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From manufacturing and technology to the medical industry, there are standards that organizations and members are required to follow. But who establishes them? The answer is standards associations. These organizations develop, publish and enforce voluntary technical standards that impact our daily lives. 

But what does that role look like in practice, and what are the major players in the industry today? 

What Do Standards Associations Do?

Standards associations are non-governmental organizations that set technical standards for product specifications, processes or services to ensure compatibility across companies within the same industry.

These standards are usually voluntary, but they can be compulsory if governments impose them. They can also be voluntary or mandatory for use by members only, which is often why organizations join the association in the first place.


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Why Are They Important?

While standards associations may be less well known than their community-based counterparts, they still have a major impact on our daily lives and have influenced many of the technologies we still use today. 

MP3 Technology 

While the popularity of MP3 players may have waned, the file type that allows those players to work is still around – and you can thank a standards association for it. Established in 1988, the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was formed “after the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) called for standards in audio encoding.” 

With the rise of the internet, the need to be able to securely, efficiently and cheaply relay audio files arose. Users had a solution thanks to the standardization of the technologies and file formats behind MP3 audio files. 

Related: Association Newcomer: Do Associations Affect Policy? Learn More >

SMS & Communication  

When people started using mobile phones with SMS messaging capabilities, they needed a way to communicate quickly and easily over short distances — so SMS messaging was born (also known as texting). 

SMS messages work thanks to standards implemented by GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), which specifies how mobile phone handsets should be built and used and how they should communicate with one another.

Standards Associations Today

As the world continues to become more interconnected, establishing rules and regulations that can be adopted along industry lines instead of county lines is increasingly essential. As such, many of the most prominent standards associations today have global implications. Some examples include: 

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) – The ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of more than 160 countries. It develops global standards for everything from food quality to construction materials to medical devices. The ISO is one of the oldest and largest international organizations today. 
  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI) – ANSI sets voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems and personnel in the United States. ANSI also accredits organizations that develop these standards as American National Standards (ANS). This means that when you see an ANSI/ISO standard listed on a product label or in literature, you know it has been tested by experts in the industry and proven reliable enough to warrant compliance with those standards.
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – The IEEE is another large standards association that was founded in 1963. They have more than 400,000 members worldwide and provide services such as publishing journals and magazines, holding conferences, offering training events and creating publications on topics like engineering ethics, security and privacy issues within the technology industry.
  • International Code Council (ICC) - From building safety to fire prevention, the ICC sets the standard for safety codes and compliance. Headquartered in Washington, the ICC not only codifies and enforces regulations across the 50 states but also in multiple foreign countries. 

The Impact of Associations

The world of standards is vast and complicated. However, it highlights the fundamental role and influence associations have on a global scale. From influencing technical specifications of the products we use on a daily basis to the processes for entire industries, the role of standards associations cannot be understated.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
October 30, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.