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Policy precision: Embracing standards and accreditation strategies

Explore how standards and accreditation offer alternatives to government regulations, particularly in policy development and delivery.

Standards and accreditation can offer an organizational and consumer-friendly alternative to regulation, or a way of supporting and simplifying it.

They are tools that can ease pressure on the legislative process and reduce implementation costs for government agencies, regulators and the businesses and organizations they regulate.

If you are involved in policy development and delivery or you are a government official or regulator, this guide is for you.

What are standards and accreditation?

Standards, at their most basic level, are an agreed way of doing something; they capture current good practices that are known and trusted by relevant groups of professionals, experts and other stakeholders.

Accreditation, on the other hand, is a tool for determining the technical competence and integrity of organizations and professionals operating conformity assessments, such as test houses and inspection and certification bodies. It assures the integrity of their operations through conformity with international conformity assessment standards.

Because they have been produced through a process of stakeholder consensus and consultation, by their nature, standards and accreditation have the necessary legitimacy and degree of market acceptance to be used as tools to support policy delivery.

How can standards and accreditation help you deliver government policy?

Within most governments, regulation is often the first and most appropriate intervention to ensure policy outcomes linked to the public interest.

For example, addressing market failures and setting minimum legal requirements can be best handled through regulation. However, regulation can be expensive to develop and enforce, and any need for legislation may make the process of achieving an outcome difficult and slow.

In many cases, particularly with trade and commerce, standards and accreditation provide policymakers with alternative tools to regulation.

Employing standards that facilitate industry self-regulation, but are capable in the case of requirements standards of being supported through accredited conformity assessment, can alleviate the burden on the policymaking process.

This approach benefits all stakeholders, offering a cost-effective and efficient foundation for adopting best practices.

Standards and accreditation can be used in several ways, including:

  • Self-regulation: Businesses or professional groups voluntarily commit to specific standards. This is useful when demonstrating ethical business practices without regulatory intervention, especially for skilled professionals like lawyers, doctors, and accountants.
  • Co-regulation: This approach involves the government setting broad, top-level regulatory requirements, allowing the market to determine how these requirements should be met. This method is commonly used in sectors such as consumer product regulation.
  • Earned recognition: Organizations that demonstrate consistent, long-term compliance with standards might earn recognition from regulators, deeming them trustworthy in fulfilling legal obligations. This recognition could also be earned by achieving the same or superior outcomes to regulation on a voluntary basis.