Q&A Interviews

Standards in Public Policy and Education

An Interview with Donggeun Choi, Chief Researcher at the Korean Standards Association

Donggeun Choi, Ph.D., chief researcher at the Korean Standards Association, shares his perspective on standards development organizations and some of the issues and challenges they face today.

What role should standards play in business strategy?

We can consider two different approaches from the business point of view. The first one is a strategic choice between leader-ship versus follower-ship strategies, and the second one is white-box versus black-box strategies.

First, since standards may function as rules in the market, leading companies may want to lead rule making processes or to influence the rules to be for (not against) their business plan. For leading companies, identifying and participating in major standards developing organizations are important. Following companies need to monitor the results of rulemaking processes or to learn how to meet the requirements of the rules.

Second, because standards are open documents for all, companies may need to strategically decide what to standardize (open) and what to privatize (closed). Some Japanese researchers call them white-box and black-box strategies. Companies can open certain parts of technologies (white box) for compatible functions, but they may want to keep certain technologies or parts confidential (black box) so that the company can keep its competitive advantages. These leader-ship or follower-ship and white-box/black-box strategies for standards development should be considered a crucial part of a company’s business strategy.

How does public policy affect standards development?

Public policy for standards development may influence the competitiveness of companies in domestic and international markets. A specific example for Korea’s public policy was the support of CDMA, or code division multiple access, instead of TDMA, or time division multiple access, for 2G technologies in the 1990s. The introduction of CDMA in Korea became a keystone for Korea’s information and communications technology success in mobile technologies. However, some analysts think recent policy for 3G or 4G technology standards was not that successful compared to that for CDMA.

For instance, the Korean government welcomed and adopted Wibro, a technology developed by Samsung Electronics and ETRI, for 4G standard. However, Wibro has secured only 1 million users while LTE technology has secured more than 20 million users in South Korea as of summer 2013. Public policy, from investing public R&D for a particular technology development to selecting a particular technology as a regulatory standard, is impactful for all stakeholders not only in the short but the long term.

While a guest researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, you studied national standards systems. What are a few of your more significant findings about the similarities and differences in these systems?

First, national standards governance should be considered as a part of national economic, political and industrial systems, but from time to time policymakers tend to look at standards governance separately and want to make swift changes without careful consideration. The current structures of the national standards systems of the United States, China and Korea are different from each other because the countries’ histories of industrial development and economic systems are not the same. In this context, I feel that the standards system of one country may not be copied to other countries. Therefore, we need to have careful studies of national standards systems, but such studies are very scarce and overlooked.

Second, no national standards system can be perfect, and each naturally has merits and demerits. Interestingly enough, stakeholders may wish to change their national standards, but many of them are locked in their current systems. Reluctance to change seems to come from conflicting interests between different stakeholders or worry about the potential negative impacts of system changes.

Why do you feel that standards education is important? What suggestions do you have for how standards development organizations can address standards education?

Education should provide what is important to society. A certain amount of standards education should be given to students before they start their professional careers because standards are important to businesses, governments and consumers as well as to standards and conformity assessment organizations.

The first moment I recognized the need for standards education was soon after I started working for the Korean Standards Association in 2000. At that time I knew practically nothing about how standards are formed and how standards influence business. Without proper knowledge about standardization, I started working on standards development projects in the field of electronic commerce and transportation. I often describe it as a situation like “being a soldier sent into battle without any training on how to use a rifle.”

Now, in 2013, around 4,000 students take the KSA-sponsored class, Future Society and Standards, in universities every year in Korea, and I have observed a change in KSA — some new employees are able to describe their views on standardization in job interviews based on their university class. I think this means a lot to the standards community. Standards education enables students to be equipped with proper knowledge about standards, and they are better able to manage standards-related issues in real work.

For standards development organizations, there are certain ways to contribute to standards education. In this sense, ASTM International and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers are already outstanding. I often visit the websites of the ASTM International Campus and the IEEE online education portal to learn new information and gather ideas about standards education.

Noting that one of the hurdles for education is the need for content, ASTM could consider providing a series of case studies explaining the impact of ASTM standards at various levels so that ASTM standards can penetrate into curricula of the course and be recognized as international standards. Even though ASTM standards are used in more than 100 countries, there are few universities that teach about ASTM standards. One methodology is providing case studies evidencing how ASTM standards are widely adopted, referenced and most important, have influence as international standards in various countries.

How does your work as a chief researcher at the Korean Standards Association impact the work of the organization?

I hope that my work is contributing to more recognition of KSA in the international standardization community. These activities include my work as project editor for an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard, ISO TR 28682, Intelligent Transport Systems; project proponents/editors for four Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation publications (from the APEC Subcommittee on Standards and Conformance and the APEC Transportation Working Group); and as a board member of the group, International Cooperation for Education about Standardization. Such publications and activities have presumably increased somewhat the recognition of KSA internationally. In particular, KSA has been recognized as one of the leading standards education organizations in the world, and an increasing number of organizations in the world are contacting KSA for future cooperation. This is advantageous because the KSA mission involves promotion and education about standards and quality.

Are you beginning to see global standards developed by organizations such as ASTM International becoming more widely recognized and used in Korea? Is that likely to change in the future, and if so, what leads you to that conclusion?

ASTM international standards have been recognized as one of the highest quality standards sources for Korean industry. ASTM standards have always been in the list of top 10 most widely used overseas standards, i.e., ISO, IEC, ASTM, ASME, JIS, BS, DIN,1 during the last decade. Sales volume could be one of the indicators that can represent the usage level of a specific SDO’s standards in Korea. In terms of KSA’s sales volume ranking among all overseas standards, ASTM’s ranking was third in 2002 after JIS and ISO, and fourth in 2012 after ISO, IEC and ASME standards.

Although the recognition and use of ASTM standards have not changed much and are not likely to change in the foreseeable near future, the adoption level of ASTM standards has changed. Even though ASTM standards are widely used in Korean industry, the formal adoption of ASTM standards as KS seems to have decreased during the last two decades.

What trends do you feel will impact the way standards development organizations do business in the next five years and how?

I think that the national adoption of ASTM standards, and the growing number of references to ASTM standards in the regulations of many countries, are two of the most impactful issues for ASTM’s business model.

As regulations are increasingly using voluntary standards, the first issue could be copyright and royalties for national standards bodies adopting ASTM standards. As mentioned in the previous response, national standards bodies may be less likely to adopt ASTM standards as national standards than ISO or IEC standards if domestic users pay more for such ASTM-adopted standards. NSBs pay membership fees for ISO and IEC, and their national adoptions are royalty-free.

A connected issue is that, although most SDOs encourage the use of their standards in regulation, there are increasing demands for freely available standards that are referenced in regulations. This is more complicated when ASTM standards are adopted as national standards outside the United States and re-used again in regulations.


1. The standards development organizations and standards referred to include IEC, International Electrotechnical Commission; ASME, American Society of Mechanical Engineers; JIS, Japanese Industrial Standards; BS, British Standards; and DIN, Deutsches Institut für Normung.

Dunggeun Choi, Ph.D., is chief researcher at the Korean Standards Association, Seoul, Korea; he is also a member of the board of the International Cooperation on Education about Standardization. At KSA, Choi focuses on standards strategy and policy, standards education and international cooperation. His projects include analyzing and developing public policy and business strategy, researching technology systems and infrastructure, designing and coordinating human resource development and management activities, and developing and administrating standards and quality infrastructure. He recently spent a year as a guest researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.