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 January 2007
Brynn Iwanowski (top) and Diane Rehiel are staff managers in ASTM International’s Technical Committee Operations Division.

How to Improve Your Committee’s Standards Development

Committee Evaluations and New Activity Development

ASTM offers several tools to assist committees in achieving their standardization goals. These tools range from electronic balloting to virtual meetings. Two of the most effective tools, however, do not require an electronic connection — committee evaluations and new activity development.


The success of any standardization activity depends upon its relevance and value to the industry and to the marketplace. Conducting an evaluation may assist in meeting these objectives.

The staff manger initiates the first step in conducting an evaluation by gathering information about the committee and its subcommittees. The evaluation includes key elements such as subcommittee structure, standard balloting activity, products and programs, membership and meeting trends, relationships with other standards developing organizations and how the committee uses ASTM resources such as virtual meetings, teleconferencing and other electronic tools. This information provides a snapshot of how the committee is operating to achieve its objectives.

The evaluation can also identify other factors contributing to the committee’s standardization activities, such as economic and technology trends.

The information is then presented to the executive subcommittee for review and discussion. The information contained in the evaluation can help guide committee officers in managing their standardization activities.

Another tool that may be helpful in gathering additional information about the committee is a survey. A survey obtains direct feedback from the committee membership. The survey should contain questions dealing with areas of concern. For example, if meeting attendance is on a steady decline, the survey would include questions inquiring why members are unable to attend meetings. The results may prompt a change in the committee’s meeting strategy. For example, a subcommittee or task group might elect to use virtual meetings in between or in place of a face-to-face meeting if it will enable wider participation.

This information is useful and important, but what the committee does with the information is even more important. After reviewing the results of the evaluation and survey, the committee must determine what course of action, if any, is needed. The staff manager, working with the executive subcommittee, develops an implementation plan of action items. An implementation plan could include a number of actions such as discharging or consolidating struggling subcommittees and developing membership promotions to attract new stakeholders for the more viable subcommittees.

For example, in 2000, the executive subcommittee of Committee E15 on Specialty Chemicals examined their subcommittee structure and determined that it was no longer appropriate to maintain 11 separate subcommittees. Due to changes in industry climate such as company mergers and consolidations, the decision to streamline the subcommittee structure was not a difficult one. Finding candidates who were willing and able to fulfill the numerous leadership positions became extremely challenging for the committee. Working closely with the staff manager, the committee officers restructured the subcommittees from eleven to two. In addition to reducing the number of needed subcommittee chairs, this also consolidated similar activities and proved to be a more efficient and effective structure.

Another interesting aspect of the evaluation for Committee E15 was the balloting trends for some of their standards. Committee E15 noticed that approximately 15 of their standards had been repeatedly balloted for reapproval and there had not been any technical revisions in many years. As a result, Committee E15 scrutinized more closely the need for some of these standards and subsequently took action to withdraw the standards that were no longer being used by their industry.

The evaluation process prompted Committee E15 to make significant changes; these changes have created a positive response. Committee E15 has a consolidated structure that makes it much easier for new members to navigate and learn how to participate effectively. E15 has also withdrawn unused standards, which now affords the committee additional time and resources for the critical and important standards that remain under their jurisdiction. Today, E15 takes advantage of the ASTM virtual meeting and teleconference services to accelerate the development of their standards projects and actively participate in the ASTM Interlaboratory Study Program.

If you would like to initiate an evaluation for your committee, please contact your staff manager to start the process.

New Activity Development

Upon completion of your committee evaluation, it will be important to use this information and identify potential new activities for the committee. New activities can rejuvenate any ASTM committee. Often new activities will broaden the depth of expertise and functionality of the committees’ standards. Have you or your company had the thought, “I wish there was a way to standardize this product or service?” Or maybe a new technology is on the horizon and your company feels standardization will promote the highest quality product? Or has a regulatory issue been established in your field and you cannot find the standards to assist your company to comply? Each of these thoughts is a potential new activity.

Identifying new activities is easier than most think. Below are a few tools the committee may use to round up new ideas and then determine if a new activity is worthwhile.

Strategic Planning Subcommittee

The first and most important tool is a subcommittee assigned to continually remind the committee of the significance of and potential for new activities. A strategic planning subcommittee will ensure the committee is constantly evaluating future goals and past triumphs. This subcommittee should meet at least once a year to review potential new goals and activities for the committee. Any ideas generated should then be passed to the executive subcommittee or appropriate technical subcommittee for consideration.

A strategic planning subcommittee should also pay attention to the newest technologies in the field relative to the committee. The following mechanisms may be used to identify new needed standards projects.


A new activity survey is a great way to reach out to the committee to identify new potential areas for standards development. The staff manager of your committee can provide you with examples other committees have used. A survey should be used to reach out to the entire committee on an electronic basis. In order for the survey to be effective and thus yield effective data, the technical contact or subcommittee chair should provide detailed instructions and scope along with the survey’s objectives. A survey should be issued between meetings to allow a few months for collecting and compiling the results in a format that can be clearly presented to the strategic planning subcommittee.

Following review and discussion of the survey results, the subcommittee should forward new activity ideas to the executive subcommittee and appropriate technical subcommittee(s). The survey results could lead to a workshop to further discuss and define specific potential areas for new standards projects.

Brainstorming Sessions

A brainstorming session is typically informal and essentially allows the leaders of the committee an opportunity to generate new ideas for needed standards. The committee should identify a key person to moderate the session and a secretary to record discussion topics. This information can then be passed to the strategic planning subcommittee for discussion and for consideration of a future workshop.


Workshops are formal meetings where the subcommittee has a prepared agenda for exploring the viability of one or more new standards projects. Your staff manager can work with the committee to attract new stakeholders who are not represented on the committee but who are needed for the development of the new activities. The strategic planning subcommittee should allow six months to a year for the organization of the workshop to ensure the attendance of the relevant stakeholders and to properly research other aspects of the potential new standards. Your staff manager will work with the committee to organize the event and issue a press release regarding the workshop.

Maintaining a mechanism to periodically identify new standards is critical. It allows committees to stay ahead of the technology curve for their industries and can lead to attracting new stakeholders, which allows a committee to thrive and stay healthy. Please contact your staff manager for assistance in helping to organize your plans for identifying your next new activity. //

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