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Go with Forums

by Clare Coppa

The 24/7 availability of ASTM’s Web-based Interactive Standards Development Forums offers technical committee members the opportunity to garner expertise from around the world when drafting and revising ASTM standards. SN News Writer Clare Coppa describes the successes already achieved through Forums and the potential of this standards development tool to increase the participation of experts in the ASTM process.

Credibility is the Achilles heel of any standard. When developed electronically, a wider range of expertise can be gathered to increase the credibility of a voluntary consensus standard.

Creators of draft standards can collaborate electronically between meetings with “ASTM Interactive Standards Development Forums” a tool on the ASTM Web site. Accessible 24/7, it is designed to:

• Increase national and international participation in support of ASTM’s global standards mission;
• Erase travel barriers; and
• Accelerate the completion of draft documents.

A visual walk-through tutorial on the ASTM Home page helps users get started. User-assistance is provided with an online link to Dan Schultz, Forums administrator and ASTM technical committee manager.

Platform for the World

“Forums open ASTM up to the world,” said Barbara Schindler, director of Corporate Communications. “Regardless of their country of origin or political affiliation, anyone with Internet access can affect an ASTM standard based on their technical expertise.”

Does a larger geographical input increase the value of a standard? Paul Sample, Ph.D., chairman of Committee D20 on Plastics, thinks so. “I used Forum when I was developing and balloting ASTM F 2021, Standard Specification for Design and Installation of Plastic Syphonic Roof Drainage Systems,” he wrote from Samples, Inc., Wilmington, Del. “I was able to communicate with task group members during the writing stage and during the balloting stage.

“Also, I collected comments and resolved terminology as well as other technical and clarity issues,” he continued. “Countries included USA, Switzerland, and England either directly or indirectly. Forum provided a direct collation of responses in a relatively short period of time so document alterations could be made so as to minimize balloting concerns, generally in the form of negatives or comments. International participation, while much was off-line, served to broaden the ultimate value of the final document.”

Forums Encourages Multi-National Applicability

In her November 2000 report on ASTM in the international arena, Kitty Kono, ASTM Washington representative, said ASTM members want to “broaden the application and use of ASTM standards internationally.” Launched in 1998, Forums was designed to bring in multi-national participation and broadened applicability.

Although task groups in the States typically access Forums, international use is increasing. Lyle Hestermann, manager, Capital Resources, Raytheon, Ft. Wayne, Ind., is vice chairman of new Committee E53 on Property Management Systems. As task group chair, he used Forums to collect comments during the development of E 2131, Practice for Assessing Loss Damage of Destruction of Property, approved Jan. 10. “I thought it worked great,” he said, naming a group roster from Canada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

In March ’00, the leadership of Committee D30 on Composite Materials decided to promote their standards to a wider international audience by soliciting and incorporating international feedback through the Internet. The task group steering this effort has adopted Forums, and the D30 vice chairman, Rich Fields, describes their goals in his article.

“Specific task groups will be set up using Forums, to begin work on what the group decides are the priorities,” explained Jim Olshefsky, D30 staff manager. “In addition to the use of the Forums, we have plans to use the D30 Web site for an on-line application and custom information link.”

A Vast Continuum of User Capabilities

“Forums increases the technical integrity of ASTM standards through increased domestic and international participation,” said Dan Schultz, who says ASTM has instilled the program with a “vast continuum of user capabilities. Forums is platform independent, so any system can use it. It does require the usage of Word or WordPerfect, though. On occasion, it has been found that some aspects of text formatting and some imaging do not always convert well to HTML. When this occurs, we work with our consultant to reconfigure the document for better translation, and the documents are accommodated. This is not a Forums issue, but an HTML issue. We are in the process of carving our own path around these rare instances through researching new HTML translators for integration with the Forums system.”

Schultz said Forums has increased international participation in standards developed by Committee D20 on Plastics. “They have used the Forums for the development of an ISO terminology standard,” he said. “There are many countries represented in this Forum, and each nationality has been leaving their version of each definition in their native tongue.” Through a survey on the Forums home page, members’ suggestions for interactive collaboration are being collected.

“The biggest challenge,” Schultz continues, “is to remind members that there is a medium through which they can work on documents consistently, between meetings. Forums that have the highest success have educated administrators and staff managers that promote its use, and remind the members to [check] that their documents are posted.”

Users can also work off-line with an upload/download link in the Forums main chamber. According to Schultz, these functions can support files of any type including spreadsheets, databases, and CAD files. With these considerations, ASTM Interactive Forums can join an unlimited number of stakeholders to produce standards for greater audiences. It’s there for the taking. //

Copyright 2001, ASTM

Clare Coppa writes the Tech News articles and People page in SN. This is her eighth year in journalism; prior to becoming ASTM news editor she was a correspondent for suburban Philadelphia newspapers. She is a student at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa.