing priorities and strategy, as well as documents to assist you. The following section gives you a range of practical suggestions to support you as a nominated consumer representative for a specific standard. This is followed by some links to more detailed training material that you may find useful.

Other sections in this module have already addressed the importance, role and benefits of consumer representation and are a useful reference when explaining the need for consumer representation and the difference between being a ‘consumer’ and being a consumer representative.

The Role of the Consumer Representative

Know your role as a consumer and a stakeholder

  • The role of the consumer representative is to present and champion consumer issues for the standard being developed. Remember you may be the only consumer representative whereas other stakeholder groups may have more representation. Therefore consulting with relevant organizations and single issue NGOs can help to build a more robust case putting you in a stronger position.
  • Within the consumer position there needs to be consideration of the needs of vulnerable consumers, such as the elderly, the poor, children and people with specific disabilities. Helpful guidance on addressing the needs of these vulnerable consumers can be found in ISO/IEC Guides 51 (children) and 71 (elderly and persons with disabilities).
  • A consumer representative should understand the importance of developing a relationship with other stakeholders as it facilitates the development of cooperation, alliances and common grounds for consensus, without losing the consumer focus.
  • Identify key consumer issues for each standards topic you are working on and communicate these to the other stakeholders. This will help you in achieving your objectives, namely others understanding and accepting the points you are making.

Before the meeting

  • Familiarize yourself with the procedures and rules that apply to the standard under development
    • What is the standard about?
    • Why is it being developed?
    • Who is involved and what are their interests?
    • When did the process start?
    • Where or at which stage is the standard under development?
    • How can I best influence the process with my contributions?
  • Read all the papers, including past minutes so that you are aware of positions taken.
  • Try to investigate and equip yourself for the relevant consumer issues that should be be discussed. There are many sources of information available to do this. Try to cooperate with consumer organizations from other countries or international consumer organizations that work in standards.
  • Where possible make contact with other consumer representatives who have participated at national and international levels.
  • Identify some relevant and topical examples of day-to-day consumer issues, from a national, regional and international perspective.
  • Identify the consumer issues for this meeting and when, where and how to submit comments in writing beforehand.
  • Identify relevant legislation and regulation and consider the possibility of the standard being referenced.
  • Where possible provide objective data or examples. This could be a baseline consumer survey, complaints data, accident data, comparative test results etc. and use the information as evidence to support your position.
  • Generate positions through consultations and consider in advance what is negotiable by identifying the major and minor issues and seek the possibility of a compromise. In order to decide on your aims, where can you compromise and where you can’t using collected supporting information / research / research data where possible using examples cost and impact on consumers and other stakeholders if action is not taken to resolve issues.
  • Once you know other stakeholders involved, it is even more important to get to know the Secretary and the Chair. Do they appreciate consumer issues?

At the meeting

Having prepared, consulted and practised, you are an informed consumer representative able to explain the consumer position and the issues relevant to the particular standard under development

When you are at the meeting:

  • Participate actively in discussions.
  • Listen!
  • Ask for clarification if something isn’t clear; if you don’t understand, it’s likely others won’t either!
  • On the other hand you as a consumer representative may already know the answer but need to ask questions, putting yourself in the position of a first time consumer or user.
  • Do not be afraid to express well-supported, clear views a second time, if your position is not understood the first time.
  • Know your priorities and where you can compromise.
  • Suggest positive solutions and build a case for change giving practical examples of your local conditions and relating them to regional and international aspects plus impact if action is not taken to resolve issues.
  • Quote figures on the numbers of people affected, and give an indication of the buying power of consumers.
  • Identify others with a similar view (e.g. consumers, Gov, NGOs) and work with them in alliances with harmonized positions.
  • Avoid getting into personal conflict.
  • Network and build relationships by making the most of informal periods e.g. breaks (who are the key players, how strong are their positions?).
  • Take into account that a standard is written under consensus, so sometimes your position will not be accepted. Maybe you lose 10 arguments, but just win 1! Do not feel discouraged; stay calm if this happens. A standard is always under review, so maybe the next time you can be more successful.

After the meeting

  • Report back to your organization and other stakeholders that might have interest in issues at hand. Provide action points.
  • Ask for comment and feedback, which will assist with preparing for the next meeting
  • Record what went on so that you can check the accuracy of the minutes and challenge them if necessary
  • Do any tasks that you offered to do at the meeting in a timely manner.

Increasing your effectiveness

  • Be professional!
  • Always strive to build your capacity and become a consumer expert. Remember that any expert in anything was once a beginner – So prepare and practice!
  • Communication is the surest way to build confidence – so do not miss opportunities to communicate!
  • Where you realize you lack and/or have limited capacity with regards to consumer knowledge, behaviour, approaches, processes and literature in your role as consumer representative, seek the information and training in the necessary skills, i.e. self-confidence, collection of information, writing and negotiating ability that would assist you to function effectively.
  • With increased capacity you are in position to provide input and comment, preferably in writing, particularly at formal stages in the process. Where possible also share views at national level to also contribute to the national agenda and advise on how to progress.
  • Take advantage of training opportunities when they arise and remember there are relevant materials online . See links at the end of this section.
  • Make use of support resources available e.g. ISO/IEC Guides.

Some resources that should be helpful to you are listed below:

Involving consumers – Why and how (ISO)
First steps in standards representation: A guide for consumer organizations (Consumers International)
Consumers and standards: Guidance and principles for consumer participation in standards development (ISO)
Your voice matters (ISO)

ISO/COPOLCO has held training sessions as well as international workshops. See the programmes and content of these training sessions.

Also see the train-the-trainer programme resources.

The website for your National Standards Body may also be a useful source. Try keywords such as consumer, stakeholder participation, training for example. National Standards Bodies have Websites with consumer or consumer-related sections. They contain materials specifically aimed at explaining the role of a consumer representative in standards development.

Following are a few examples.

BSI – British Standards Institution, Consumer & Public Interest Unit

Consumer Affairs Section of the BSI Website

How to get involved with standards

CSA – Canadian Standards Association, Consumers

Consumer Affairs Section of the CSA Website

Other regional networks also have structures for encouraging consumer participation, such as the East Africa Community: http://www.eac-quality.net/quality-affects-your-life.html .

Review questions 3

Link to answer key Section 3

1) Indicate whether the following statements are true or false.

a. Consumer representatives never have any effect on a standard.
b. There is no need for consumer input into standards development until a draft is available.
c. Consumer input is normally restricted to consideration of instructions.
d. Consumers have an important role to play in developing the scope of a standard.
e. Providing information about how products are used in practice and common types of misuse is best left to the manufacturer to decide.
f. Consumer representatives often have a useful role in checking that the test methods envisaged accurately reflect the hazard as it occurs in practice.
g. Consumer representatives must represent the position of all relevant consumers, including vulnerable consumers
h. A customer is always a consumer
i. There is no difference between a consumer and a consumer representative
j. Your role as a consumer representative extends beyond attending meetings?
Question: 1/5