Most standards are voluntary in the sense that they are offered for adoption by people or industry without being mandated in law. Some standards become mandatory when they are adopted by regulators as legal requirements in particular domains, often for the purpose of safety or for consumer protection from deceitful practices.
The (ISA) was founded in 1926 with a broader remit to enhance international cooperation for all technical standards and specifications. The body was suspended in 1942 during World War II.
Standards organizations can be classified by their role, position, and the extent of their influence on the local, national, regional, and global standardization arena.
By geographic designation, there are international, regional, and national standards bodies (the latter often referred to as NSBs). By technology or industry designation, there are standards developing organizations (SDOs) and also standards setting organizations (SSOs) also known as consortia. Standards organizations may be governmental, quasi-governmental or non-governmental entities. Quasi- and non-governmental standards organizations are often non-profit organizations.
Broadly, an international standards organization develops international standards. (This does not necessarily restrict the use of other published standards internationally.)
ISO is composed of the national standards bodies (NSBs), one per member economy. The IEC is similarly composed of national committees, one per member economy. In some cases, the national committee to the IEC of an economy may also be the ISO member from that country or economy. ISO and IEC are private international organizations that are not established by any international treaty. Their members may be non-governmental organizations or governmental agencies, as selected by ISO and IEC (which are privately established organizations).
The Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) was formed in 1949 to prepare avionics system engineering standards with other aviation organizations RTCA, EUROCAE, and ICAO. The standards are widely known as the ARINC Standards.
In general, each country or economy has a single recognized national standards body (NSB). A national standards body is likely the sole member from that economy in ISO; ISO currently has 161 members. National standards bodies usually do not prepare the technical content of standards, which instead is developed by national technical societies.
Overlapping or competing standards bodies tend to cooperate purposefully, by seeking to define boundaries between the scope of their work, and by operating in a hierarchical fashion in terms of national, regional and international scope; international organizations tend to have as members national organizations; and standards emerging at national level (such as BS 5750) can be adopted at regional levels (BS 5750 was adopted as EN 29000) and at international levels (BS 5750 was adopted as ISO 9000).
Unless adopted by a government, standards carry no force in law. However, most jurisdictions have truth in advertising laws, and ambiguities can be reduced if a company offers a product that is "compliant" with a standard.
When an organization develops standards that may be used openly, it is common to have formal rules published regarding the process. This may include:
Some standards – such as the SIF Specification in K12 education – are managed by a non-profit organizations composed of public entities and private entities working in cooperation that then publish the standards under an open license at no charge and requiring no registration.
A technical library at a university may have copies of technical standards on hand. Major libraries in large cities may also have access to many technical standards.
The ever-quickening pace of technology evolution is now more than ever affecting the way new standards are proposed, developed and implemented.