“Nothing about us without us” is a wide-spread motto of the European civil society. No political leader can pretend not to understand this clear message; yet these powerful words are also an ambitious programme for civil society to take action… especially when decisions that should be our concern, are as dry as standardisation.
Scandals around dolls eavesdropping on children, chlorinated chickens or chemical detergents raise concern in the public opinion and underpin a movement towards safer, healthier and more sustainable goods. In very specific fields, standards and labels are trustworthy marks for consumers that are required to make constant micro-decisions about different products and services they need to purchase in the context of a free-market competition.
Who has ever wondered where those ISO standards, CE-marks, and other ecolabels come from? Would we trust a norm or quality label that is exclusively developed by the industry itself?
As civil society activists, putting our hands in such a technical and complex sludge as standardisation is a dare. Going beyond policy advocacy to address soft regulation considerably enlarges the scope of our action, and requires a significant increase of resources if we expect to achieve a substantial impact.
As far as older people are concerned, AGE Platform Europe is closely following standardisation activities, mainly in relation to accessibility issues, in partnership with the European Disability Forum and ANEC (the European organisation of consumers in standardisation).
AGE is engaged in the PROGRESSIVE project to ensure that standards, framing the development of ICT-supported goods and services, are fit for the needs and preferences of older people. In this frame, AGE has set up a Task Force of older people representatives to voice the concerns of older end users in standardisation.
The objectives of this group are threefold. It is all at once an advocacy, co-creation and capacity-building exercise. Advocacy because the group channels important claims to combat ageism, mainstream accessibility and support independent living through standards. Co-creation because their responses to project internal consultations and their insightful contributions constitute major inputs for the project partners. Capacity-building because there is nothing as efficient as learning (standardisation) by doing (standards).
When it comes to commercial negotiations or diplomatic talks, the most impactful decisions are often taken behind closed doors. But standardisation is a door we – as society – can open to ensure the goods, infrastructures, and services we create are appropriate, inclusive, and safe for all of us.
Standards are everyone’s business. So: hands-on, friends!