Charting a New Course For Standards


To prepare for a new attempt to update the ANSI/ACCT 2019 standard, the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) has been revising its procedures for drafting standards. And it presented its nearly-complete plan during an April 29 webinar. If the final plan is accepted—it must be approved by both the ACCT Consensus Group and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—it could dramatically reform the way ACCT standards are developed.

The April 29 presentation was rather complex and detailed. To better understand what it all means, API spoke with ACCT board members Michael R. Smith and Korey Hampton, both also members of the Accredited Procedures Task Force (APTF) that has been redefining the standards-writing process. 

The short version. For those who don’t like to read, the short version is this: Future standards will be developed with much greater input from a wide range of stakeholders early in the process. All stakeholders who will be impacted by the standard will be encouraged to take part in drafting revisions to the current standard, and their perspectives and viewpoints will be incorporated.

That’s a significant change. In the past, ACCT’s procedures limited the number of draft writers to 10; ANSI encourages no limits on contributors, and recommends broad participation by all stakeholders who will be affected by the standard. Going forward, there could be dozens or hundreds of ACCT stakeholders who have a say in the sections that impact them.

The APTF proposal also restates the role of the Consensus Group (CG). As is typical ANSI process, ACCT, as the Accredited Standards Developer, will oversee the draft-writing process. Draft-writing will likely be based with the Technical Information, Research, and Education (TIRE) Committee, as has been the case in the past. The role of the CG (which in the past had shared authority to set up task groups to help draft standards) will become that of providing a check and balance on the draft standard.

To achieve balance in the CG—think of a body like the Supreme Court, but one representative of the overall industry and not stacked to any particular point of view—the APTF proposal creates five stakeholder groups: producers, servicers, commercial operators, educational operators, and general interest. All groups have an equal say on a draft standard. The new groups would replace the current three, which are vendors, users, and general interest. 

Again, the aim is to ensure that future standards achieve consensus across all industry stakeholders. If any one group of stakeholders has an objection to a provision of a proposed standard, that objection must be resolved before the standard can gain “consensus” status.

In another change, the role of resolving any negative comments on the draft will be shared by ACCT (in practice, the Board and/or TIRE Committee) and the CG.

There’s a lot more in this proposal, which the APTF refers to as a “redlined copy of ACCT’s current Accredited Procedures,” but that’s it in a nutshell.

Next steps. Once the APTF completes its work, the revised procedures must be approved by the CG and by ANSI. Even if all goes smoothly, it will likely be late July, at the earliest, before the changes become final. And it could take longer.

The background. ACCT set up the APTF following the withdrawal of ACCT’s latest draft standard in spring 2023, which drew more than 1,700 negative comments—demonstrating a profound lack of industry consensus. 

Coincident with the public comment period on the draft, ANSI was conducting a periodic review of ACCT’s Accredited Procedures (AP). ANSI identified a few flaws in those procedures, made some suggestions, and the APTF has been working to fix the issues. (For reference, ANSI noted that a well-drafted standard, with broad stakeholder involvement, might typically receive five or six negative comments.)

Perhaps the biggest flaw in ACCT’s AP regarded who could write standards. ANSI has a list of essential requirements for writing standards, which states that anyone can propose a standard. While that proposal could be composed by a single individual, ANSI encourages that drafts include input from all stakeholders—pretty much the exact opposite of ACCT’s current practice, which stemmed, at least in part, from ACCT’s history. 

When ACCT first began drafting standards, it was primarily an organization of vendors. When they wanted to establish building standards, they wrote them themselves. One legacy of that has been that standards-writing has been left mostly to the vendors, up to and including the latest ANSI/ACCT standard.

Everyone has a role. “Anyone can submit standards ideas to ACCT,” Smith said. “The stakeholders should be writing the standard, not the association.”

Not that all (or even most) stakeholders have to contribute to every section of a standard. ANSI does not require that level of balance in the drafting process. “That makes sense,” said Smith. Some issues only apply to one or two groups of stakeholders, such as installation and testing of ground anchors, he noted.

Still, all stakeholders should be involved at the appropriate point(s). So, in reviewing the AP, “We wanted to look at it from scratch,” Smith told us, “because the industry has changed a lot over time.” The role and responsibilities of the CG have changed over time as well, he added, “and that’s created some confusion.”

Making it easy. To encourage greater involvement by the industry, a major goal of the proposed new procedures is to make the standards development process easier to understand and participate in. Aside from the revised AP, ACCT has several means of making the process easier to grasp. Webinars are one, more educational material on the ACCT website is another. “Ultimately, we’d like to create an educational flow chart, to call out where stakeholders can participate,” Smith said. “ANSI has encouraged us to be more clear, and we’re trying to do that.

“Our goal will be to make education a regular ongoing thing, not a once a year workshop at the annual conference as in the past,” he said.

It’s a new world. The AP signals more than simply a change in procedures. It also recognizes that the membership of ACCT has expanded, and the old ways of operating are no longer valid.

It’s likely that the changes being formulated will be difficult for many in the organization. “The changes will be disruptive in the organization, but in a good way,” Smith asserted. “We’re no longer a small little organization focused on the builder side; standards changes can have a big impact.

“I expect we’ll have some challenges going forward; change can be hard. We don’t know exactly what openness will look like. It will not be business as usual.” But, he added, “If we welcome more stakeholders in, we’ll have some good conversations.”

One thing is certain, he said: “The next project we jump into will look very different from the previous ones.” 


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