LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE ANTS AND THE BEES

Standardization helps to build capacities and resilient communities. For inspiration on how to do this, we can look at nature, says Greek scientist Aikaterini Poustourli. But the standardization community needs to modernize if it wishes to engage young people.

“Standardization represents the most successful collaborative model in the world”

Dr. Aikaterini Poustourli's,

International Hellenic University,

Greece 

Dr. Aikaterini Poustourli's LinkedIn page reads like a biography of a life dedicated to standardization. From scientific research and lecturing, to auditing ISO management systems, to serving at the European Commission, Dr. Poustourli has done it all. Currently, she is a Scientific and Technical Officer at the International Hellenic University in Greece. And, listed even before that, she is a “Standardization Expert”.

Poustourli is clearly passionate about creating awareness on standardization, which she calls “the most successful collaborative model in the world.”

“I think that I always overdo it,” she agrees. “I'm very enthusiastic about quality and standardization, and I have a passion for making everyone aware about standardization. I always encourage my students, my peers and my co-workers at the university to collaborate and to take part in technical committees. It’s the best way to learn how this successful collaborative model works, and at the same time deliver their own point of view. It’s a mutually beneficial situation for everyone.”

 

Accurate, reliable and trustworthy results

As a young scientist, doing her Ph.D. research, Dr. Poustourli had her epiphany about the benefits of standards. “I remember one specific moment, when I was working in the dimensional laboratory. I had to repeatedly measure the uncertainty of my experiments, and I realized that I needed to follow specific standardized steps in order to ensure the reliability of my findings. Otherwise I was at the risk of providing inaccurate and imprecise results. Standards, along with guidelines and technical specifications helped me get reliable findings and best measurement capabilities for my thesis. They're a powerful weapon for any researcher in order to deliver accurate, precise and trustworthy results.”

 

Throughout her long career, standardization and quality have always been common themes. And throughout, she has encountered many mixed feelings about standardization. “Sometimes in the research community, we have this latent hesitation in harnessing standardization. Researchers think that standards curb inspiration and curtail the freedom to produce achievements in technology, but on the contrary; standards are a tool that can facilitate the work of researchers.”

Concrete benefits of standards

When asked if she could elaborate on that, she dives right in. “Well, in my humble opinion, if we want to overcome our functional and structural fixedness, we should exercise ourselves repetitively with a standardized way, in order to remain creative and innovative. There are all kinds of concrete benefits to standardization. It improves clarity, because standard processes eliminate the need for guesswork. It guarantees quality, because work is done in a pre-defined, optimized way, and it promotes productivity, because employees won't need to ask around or comb documentation to get answers.”

Building robust and resilient societies

The key message, argues Dr. Poustourli, is that “through standardization, we are able to build capacities. We are able to speak a common language, using the same models and methods, to make our communities and societies more robust and more resilient.”
 

What ants and bees can teach us

“The key message is that with standardization, we are able to build capacities, and speak a common language.”

Dr. Aikaterini Poustourli's,

International Hellenic University,

Greece

Poustourli likes to use an analogy from the natural world to illustrate. “I hope we all can take an example from the indirect collaboration and adaptive mimicking of swarms in nature. Ant and bee colonies have taught us a lot about the successful, standardized 'business-models' of their infrastructures. Their capacity to coordinate, communicate, copy each other, and behave in standardized ways, is what makes them resilient against threats.”

Future-proofing standardization

How resilient is the standardization community itself? “We live in a dynamic world, not a static world, which means that we should take advantage of the emerging technologies. It is the future.” says Poustourli. “So if we want the standardization process to be competitive and attractive to the next generation, we should embed all these elements of emerging technologies and emerging economies in the standardization process.

“If we want the standardization process to be attractive to the next generation, we should embed emerging technologies in the process.”

Dr. Aikaterini Poustourli's,

International Hellenic University,

Greece

“If we take into account all the new evolutions from the fourth industrial revolution - tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality - we will have a lot of progress in the standardization framework in the future,” continues Poustourli. “Otherwise it will be obsolete.”

Knowledge brokers

“If we take into account all the new evolutions from the fourth industrial revolution - tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality - we will have a lot of progress in the standardization framework in the future,” continues Poustourli. “Otherwise it will be obsolete.”

Part of the curriculum

“One thing I would suggest to the academies and other schools that are dedicated to civil protection, for example, is to embed standardization in the curriculum. I include this in my courses from the very beginning. And my students find it very beneficial. Because when they go out into the job market, they find it gives them an edge. They don't like it very much when I make them write guidelines and procedures,” she laughs, “but they like the parts about the benefits for society, and how the modern world deals with standards.”

Dr. Poustourli stresses the importance of playing the long game here. “It takes a significant amount of time to develop an expansive stakeholder network built on mutual trust, and then connect actors within that network. That's why I would suggest to all knowledge brokers to be involved as part of a long-term organizational strategy, rather than as part of a specific short-term project. Those relationships will strengthen over time, improving the likely uptake of scientific knowledge into standardization processes, and vice versa.”

Volunteer and consensus principles

The successful collaborative model of standardization is characterized by volunteer and consensus principles. That may sound soft, but it's actually hugely powerful, says Dr. Poustourli. “It is the power that builds a culture or collaborative resilience to the whole world! Standardization will be a powerful tool for all the people. It's a tool that improves everyday life. It brings us progress. It brings us to a sustainable future. In the European innovative ecosystem, it will have a crucial role in boosting competitiveness, promoting innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.”

Would it be fair to call Aikaterini Poustourli a standardization evangelist? She responds in typically thoughtful and modest fashion: “I would rather say that I am a servant of quality. And a lifelong learner who, as an itinerant scientist, is able to interact and to spread the word, and to disseminate the achievements of the European Standardization and R&I ecosystem.”

“Standardization is a tool that improves everyday life, brings us progress and leads to a sustainable future.”

Dr. Aikaterini Poustourli's,

International Hellenic University,

Greece

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