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 April 2005 Feature
Pat Picariello is director of developmental operations in the ASTM Corporate Development Division.

Click here for two case studies in new standards activity development.

The Road to Relevance
New Activity Development Within ASTM International

It is not always easy to quantify a concept such as relevance, but it is possible. At the standards level, relevance is evident in the degree to which a document is necessary and ultimately embraced by a community, how quickly it is embedded in a regulation or training program, how many times it is cited or referenced, and how many copies of it are utilized within the marketplace. At the corporate level, relevance is more difficult to define. It is safe to say that an organization is relevant if it has the vision to determine where it needs to be, the flexibility to satisfy the requirements of that journey, and the resources it needs to succeed. By following this formula and through its commitment to new activity development, ASTM International has positioned itself for unparalleled relevance in the world of standards development.

Why Is This the Case?

To answer this question, it is important to understand what ASTM is, as well as what it is not. ASTM is not a niche organization; it’s neither a trade association nor a professional society. ASTM is a standards developing organization, and is unique in its ability to marry breadth with depth. ASTM is positioned for relevance and, by design, is empowered to work within any area. As there are no restrictions on ASTM’s ability to operate as a standards development venue, it has, over its 107 years of existence, played in many different arenas. At present, there are 138 active technical committees under the ASTM umbrella. Activities range from steel, petroleum, and wood to homeland security, consumer products, and nanotechnology. It is this diversity that maintains ASTM’s relevance in the global community of standards developing organizations.

If They Come, You Shall Build It

ASTM’s philosophy regarding the creation of new activities is the cornerstone upon which its relevance rests. ASTM will only organize a new activity if the relevant stakeholder population is sufficiently motivated to make the request via motion. ASTM does not create activities and then backfill them with stakeholders. Activity that is driven by as wide a swath of an industry as possible ensures a degree of relevance that narrow interests do not. This concept is illustrated in the description of the ASTM organizational process for new activities.

The process of building new activities within ASTM is similar to the process we employ for building standards. The original idea usually starts small and as it progresses, it gains momentum as well as size and relevance. ASTM receives a variety of requests for new activities on an annual basis; these requests range from single standard concepts to new main technical committees. It is important to note that not all requests ultimately reach fruition. As the organizational process evolves, it may be determined that the interest is insufficient, other standards may exist that satisfy the particular need, or the industry may not be ready for a consensus standards program.

Stage one in the organizational process is the exploratory level. After ASTM is contacted about the possible development of an activity, there is a period of due diligence to gather information about the market in question. Additional stakeholders are contacted (often from opposite sides of the issue), research is conducted, and if the results are promising, we move to stage two: the planning level. This level involves a meeting of key stakeholders in the given area; the size of the meeting may vary, but the average number of attendees is 10 to 20 people. Note that it may be necessary for multiple planning meetings to take place depending on the nature and complexity of, or controversy inherent in the activity.

The meeting is run by ASTM and the agenda comprises a series of topics to allow those in attendance to determine if standards are necessary and if ASTM is an appropriate venue. An overview of ASTM is provided, as is a blue-sky session on potential standards topics and the development of a draft title and scope for the activity.

A planning meeting ends with a request (via formal motion) to move to stage three in the organizational process: the organizational level. This stage, like the planning level, involves an ASTM-facilitated meeting of stakeholders. Unlike a planning meeting, an organizational meeting targets as many stakeholders as are relevant to the given subject matter. Invitations are sent, press releases are distributed, and meeting notices are published on the ASTM Web site. The agenda for an organizational meeting is similar to a planning meeting; there is an overview of ASTM, an update on the nature of the request for the activity, and a discussion of potential standards topics. The attendees also go through the exercise (via formal motion) of approving a title, scope, and structure for the activity, which leads to the final motion to organize a new activity within ASTM.

Upon receipt of a successful motion, a nominating committee is selected to develop a slate of main committee officers, who will be elected by the entire committee; an ad hoc task group is selected to develop the bylaws for the new committee, which are also voted upon by the entire committee; and nominations for subcommittee leadership positions are solicited. Additional items that may take place include the establishment of a meeting profile, breakout sessions to work on draft standards, and the appointment of official liaison representatives to interact with relevant groups (both within and outside of ASTM).

The days immediately after the organizational meeting are as important on procedural and promotional levels. Procedurally, all new ASTM committees must have their title, scope, and structure approved by two degrees of oversight. The first approval comes from ASTM’s Committee on Technical Committee Operations. COTCO is one of three standing committees of the ASTM board of directors, and develops and maintains the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees. A summary of the new committee is submitted to COTCO and contains topics such as the nature of the industry and market, and the request for the activity. Upon COTCO approval, the title, scope, and structure of the new committee are forwarded to the ASTM board of directors for final approval.

Promotionally, the marketing arm of ASTM prepares items such as media lists (lists of industry publications to receive all committee correspondence), press releases, and related promotional material in hard copy as well as electronic formats. Brochures and Internet landing pages on the ASTM Web site are developed for the committees (with uniquely branded imagery), and issues of SN are devoted to coverage of the new committees and their related industries.

By the People, of the People

Through an organizational process that depends upon stakeholder interest and support, new activities are likely to reflect the needs of an industry population and, consequently, are more likely to start and remain relevant. Given that relevant activity and content is closely tied to ASTM’s goal of producing high quality, market relevant standards, ASTM is justified in placing a premium upon an organizational process that is designed to flush out activities with insufficient breadth or interest, and grow activities if timing and market conditions are favorable. In this respect, new activity development within ASTM is a true demonstration of relevance with the goal of serving the organization for a future both immediate and long term. //

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