A standard is a repeatable, harmonised, agreed and documented way of doing something. Standards contain technical specifications or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. They help to make life simpler and increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many of the goods and services we use.
Standards result from collective work by experts in a field and provide a consensus at the time when the standards are developed. As standards in the international arena are established on a consensus and broad stakeholder basis, they represent what can be agreed upon. A published standard is therefore the harmonised synthesis of what the group is prepared to publish. In terms of international and regional standardisation, this is even more important than at the national level: the importance of consensus is critical because of large and diverse stakeholder groups and needs. Ultimately this may mean that a standard might lack some of the clarity, detail or specific criteria certain stakeholder groups or individuals would have preferred.
Standards do not necessarily have to be developed by standardisation bodies, such as ISO or the IEC. Any organization can establish standards for internal or external use. However, to be truly called a standard, the requirements stated above must be met.
Adherence to standards is voluntary, unless they are a requirement of legislation or regulation, or are incorporated as part of a formal contract. To increase global tradability and compatibility of products and services, it is important that, whenever possible, standards are harmonized globally to ensure they are truly trans-boundary.
Standards are an important way of protecting consumers. While consumer protection is often visible through government policies or consumer protection organisations, standards create an extra protective environment that lies behind the perception of most consumers. This is particularly true where consumers have little or no choice in what they are offered. In rural communities in developing countries, consumers do not generally have the luxury of comparing features and selecting their suppliers or products from the Internet. Therefore it is incumbent on the standards to ensure that whatever product or service is provided is fit for purpose, safe and has value. An important aspect of this protection is to ensure the product or service delivers as claimed, performs as specified, and is reliable, durable and safe.