Detailed guide: Standardisation

Standardisation is the process of creating, issuing and implementing standards. A standard is a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body. It provides rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results so that they can be repeated. The aim is to achieve the greatest degree of order in a given context.

Standards should provide a reliable basis for people to share the same expectations about a product or service. This helps to:

  • facilitate trade
  • provide a framework for achieving economies, efficiencies and interoperability
  • enhance consumer protection and confidence

Standards can be supported through measurement, testing, certification, and accreditation.

Standardisation is one of the key components of the UK’s National Quality Infrastructure (NQI), along with measurement, market surveillance, and conformity assessment and accreditation. Overall, the NQI makes a significant contribution to the economy, health and safety, and the environment.

Why standards are important

Standards support many government policies. Examples include:

  • competitiveness
  • fair trading
  • protection of consumer interests, the environment and sustainability
  • regulatory compliance

Standards can support and promote innovation. They create a common framework that encourages the sharing of knowledge. This reduces the need for duplication during research and development.

Standards contribute to productivity because they:

  • increase efficiency by improving processes
  • reduce cost by minimising waste and cutting out the time spent on ‘trial and error’
  • allow production at scale by replacing bespoke variety with standardised solutions, performance or outcomes, freeing resources for differentiating products and services from those of competitors
  • lower the cost of regulatory compliance and the costs of non-compliance
  • shorten the time to market of new products

Standardisation provides a competitive edge in the marketplace, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, as proving compliance with an accepted standard can replace the power of a big brand.

Government’s role in standardisation

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for UK government general policy on everything to do with standards-making (but not on specific individual standards). We improve the standards infrastructure so that it meets the needs of UK industry and makes processes more relevant and business friendly.

We sponsor, and work closely with, the British Standards Institution (BSI). BEIS is responsible for the government’s relations with BSI and partially supports BSI’s standards development work. This includes support for delegations representing the UK at overseas standards meetings and for consumer representation in standards-making activities. This is vital to ensure standards reflect the needs and expectations of the general public.

Find out more about consumer representation and BSI’s Consumer and Public Interest Network on the BSI website.

British Standards Institution (BSI)

BSI is an independent body formed in 1901, established by Royal Charter.

BSI and BEIS recognise that there is public interest in standardisation. BSI is the UK’s national standards body (NSB), responsible for the UK publication, in English, of international and European standards.

BSI has a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF, 250KB, 13 pages) (MOU) with BEIS.

It provides a framework for BSI and the government to meet the challenges to the UK’s standards-making infrastructure.

Economic benefits of standardisation

Independent research on the economic contribution of standards to the UK economy and businesses finds that standards boost UK productivity, kick-start innovation, and support UK domestic and international trade.

Read a comprehensive study on the economic benefits of standards looking at economic data from 1921-2013, commissioned by BSI and conducted by independent experts at the Centre of Economics and Business Research.

European standardisation policy

Through the European Commission (EC) we help develop European standardisation policy, which can remove barriers to trade.

The Standardisation Regulation (Regulation 1025/2012) was agreed by EU member states in 2012. This set out rules on the co-operation between:

  • European standards organisations
  • national standards bodies
  • member states
  • the European Commission

The rules of co-operation are for:

  • the establishment of European standards and deliverables for products and services in support of EU legislation and policies
  • the identification of ICT technical specifications eligible for referencing
  • financing
  • stakeholder participation

Standards mandate and the committee on standards

A standardisation request (mandate) is a demand from the European Commission to the European standardisation organisations (ESOs) to draw up and adopt European standards in support of European policies and legislation. European standards, even developed under a mandate and for European legislation, remain voluntary in their use.

Draft mandates are drawn up by the Commission services through a process of consultation with a wide group of interested parties (social partners, consumers, SMEs, relevant industry associations, etc.). Before being formally addressed to the ESOs, they are submitted to the Committee on Standards of the Regulation (EU) 1025/2012. The committee assists the Commission in this process.

Working with the Ministry of Defence

BEIS works with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) UK Defence Standardization team (DStan®). DStan works to develop, communicate and implement MoD’s standardisation policies, processes and procedures, both nationally and internationally. It maintains a portfolio of UK Defence Standards (Def Stans®) and provides advice and guidance on standardisation in the fields of defence and security.

Contact details are available on their websites. These may be of particular value to departments seeking to use the cross-government framework for access to many online standards:

UK Defence Standardization

MoD Defence Gateway