The International Organization for Standardization

Because "International Organization for Standardization" would have different acronyms in different languages ("IOS" in English, "OIN" in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), its founders decided to give it also a short, all-purpose name. They chose "ISO", derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal". Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of the organization's name is always ISO.

ISO is the world largest standards developing organization. Between 1947 and the present day, ISO has published more than 17000 International Standards, ranging from standards for activities such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering, to medical devices, to the newest information technology developments.

Given the multi-sector scope of the organization, it would be hard to present a historical perspective summarizing the challenges, the passion, the outstanding achievements or, sometimes, the missed opportunities, in the large variety of sectors covered by ISO’s technical work.

How ISO decides to develop a standard:

ISO launches the development of new standards in response to sectors and stakeholders that express a clearly established need for them.

An industry sector or other stakeholder group typically communicates its requirement for a standard to one of ISO's national members. The latter then proposes the new work item to the relevant ISO technical committee developing standards in that area. New work items may also be proposed by organizations in liaison (see below) with such committees. When work items do not relate to existing committees, proposals may also be made by ISO members to set up new technical committees to cover new fields of activity.

To be accepted for development, a proposed work item must receive the majority support of the participating members of the ISO technical committee which, amongst other criteria, verifies the "global relevance" of the proposed item – this means that it indeed responds to an international need and will eventually be suitable for implementation on as broad a basis as possible worldwide. In addition to the technical committees that address standardization in a specific field, ISO also has policy development committees addressing the standardization needs of developing countries (DEVCO), consumers (COPOLCO) and conformity assessment (CASCO). These may recommend the development of new standards for their stakeholder groups, which are then submitted to the approval process described above, or in the case of CASCO, develop new standards itself.

Who develops ISO standards:

ISO standards are developed by technical committees, (subcommittees or project committees) comprising experts from the industrial, technical and business sectors which have asked for the standards, and which subsequently put them to use. These experts may be joined by representatives of government agencies, testing laboratories, consumer associations, non-governmental organizations and academic circles.

Proposals to establish new technical committees are submitted to all ISO national member bodies, who may opt to be participating (P), observer (O) or non-members of the committee. The secretariat (i.e. the body providing the administrative support to the work of the committee) is allocated by the Technical Management Board (which itself reports to the ISO Council), usually to the ISO member body which made the proposal. The secretariat is responsible for nominating an individual to act as chair of the technical committee. The chair is formally appointed by the Technical Management Board.

Experts participate as national delegations, chosen by the ISO national member body for the country concerned. National delegations are required to represent not just the views of the organizations in which their participating experts work, but those of other stakeholders too. National delegations are usually based on and supported by national mirror committees to which the delegations report.

According to ISO rules, the national member body is expected to take account of the views of all parties interested in the standard under development. This enables them to present a consolidated, national consensus position to the technical committee.

International and regional organizations from both business and the public sector may apply for liaison status to participate in developing a standard, or to be informed about the work. Such “organizations in liaisons” are accepted through voting by the relevant ISO committee. They may comment on successive drafts, propose new work items or even propose documents for “fast tracking” , but they have no voting rights.

How ISO standards are developed:

The national delegations of experts of a committee meet to discuss, debate and argue until they reach consensus on a draft agreement. The “organizations in liaison” also take part in this work. In some cases, advanced work within these organizations means that substantial technical development and debate has already occurred, leading to some international recognition and in this case, a document may be submitted for "fast-track" processing. In both cases, the resulting document is circulated as a Draft International Standard (DIS) to all ISO's member bodies for voting and comment.

If the voting is in favor, the document, with eventual modifications, is circulated to the ISO members as a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS). If that vote is positive, the document is then published as an International Standard. (There is no FDIS stage in the case of documents processed through the fast track procedure of the joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology.)

Every working day of the year, an average of seven ISO technical meetings takes place around the world. In between meetings, the experts continue the standards' development work by correspondence. Increasingly, their work is carried out by electronic means, which speeds up the development of standards and cuts travel costs.

Public access:

Most ISO members have some form of public review procedures for making proposed work items and draft standards known and available to interested parties. The ISO members then take account of any feedback they receive in formulating their position on the proposed work item or on the draft standard.

Draft standards are also available for sale to interested members of the public who can provide input through the ISO member in their country. The public can purchase International Standards through the ISO Web Store or through ISO's national members.


Because ISO standards are voluntary agreements, they need to be based on a solid consensus of international expert opinion. Consensus, which requires the resolution of substantial objections, is an essential procedural principle. Although it is necessary for the technical work to progress speedily, sufficient time is required before the approval stage for the discussion, negotiation and resolution of significant technical disagreements.

"Consensus" is officially defined (in ISO/IEC Guide 2) as "general agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments". The definition notes, "Consensus need not imply unanimity".


For a document to be accepted as an ISO International Standard, it must be approved by at least two-thirds of the ISO national members that participated in its development and not be disapproved by more than a quarter of all ISO members who vote on it.


ISO national member bodies have the right of appeal to a parent technical committee on the decision of subcommittee, to the Technical Management Board on a decision of technical committee and to the ISO Council on a decision of the Technical Management Board. Appeals may relate to procedural, technical or administrative matters. The appeals process relating to ISO's standardization work in general and to JTC 1's work in particular is described respectively in the ISO/IEC Directives and in the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives.

Detailed stages of the development of International Standards:

An International Standard is the result of an agreement between the member bodies of ISO. It may be used as such, or may be implemented through incorporation in national standards of different countries.

International Standards are developed by ISO technical committees (TC) and subcommittees (SC) by a six-step process.  If a document with a certain degree of maturity is available at the start of a standardization project, for example a standard developed by another organization, it is possible to omit certain stages. In the so-called "fast-track procedure", a document is submitted directly for approval as a draft International Standard (DIS) to the ISO member bodies (stage 4) or, if the document has been developed by an international standardizing body recognized by the ISO Council, as a final draft International Standard (FDIS, stage 5), without passing through the previous stages.

The following is a summary of each of the six stages:

For greater detail on how an International Standard is developed, refer to the publication ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1, Procedures for the technical work. For work in the information technology area, see the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 Directives.

Stage 1: Proposal stage The first step in the development of an International Standard is to confirm that a particular International Standard is needed. A new work item proposal (NP) is submitted for vote by the members of the relevant TC or SC to determine the inclusion of the work item in the programme of work. The proposal is accepted if a majority of the P-members of the TC/SC votes in favour and if at least five P-members declare their commitment to participate actively in the project. At this stage a project leader responsible for the work item is normally appointed.

Stage 2: Preparatory stage Usually, a working group of experts, the chairman (convener) of which is the project leader, is set up by the TC/SC for the preparation of a working draft. Successive working drafts may be considered until the working group is satisfied that it has developed the best technical solution to the problem being addressed. At this stage, the draft is forwarded to the working group's parent committee for the consensus-building phase.

Stage 3: Committee stage As soon as a first committee draft is available, it is registered by the ISO Central Secretariat. It is distributed for comment and, if required, voting, by the P-members of the TC/SC. Successive committee drafts may be considered until consensus is reached on the technical content. Once consensus has been attained, the text is finalized for submission as a draft International Standard (DIS).

Stage 4: Enquiry stage The draft International Standard (DIS) is circulated to all ISO member bodies by the ISO Central Secretariat for voting and comment within a period of five months. It is approved for submission as a final draft International Standard (FDIS) if a two-thirds majority of the P-members of the TC/SC are in favour and not more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast are negative. If the approval criteria are not met, the text is returned to the originating TC/SC for further study and a revised document will again be circulated for voting and comment as a draft International Standard.

Stage 5: Approval stage The final draft International Standard (FDIS) is circulated to all ISO member bodies by the ISO Central Secretariat for a final Yes/No vote within a period of two months. If technical comments are received during this period, they are no longer considered at this stage, but registered for consideration during a future revision of the International Standard. The text is approved as an International Standard if a two-thirds majority of the P-members of the TC/SC is in favour and not more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast are negative. If these approval criteria are not met, the standard is referred back to the originating TC/SC for reconsideration in light of the technical reasons submitted in support of the negative votes received.

Stage 6: Publication stage Once a final draft International Standard has been approved, only minor editorial changes, if and where necessary, are introduced into the final text. The final text is sent to the ISO Central Secretariat which publishes the International Standard.

Review of International Standards (confirmation, revision, withdrawal):

All International Standards are reviewed at the least three years after publication and every five years after the first review by all the ISO member bodies. A majority of the P-members of the TC/SC decides whether an International Standard should be confirmed, revised or withdrawn.

ISO deliverables:

In addition to International Standards, ISO can also offer other forms of normative agreements for situations where speedy publication is important, has developed a schematic representation of the different types of deliverable available. A description of each deliverable can be obtained either by clicking directly on the diagram, or on the links below.

Governance and operations:

ISO’s orientation is guided by a Strategic Plan approved for a five-year period by the ISO members. The ISO members, ultimate representatives of ISO for their own countries, are divided in three categories: member bodies (full members), correspondent members and subscriber members. Only member bodies have the right to vote.

The General Assembly, which meets annually, consists of a meeting of the Principal Officers of ISO and delegates nominated by the member bodies. Correspondent members and subscriber members may attend as observers. The Principal Officers include the President who is a prominent figure in standardization or in business, the Vice President (policy), the Vice President (technical management), the Treasurer, and the Secretary-General. The General Assembly’s agenda includes, inter alia, actions related to the ISO annual report, the Strategic Plan with financial implications, and the Treasurer’s annual financial status report on the ISO Central Secretariat.

The ISO Statutes stipulate that, while the General Assembly is the ultimate authority of the Organization, most of the governance functions of ISO are performed by the Council in accordance with the policy laid down by the member bodies. The Council meets twice a year and its membership is rotated to ensure that it is representative of ISO's membership. All member bodies are eligible for appointment/election to the Council. Under the Council, there are a number of policy development committees to provide strategic guidance for the standards’ development work on cross-sectoral aspects. They are: CASCO (conformity assessment); COPOLCO (consumer policy), and DEVCO (developing country matters). The policy development committees are open to all member bodies and correspondent members.

The Technical Management Board (TMB) reports to Council, and is itself responsible for the overall management of the technical work, including for a number of strategic and technical advisory groups. Member bodies are eligible for appointment/election to the TMB in accordance with a set of criteria established by the Council. Operations are managed by the Secretary-General (chief executive officer) who reports to the Council. The Secretary-General is based at the ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva (Switzerland) with a compact staff which provides administrative and technical support to the ISO members, coordinates the decentralized standards' development programme, and publishes the output. The ISO Central Secretariat also acts as the secretariat of the governing bodies, policy development committees and their subsidiary bodies.