The Role and Historical Development of Standards

The Role and Historical Development of Standards

Author: Suguru Tamura, Senior Fellow, RIETI RIETI

Standalisation in History

The history of technical standards is closely related to the history of humankind. Historically, standards have been used as a way for nations to govern their people and territories. Unifying the basic rules of society as standards has been the basis for unified nations and the creation of markets. For example, the first emperor of China (during the Qin Dynasty) unified the ancient kingdoms across the Chinese continent. After unification, the system of weights and measures was unified as a standard during the Qin Dynasty. The unification of this system is said to have formed the foundation of modern China.

In the twenty-sixth year of his reign, the First Emperor unified the ancient Chinese region at every turn, and the lords and people were greatly at peace. He was named “Emperor.” Then, he issued an imperial edict to the Prime Minister to unify the system of weights and measures and to clarify all doubtful measurement matters. —Qin Shi Huang’s labeling passages for proofing weight and measurement standards.

On the other hand, in the Middle Ages in Europe, there was no unified standard for measuring length, currency, or weight. For example, in the Baden region of today’s Germany, there were 122 methods of measurement for length alone. For weight, 80 methods of measurement were in use (Heilbroner, 2000). . In other words, a uniform standard was not well established in the European Middle Ages. This absence may be the cause of the divisions that exist within the present continent of Europe, which is divided into many nations. The absence of unified social rules leads to a fragmented market. This fragmented market hindered the activities of merchants and negatively impacted economic activities. Historically, the establishment and stipulation of standards has had a profound impact on economic activities.

Modern Role of Standards

It is important to note that in the standardisation for parts commonisation mentioned above, the maintenance of calibration standards was probably meant as a standardisation activity (Smith, 1973). The management of calibration standards plays an essential role in the control of product accuracy. However, this activity aimed at ensuring product accuracy is very different from today’s standardisation concept, which is the specification of technology that enables network construction. This transition is a point that should be fully recognized today when conducting policymaking and research.

The importance of standardisation today is due to the resulting network effects consisting of direct and indirect benefits. The direct network effect arises from the fact that the adopters of a technology (i.e., goods and services) can communicate mutually by using the same technology together. Indirect benefits come from the fact that the more people who adopt a technology, the more the technology will be continuously used (Hall, 2005). These direct and indirect benefits are the reason behind the importance of technology standardisation in today’s product development.

Read the article on the RIETI website or in Japanese.

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