The consultation on the ISEAL Standard-Setting Code has moved. Please join us at http://community.isealalliance.org/standard-setting for further discussion and comments.
Since February, ISEAL has been seeking comments to improve the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards. During the 60-day consultation period, nearly 100 people have contributed their thoughts on best practice in standard-setting.
We’re now reviewing the comments received and will present them to the ISEAL Board of Directors in June. The final decision on the revision will be taken by the upcoming ISEAL Stakeholder Council in late 2009.
I have a copy of the ISEAL Standards Code with the proposed changes highlighted in the Word ‘track changes’ mode. It’s a lot easire to view the proposed amendments to the Code this way. If anyone wants a copy, send me an email: email@example.com
Earlier today, ISEAL hosted the first of two teleconferences on the Standard-Setting Code to gather more in-depth input from interested stakeholders. The hour long conversation with five individuals (all from standard-setting bodies) was most useful in dissecting some of the challenges to applying the criteria in the Code and suggesting possible solutions.
The new requirement to carry out stakeholder mapping was seen as useful, particularly as an internal tool to see whether and where the consultation has been effective. Mapping could differentiate between core stakeholders that should be involved in the technical working groups or in decision-making and those that should be given the opportunity to input. One question to ask is whether there are any key stakeholders without whose participation the process would not be credible?
Pilot testing is a useful tool to engage local stakeholders who would not otherwise participate. Consultation with producers really needs to happen in producer countries if their participation is to be effective. It is important to ensure that equal weight is given in the consultation process to informal contributions such as through pilot testing and in-person meetings.
Section 6 in the Code addresses local applications of the standard and harmonisation between standards. This has always been a weak component of the Standard-Setting Code since it is hard to enforce, particularly on harmonisation. An interesting discussion focused on the potential use of proxies to evaluate the need for another standard – so rather than requiring standards to harmonise, can the participation of key stakeholders be used as a proxy for the value of the process?
On local application of standards, the challenge in applying the requirements is to balance the need for local applicability with the need for consistent application and interpretation at an international scale. It was suggested that if a local interpretation is needed then a robust local standards development process is required, whereas an emphasis on extensive guidance can help to make an international standard applicable so long as it doesn’t water down the standard.
Finally, on consultation periods, there is often a desire to shorten the consultation and to try to have one consultation period instead of two. Where the revised Code suggests that a policy is required for when the consultation period can be shortened, the group agreed that a set of criteria for evaluating the need for a second consultation process may be more effective. This would include criteria such as no outstanding contentious issues; adequate stakeholder participation; balanced participation, etc.
If you are interested to sign-up for the second teleconference on 15 April, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the consultation on the Standard-Setting Code launched a month ago, we have had 50 responses to our survey. The results are summarized here. The survey is still open and you are welcome to submit your comments using this tool.
Of the respondents, 66% have provided input to a standard-setting process and 59% consider themselves to be technical experts. 52% have been involved in the drafting process and 41% have been involved in decision-making.
The most revealing question asked what are the most important requirements in the Standard-Setting Code. Respondents were asked to select up to 5 requirements. The full list is reproduced here:
74% Clear objectives
65% Meaningful stakeholder participation
47% Harmonisation of standards
40% Locally applicable standards
40% Public consultation
37% Written procedures
37% Regular review of the standard
33% Transparent records
21% Complaints mechanism
21% Consensus decision-making
19% Freely available standards
16% Needs assessment
16% Enabling disadvantaged stakeholders
9% Stakeholder mapping
The last section of the survey asked participants to provide suggestions for areas to be strengthened, which criteria are unrealistic to apply, which ones require more discussion and whether there are any requirements missing. Some common themes have emerged from the comments. Improved transparency is a key issue, at minimum requiring that standards bodies make public all the comments received as well as improve their record-keeping.
It was recognised that the language in section 6 on local application and on harmonisation of standards contains ambiguous language that hasn’t been translated into meaningful action. While there were calls to strengthen harmonisation, the tools for doing so are not yet clear. A refrain that has been heard over the last few years is the need to shorten the comment periods. Guidance will suggest a number of criteria that can be used to assess whether a second comment period is necessary. Finally, there were also suggestions for tightening the language and making it less ambiguous, such as around terms like effective and meaningful.
One of the biggest challenges for standard-setting processes is to ensure that there is a balance of interested parties making decisions on the content of the standard. Effective and meaningful decision-making means, first and foremost, that the stakeholders in the process buy-in to the decision-making process and feel that their positions are being represented. As the guidance to clause 5.6 now states, this is a question of both empowerment and representation.
Representation is pretty straightforward. Building from the mapping exercise, it is possible to identify major interest sectors and put in place a process to seek representatives from each sector. However, this also requires that stakeholders know how people are chosen and how they can be involved if they are interested. I will come back to this in a future post.
ISEAL is proposing a slight but significant change to clause 5.6 which talks about the decision-making process. The original text stated that the “procedures shall ensure that no group of interested parties can dominate nor be dominated in the decision-making process.” The proposed new text clarifies that we are talking about interest sectors rather than any individual interested party: “shall ensure that no significant interest group can dominate nor be dominated in the decision-making process.”
The question then becomes how to identify significant interest groups? This again goes back to the mapping exercise which will ideally define which are the groups of stakeholders who would have a direct or indirect interest in the application of your standard. There will likely be anywhere from 10 to 20 major interest groups. You will have to use some judgement to determine if some of these groups are not significant consitituencies. Additionally, in decision-making you will have to look at geographic representation as well just the interest groups themselves.
The ISEAL Standard-Setting Code requires at least two rounds of public consultation on the development of a standard. Each of those consultation periods needs to be 60 days in length, except in extenuating circumstances, to allow for adequate time for stakeholder input. We often get comments that these consultation periods are too long and that they inhibit the ability of standards developers to respond to market and stakeholder needs. There is a case for both sides.
The original intent of the timelines was to recognise that an international standard has implications for a broad range of stakeholders and that, particularly on the production end it is difficult to reach stakeholders and to have them respond. If they are not able to do so electronically, it takes even longer. In practice, we are finding that regional or national meetings are required in producing countries in order to get a good sense of their priorities and interests. Planning these in-person consultations to happen during the consultation period requires time.
The counter-argument rests mainly on the fact that most stakeholders will wait until the last minute anyway to submit comments so why do they need the full 60 days? Also, with the two comment periods and the time to revise and approve the standard, the whole process will take at least 6 months, assuming the standard is not controversial.
The challenge is really about the quality of the stakeholder consultation process. Much like the post on mapping stakeholders, the main intention of the comment periods is to build buy-in and engagement to the process. If you think of the consultation as a first step in building long-term relationships with the organisations and individuals that will support your standards system, then there is a stronger case for giving them time to find out about the standard.
So the 60 day timeline is more often needed to raise awareness that the consultation is happening and to convince people of the importance of contributing than to give people adequate time to respond. However, if there is a strong effort to build that awareness and engagement in advance of the consultation, then less time may be required. This is an open question. If you have comments, submit them by clicking on the comments button below.