International 4 mins read

The future for mutual recognition and international collaboration

In his article for UKAS’s 2021/2022 Annual Report, Emanuele Riva, Chair of the International Accreditation Forum, shares his perspective on the importance of collaboration and IAF and ILAC’s decision to come together as a joint entity.

To paraphrase the philosopher Plato: “Each problem has three solutions: my solution, your solution and the right one.”  For centuries this has been the basis of collaboratively increasing collective knowledge, where democratic and peaceful debate has been an exceptional engine of growth.  This approach still holds true today, particularly at a time of strong at a time of strong political, economic, technological and cultural changes. 

At the international level, accreditation is entering a very significant internal reflection phase.  The scenarios are difficult to predict.  On the face of it, the crisis in Ukraine has the potential to threaten the long-term unity of international organisations.  In reality, the accreditation community is coming even closer together, with IAF and ILAC having decided to join together to become one new organisation. 

The path to reach a single international accreditation oversight body is an opportunity for everyone to share their knowledge, resolve historic issues and demonstrate a coordinated and technically rigorous approach to accreditation. 

Maintaining the technical rigour of the accreditation process is crucial during this time, and there are many different opinions across several crucial aspects of the accreditation process which will need to be debated and resolved.  For example, the importance of involving the stakeholders, the public function of accreditation, the recognition of accreditation bodies by public authorities, the level of collaboration between accreditation bodies and even maintaining alignment on the definition of basic concepts such as impartiality and independence, to name but a few. 

Whilst 2023 will be an important year internally for the accreditation industry, the challenges that await us extend to the wider central themes that affect everyone, such as sustainability and digitisation.  As IAF Chair, I initiated the work of a new IAF executive level task force which for the first time sees the participation (as permanent members) of external experts who can help us to tackle these complex topics. 

Adopting a pragmatic approach, the IAF working group on sustainability will identify and prioritise the areas to be addressed, and in turn, agree on specific solutions.  Given the global climate crisis, the time for words is long gone.  It is imperative that each participant actions their own individual part of the agreed solution if confidence in the potential outcome is to be maintained. 

As the world enters the fourth industrial revolution, data will remain a strategic priority for everyone who relies on accredited certification as part of their supply chain.  The recent introduction of management systems certification databases by both UKAS (CertCheck) and IAF (CertSearch) ties into both sustainability and digitisation goals.  On a basic level, both these databases allow end users to verify the validity of the certificates.  For accreditation and certification bodies it gives an insight into the trends and dynamics of the market and allows us to demonstrate the value of what we do (for example by comparing the productivity, export and workplace safety performance of accredited certified, versus non-accredited certified, versus non-certified organisations).  Additionally, these databases can help regulators to obtain information on the implementation and adoption of sustainability policies, as well as give meaning to sustainable development goal (SDG) rating indicators. 

Problems are sometimes easier to understand and manage if they are addressed at a regional level.  Therefore the collaborative approach at the International Network for Quality infrastructure (INetQI) level must also push towards the birth of a Regional Network for Quality infrastructure (RNEtQi). 

Whilst all these projects and initiatives may still be in the very early stages, as Plato said “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”