February 2000

Back to Contents

Plain Talk
for a New Generation

A New Pluralism?
EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, in the very first Plain Talk for a New Generation article, I said that ASTM’s goal was to acknowledge the realities of our new world, help our industries achieve their goals, and serve everyone with quality and relevance. One of those realities is before us now, like our new millennium—it’s our new pluralism. Consider the following: Some people don’t need an ASTM standard anymore to take them where they want to go. That’s a fact. What they need is a defensible technical position to take to the ISO or the IEC process, and the ISO or IEC standard is the one standard they need. There are others who, for their own reasons, don’t need a full consensus ASTM standard. They have always used other means to achieve consensus around a standard, or the ASTM full consensus way doesn’t work for them any more. They need an industry solution to solve a trade problem, they need to be in control of that solution, and they are not relying on an ASTM process to achieve these objectives. And that’s a fact. And then there are those who need traditional, full consensus ASTM standards, because nothing but this will do.

Am I suggesting that to live in a pluralistic world we must dismantle our traditions, disregard the very things that have made us credible and reliable, the things that have made ASTM synonymous with service to this nation and synonymous with standardization throughout the world? Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is that ASTM is big enough, strong enough, and flexible enough to be a standards organization that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.

When our forefathers set out to create ASTM, they had to take into account the needs of their times. They did that with great foresight and courage. We are the forefathers of the future, and we must do no less. The needs of our times are great and they are many. We live in a nation whose primary characteristic is diversity. Our multiplicity is the only thing that is singular about us. Some of our manufacturers have a global marketplace to conquer, a global marketplace that is demanding a global way of doing things. Other manufacturers thrive on our vibrant domestic market, and our regulators have problems to solve that are strictly national and local. There is no single strategy that will work for everyone anymore.

ASTM’s future in this scenario will depend on its ability to responsibly and intelligently manage this pluralism, this diversity. Our needs are diverse. Why, then, shouldn’t our standards development processes, administrative services and committees reflect who we are in reality? Why shouldn’t ASTM operate to fit the situation, the members, the sector, the marketplace, or the national need? Why shouldn’t ASTM committees be global, if that is what is called for? Why shouldn’t committees seek international participation to develop the standards they need? Why shouldn’t there be industrial-sector subcommittees, if that is what is needed? This is the flexibility, the alignment, the plurality we need; this is the gap between yesterday and tomorrow that we must fill with service to all with standards needs.

ASTM is ready to become your forum for this new world diversity. It is ready, with its time-honored dedication to quality and relevance, to meet the needs of our industries and governments, whatever they may be.

James Thomas
President, ASTM

This is the flexibility, the alignment, the plurality we need; this is the gap between yesterday and tomorrow that we must fill with service to all with standards needs.”
Go to archive of Plain Talk for a New Generation articles.