For those labelgeeks among us, creating or updating a sustainability standard is comparatively straightforward: The ISEAL Standard-Setting Code tells us exactly what to do. There’s a list of stakeholders to be compiled, a draft to be written along a defined structure and two public consultations to be held. It’s still a lengthy process involving hundreds of people and numerous meetings and conversations.

Each manager of a standard-setting process seems to struggle with the same problem: How can I be transparent and inclusive – and still manage to transform an overwhelming number of comments into a meaningful standards document with limited resources?

Amazingly, most try to cope with improvised excel sheets and burgeoning email folders. What a nightmare that can be!

I’m dreaming of an open source consultation management system, compliant with the ISEAL Standard-Setting Code. It should be perfectly feasible to create if a couple of organizations pool their resources. Here’s what it would need to do:

  1. Run as a web-platform, accessible both for managers and participants of the consultation through their browser.
  2. Allow managers to upload a consultation draft to the platform and define chapters and paragraphs. Images and annexes need to be possible, too.
  3. Allow managers to upload an initial list of stakeholders to be invited to participate in the consultation. Additional stakeholders need to be able to register on the site.
  4. The full text of the consultation draft needs to be available publicly (without requiring a login). It should be offered both in html format and as a word download (to allow for internal consultations in track changes).
  5. To comment, participants need to log in. They can provide comments on the complete draft, a specific chapter or an individual paragraph. They should be encouraged to propose a new wording.
  6. All comments should be visible to all registered participants. Participants should be required to identify themselves (name and organization).
  7. The consultation manager should be able to send reminder emails to participants during the consultation period.
  8. At the end of the consultation, the manager needs to review all comments,  approve/reject/ignore them (and provide a justification). Her task is then to propose a new version of the relevant paragraph (or delete or move it). Once she has finished the revision, the system needs to provide the following documents:
    • Revised version of the standard (clean) as html and pdf
    • A revised version of the standard with track changes (pdf)
    • The list of comments received and action taken
  9. The revised version then needs to be sent to all participants and stakeholders.

The system described above shouldn’t be too difficult and could be based on existing community systems. I’m also sure that there are already consultation systems around that provide parts of the functionality. While I’m dreaming of such a platform, can you let me know if you have ideas how to best implement it? Or if you would like to use it or even help fund it? Muito obrigada.

Wanted: A Consultation Management System for Sustainability Standards
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7 thoughts on “Wanted: A Consultation Management System for Sustainability Standards

  • 4 March 2011 at 06:28

    I have the same project for the Humanitarian Aid sector (and the standard to follow is SPHERE). One friend is considering to do the same for Cooperation to Development (but they have to formalize the final standard).

    Maybe we could exchange our experiences and thoughts in the near future?

    Best Regards and please have an excellent Friday ;

    BTW: It seems we have a few connections in common, including the ubiquitous Jeffrey Baumgartner.

    • 4 March 2011 at 08:29

      Hi Amine, that sounds like there might be some synergies indeed. I’ve just sent you an email – let’s meet up one of these days.

  • 30 March 2011 at 05:46

    Hey Wiebke,

    Great idea! Couldn’t most of this be done with a wiki platform, such as what AccountAbility used for the revision of its AA1000 standard in 2008? There are plenty of open-source or easily-customizable wikis out there. Then the output could be automated for step 8. Emailing could be done with email lists.



    • 30 March 2011 at 06:39

      Hi Joshua!

      Yes and no. The revision tracking of a wiki would be an important feature. In addition, you’ll probably need some kind of CRM to manage your stakeholder lists and track who has responded and who hasn’t. And, to make it easier on the poor person managing the consultation, the backend needs to make it really easy to respond to comments and compile the results.

      I’d probably use Drupal to build this, but I might be biased 😉

      Cheerio * W.

  • 22 April 2011 at 13:49

    Hi Wiebke,

    Sounds like a really useful project. I should have expected you would be biased in favor of Drupal!

    I think you know that last year we used a combination of WordPress for posting consultation documents, receiving online comments, etc.; BackPack for internal committee discussions (now replaced with OpenAtrium on your suggestion!); and our regular e-blast system for sending announcements out by email. So we’re all about using customized open-source platforms and there’s a lot out there already existing to build on. There might be efficiencies gained by combining some of these functions into one system – but I suspect the most useful feature would be the one you suggest in point #8.

    While having a central place and automated systems to compile & help managers process comments and revisions would be great, I suppose it would also have to take into account that a lot of the feedback received is not necessarily going to come to us online. The biggest chunk of feedback & comments we received last year came from individual and group meetings, so there would need to be some way for managers to integrate that data as well. We would probably also want some level of integration with our existing websites.

    In any case, I’d be happy to volunteer to help in any way I can if you or someone else decides to take a lead on developing such a system. I’m not a programmer, but I have some experience managing online consultations – and we’re anticipating going through another standard consultation process likely starting in December/early next year, so if this takes off and the timing is right, we could perhaps pilot it…



  • 4 June 2012 at 00:57

    Hi there,
    Have you had a look at Consultation Manager? I have worked with this system a fair bit and it really is a powerful tool when set up and used correctly! Have a look –

    Its not a free system but there are substantial benefits with using this great tool!

  • Pingback:Consultation Management, revisited | ON:SUBJECT

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