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To read comments to this article, go here
No Further Appeals on OOXML? What About 11.4?
Monday, August 18 2008 @ 11:12 PM EDT

I've been puzzling over something in the ISO press release announcing that the four appeals against OOXML as an ISO standard, from Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela, would go no further. In the press release, it said this:
According to the ISO/IEC rules, DIS 29500 can now proceed to publication as an ISO/IEC International Standard. This is expected to take place within the next few weeks on completion of final processing of the document, and subject to no further appeals against the decision.

Wait a second. What's that "subject to no further appeals against the decision" part? What rules would those be? When I read the JTC1 Directives, Edition 5, Version 3.0 [PDF], I see in the section on appeals another step you can take if the TMB/SMB decide not to proceed with your appeal, which is what just happened:

11.4 Appeal Against a Decision of the TMB/SMBs

An appeal against a decision of the TMB/SMB shall be submitted to the Secretaries-General with full documentation on all stages of the case.

The Secretaries-General shall refer the appeal together with their comments to the members of the Councils within one month after receipt of the appeal.

The Councils shall make their decision within three months.

So, ask your lawyer, but I read that as saying a denial by the TMB/SMB is *not* necessarily the last word, no matter what the press release said, if an NB wishes to bring the appeal to the next level, which would be to the "Secretaries-General" and "the Council".

Who's that? How does that work? I've done some digging, and here's the joke. Three of the appealing NBs are listed as members of the Council. Again, ask your lawyer, but here's what I've found.

Here's the ISO Council:

The operations of ISO are governed by the Council, consisting of the Officers and eighteen elected member bodies.

Council appoints the Treasurer, the twelve members of the Technical Management Board, and the Chairmen of the policy development committees. It also decides on the annual budget of the Central Secretariat.

In 2008, the member bodies elected to the Council are the following:

ABNT Brazil (2009)

AENOR Spain (2009)

AFNOR France (2008)

ANSI USA (2008)

BIS India (2009)

BSI United Kingdom (2009)

DIN Germany (2008)

DS Denmark (2008)

DSM Malaysia (2008)

INNORPI Tunisia (2009)

JISC Japan (2009)

KEBS Kenya (2009)

MSA Malta (2008)

NEN Netherlands (2009)

SABS South Africa (2008)

SAC China (2009)

SPRING SG Singapore (2008)

SUTN Slovakia (2008)

The Council is chaired by the President if he chooses to do so, or otherwise by the Vice-President (policy).

I'm thinking the folks walking on the sunny side of the street have not yet turned over every stone available to them. Yoohoo, India. Brazil. South Africa. Um... Malaysia. Are you reading all the rules?

There is also a standing committee on strategy within the ISO Council, with this purpose: "To advise Council on appropriate policy and strategic matters, and to raise any related issues." I don't see the members of that committee listed.

What about "the Secretaries-General"? Here's the ISO contact page. ISO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and the mailing address, telephone, and Fax numbers are on that page. Here's the page on the ISO "Principal Officers". Not that ISO makes it easy to figure anything out. It's all like wading through pea soup, which keeps getting stirred this way and then that.

Rob Weir has a fascinating explanation about how the appeals vote was set up. If you can stand up in front of an audience and explain it after reading it, I'll take my hat off to you. He does the clearest of anything I've seen, and what is very interesting is his tour of how other standards bodies handle appeals and how consensus can be defined, which started me thinking about how to set up a process to prevent, or at least make more difficult, the kind of stacking problems ISO had.

Here's the IEC Central Office. And here's the ISO/IEC Information Centre website, and you can get the ISO annual report from this page.

There's also a dewy-eyed description of the standards process, but we saw it play out in real life, so, fair warning, it might curl your lip.

I suppose it's possible they've changed the rules since that referenced version of the Directives, but I note that Section 1.2, General provisions, of the Directives says:

These Directives shall be complied with in all respects and no deviations can be made without the consent of the Secretaries-General.
So... I wonder? Were the ad hoc changes made to the process, as outlined in some of the OOXML appeals, consented to in every case by the Secretaries-General? I guess if the appeals go higher, we'll find out.

Here's a graphic of the ISO structure, if you are curious. This page on the ISO system, Governance and operations, tells us:

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.

So, ask your lawyer, but that looks like the X on the map. "The Technical Management Board reports to the Council." So how about that? Loved the comical sentence about only Members getting to vote. Rules, schmules.

I also note this section on periodic review:

15.3 Periodic Review

15.3.2 On request by an NB or the Secretaries-General and in any case not more than five years after the publication of the most recent edition of a standard, each IS for which JTC 1 is responsible shall be reviewed by JTC 1 with a view to deciding (by a majority of the P-members voting in a meeting or by correspondence) whether it should be:

  • Confirmed;

  • Revised;

  • Declared as stabilised;

  • Withdrawn.

Standards which have previously been declared as stabilized are not subject to the periodic review; however, each Sub Committee shall periodically review a current list of its own stabalised standards to ensure that they still belong in stabilised status.

The periodic review of a standard shall include the review of any subsequently approved amendments or corrigenda. The publication dates of amendments or corrigenda do not affect the timing of the periodic review. The review shall include an assessment of the degree to which the standard has been applied in practice....

I'd certainly love to hear about OOXML being applied in practice. So, even ignoring the creative possibilities of periodic review, defined so vaguely one could, I think, ask for one at any time, unless I've misunderstood what ISO has on its website, which is always possible, I see another possible step in the appeals process.


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