Increasing consumer engagement in standards activities is critically important for the development of the most effective voluntary consensus standards, but it can present unique challenges for standards developers. To help ANSI-Accredited Standards Developers (ASDs) address these challenges, ANSI has compiled the below summary of strategies and recommendations based on the collective input of consumers, standards experts, and other stakeholders. The full guide is available as a PDF download.
Consumers provide critical, first-hand perspectives on how products will be perceived and used in the marketplace. The consideration of these insights improves standards outcomes for all end users, helping to reduce risk, drive innovation, strengthen industry, and fuel economic growth. Learn more about the importance of consumer engagement.
In its role as coordinator of the U.S. private-sector standardization system, ANSI convened a series of roundtable sessions with consumers, consumer advocacy organizations, standards developers, and public interest groups to better understand the challenges ASDs may face when trying to increase consumer engagement. The recommendations in this guide were developed from those sessions, to help enable consumer perspectives to be shared with all those involved in the development of an American National Standard (ANS) and support openness and transparency in the process.
Connecting with consumers and educating them on the standards system and opportunities for engagement are essential to increasing consumer participation. Some strategies for success:
The communications channels ANSI-Accredited Standards Developers (ASDs) normally rely on to reach stakeholders (e.g., ANSI’s Standards Action, ASD social media posts, press releases) may not reach many consumers, since they're unlikely to be connected to these channels if they're not already engaged in a standards activity.
To notify consumers of relevant upcoming standards activities, ASDs should target them directy via:
KEEP IN MIND: SUCCESSFUL ENGAGEMENT OF CONSUMERS IS MUCH MORE LIKELY IF THERE IS A MATCH BETWEEN THE CONSUMER INTEREST AND THE SPECIFIC FOCUS OF A STANDARDS ACTIVITY.
Whether shared in-person or issued as customized press releases, articles, meeting announcements, or other digital or print materials, outreach communications should make very clear that the ASD seeks and values substantive consumer participation.
SHARE A VALUE PROPOSITION
ASDs should create a concise consumer-focused value proposition designed for non-expert audiences that includes the following key information:
In addition, ASDs should provide consumers with relevant details including:
KEEP IN MIND: OUTREACH COMMUNICATIONS ARE MOST EFFECTIVE WHEN THEY ARE APPEALING AND EASY TO UNDERSTAND, NO MATTER THE CONSUMER'S TECHNICAL BACKGROUND OR FAMILIARITY WITH THE U.S. STANDARDIZATION SYSTEM.
ASDs should establish ongoing relationships with consumer advocacy groups and public interest groups who can inform their members of upcoming activities and encourage participation, as well as with individual consumers who can serve as advocates. These types of partnerships can help to amplify outreach efforts and increase awareness.
KEEP IN MIND: THERE ARE DOZENS OF CONSUMER ADVOCACY AND PUBLIC INTEREST GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES; SEARCH FOR AND ENGAGE WITH THOSE MOST RELEVANT TO YOUR AREA OF STANDARDS ACTIVITY.
Standards developers should compile and share an annual list of upcoming activities with potential impact to consumers’ health, safety, and the environment. Providing a prioritized list of relevant standards activities can keep consumers informed and give organizations the time needed to allocate adequate finances and staff bandwidth for active participation.
Videos, online tutorials, training, and onboarding programs that educate consumers on the U.S. standardization system and American National Standards (ANS) process can be very effective in fostering engagement. If consumers can easily access and understand the ASD’s specific standards development process and consumers' rights and responsibilities as participants, they'll be much better positioned to get involved.
These resources should include information on different participation options, the level of participation required, instructions on accessing required technology, meeting schedules, and how to get further assistance.
KEEP IN MIND: VIDEOS AND TUTORIALS CREATED FOR CONSUMER ENGAGEMENT SHOULD BE SIMPLE YET INFORMATIVE, FOCUSED, AND ACCESSIBLE.
ASDs should share governing policy and procedure documents widely among consensus body members and other participants. These documents should also be included in training to set expectations and promote buy-in from all, reinforcing that each member has an equal footing and access to information.
Making these resources readily available not only benefits consumers, but also helps educate all consensus body members and other participants.
Providing previous or redlined versions of a standard, including the committee’s explanations and rationale for changes, can help inform a new participant’s comments going forward. Sharing this information can provide consumers a fuller perspective of the history and landscape of the activity and discussions.
Individual consumers, consumer advocacy groups, and public interest groups may be unable to cover the financial costs associated with attending in-person standards development activities. If a standards developer can offer financial support, consumer participation may result in increased consumer participation. Ideally, support to cover the cost of travel and accommodations would be offered in advance, rather than as later reimbursement.
Consumer advocacy and public interest groups can also lack the financial or human resources necessary for sustained participation in the development of a standard. Many of these groups are non-profit grassroots organizations dependent on small volunteer staffs and limited self-raised funds. Providing grants to such nonprofit organizations can generate consistent participation throughout the standards development process.
KEEP IN MIND: CONSUMERS NOTE THAT FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO SUPPORT THEIR PARTICIPATION ARE OFTEN LIMITED – BUT WHEN AVAILABLE, ENCOURAGE AND SUSTAIN CONSUMER PARTICIPATION.
One reason consumers cite as to why they don't stay engaged in standards development is that the number of consumer representatives on committees is typically extremely small and they feel they have difficulty influencing outcomes. ASDs should make good faith efforts to nurture relationships with consumers and sustain increased participation. A few suggestions:
To help consumers stay connected, ASDs can create dedicated social media groups, direct messaging platforms, and cloud-based file sharing. Additionally, establishing mentoring programs or a consumer relations committee to connect new consumer consensus body members to more experienced members can encourage new consumer participants to learn more about the ASD’s process and gain insight into that process and its unique landscape.
KEEP IN MIND: AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT IS TO SUPPORT AND CREATE OPPORTUNITIES TO COME TOGETHER AND SHARE INFORMATION, IN-PERSON OR VIRTUALLY.
ASDs can consider documenting minority opinions in an informative document that is available to current and future participants in a standards activity. By enabling consumers and all stakeholders to review the history of opinions submitted during a standard's development and approval, a documentation strategy like this could provide encouragement to the voters in the minority and help sustain their engagement.
ASDs should ensure their staff is educated on the impact consumers can have in a standards development activity. This can help staff take a holistic and meaningful approach when conducting outreach to consumers to foster and support their increased engagement. In addition, it's equally important to train consensus body leadership and chairs and to encourage representation of different interests in leadership roles at various levels in the standards development process.