Moving Forward

Daniel Smith, ASTM’s vice president of technical committee operations, speaks about the resilience of ASTM’s technical committees — as well as the concept of resilience for standards development organizations in general — through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard Wilhelm

From its founding in the late 19th century, ASTM International has been an organization concerned with resilience. At the time, the resilience being addressed was that of steel rails, but throughout its existence, ASTM International has relied on its volunteer membership for strength in trying times. ASTM committees have worked to develop thousands of technical standards in an ever-increasing variety of industries.

As vice president of technical committee operations, the division that works most closely with ASTM International committees, Daniel Smith has years of experience with members and standards development. Smith began work at ASTM International as a staff manager in 1992 and was a director in technical committee operations from 2002-2007. He became assistant vice president of the division in 2007 and vice president in 2015.

Smith knows something about the need for organizations to be able to come back from a crisis. He recently spoke about that need, and the ways this has been exemplified over the last year-plus by ASTM’s technical committees. Smith talked about lessons learned and how to move forward.

Q. What does organizational resilience mean to you?

A. Every organization’s resilience was tested in 2020, dealing with COVID-19. The pandemic has forced us to be creative in stabilizing operations so that production can continue. For ASTM staff and its technical committees, I believe our resilience has shone through as we have all worked longer hours, modified meeting patterns, and altered our meeting practices — yet we’ve still operated within the guidelines laid out by the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees.  

MORE FOR YOU: Organizational Resilience: Member Perspectives

Q. What have been some of the challenges faced by committees developing standards during the pandemic? 

A. We have had a number of committees working very hard to develop consensus standards that can be used as solutions to help resolve the pandemic. For example, the committees on personal protective clothing and equipment (F23) and medical and surgical materials and devices (F04) held a virtual workshop in September 2020 to help accelerate standards development to address PPE shortages. There were numerous gaps identified at that workshop and new standards are being developed as a result. 

The specification for barrier face coverings (F3502) is a great example of a committee’s resilience on full display. This standard was made a priority by the industry, which required our members to meet on a continuous basis over the course of several months so that the requirements could be established and technical concerns could be addressed. A standard of this complexity and significance could not have been developed without an abundance of resilience within F23.  

Q. What are some specific examples of committees stepping up to ensure that standards development continued through the lockdown?

A. The committee on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants (D02), ASTM’s largest committee with over 2,000 members, is a great example. D02 was unable to stick to their normal, face-to-face schedule in a virtual environment because there are just too many simultaneous meetings to manage virtually. As a result, D02 committed to expanding their week-long schedule to meetings across three or four weeks so that meetings could be scheduled in smaller increments and avoid burdening participants with full days of taxing,
virtual meetings. 

Q. What lessons have ASTM staff and members learned during this time, and how do you think these lessons will impact standards development moving forward?

A. Developing consensus standards is hard work no matter the type of environment our committees operate in. The virtual setting, however, poses additional constraints due to minimizing the social element, which is often effective for resolving technical issues. Our members are well aware of how effective social dinners and cocktail receptions can be to discuss and resolve concerns outside a meeting. 

There are other best practices that our committees and staff have learned about, such as how to effectively handle negative votes in a virtual setting. Based on our experiences, we also want to work with our committees to see if there are any new practices that can be implemented to save time without compromising consensus. For example, perhaps the amount of notice a committee should provide prior to conducting a meeting can be reduced in a virtual environment versus face to face. 

Q. Have committees generally followed similar approaches to during the pandemic or has each committee’s situation seemed unique?

A. I think there are certainly unique circumstances that make some approaches ideal for some but unworkable for others. Our committees have been able to thrive because, while all committees must follow our core Regulations, they each have bylaws that allow them to operate with flexibility and accommodate their unique situations and industry needs.

Q. Any final thoughts?

A. The ASTM membership and staff used existing ways and devised new ways of doing business in the face of this chaotic and unexpected pandemic. I think the positive from this experience is that we have learned from that necessity, and we will improve practices to be more efficient in the future and improve our organizational resilience in the process. ■

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