As those who have worked in standards development know, one of the most difficult facets of participation in standards meetings has nothing to do with the actual process of negotiating consensus and writing text. Rather, it is convincing your sponsor that the trip is NOT a junket and getting your sponsor to agree to pay your travel expenses to those far-away cities where your working group or technical committee is convening (where the real work of standards development happens).
Yes, there are assorted Internet meeting tools out there that one can use, but I’ll leave the pros and cons of such tools for a later discussion. Instead, let me address the junket accusation. How many times after requesting travel to London, Moscow, or Beijing—or, even better, Bali, Hawaii, or Florence—has your sponsor looked askance and muttered something about you always wanting to go to exotic places? The underlying implication seems to be that you arrive fully refreshed, spend a week lying on the beach drinking flowery cocktails, or hobnob with friends touring famous museums and eating in four-star restaurants.
Well, I have been to all of those places and more (including India, New Zealand, Tokyo, and Brazil), and I can tell you that the junket scenario is, shall we say, a “tad” overstated. The reality is that you arrive exhausted after 20+ hours jammed in screaming-baby class, horribly jet-lagged by nine to 10 hours. The next morning you have to be up at 7 a.m., prepared for a full day of meetings that inevitably extends into dinner and later. Those exotic locales? You might get to see a pretty beach or famous building out the window as you walk to your conference room, but meeting rooms look pretty much the same whether you are in Bali or at the Newark Airport Hotel. (I have pictures!) This goes on for maybe three to four full days—always in the same room with the same people. Lunch is typically something brought into the meeting room by the host, and dinner is a joint affair at a place that EVERYONE can afford—certainly not four-star restaurants. After four days, when you are finally starting to get a handle on the jet-lag, you have to hop on your flight home for another 20+ hours of cramped, disease-infested bliss.
So why do this? Probably the most obvious answer is that you are a professional who feels the standards work is important and that face-to-face meetings are the best (only?) means for achieving the highest quality result. All this said, I have to be honest and admit that on occasion (maybe one-out-of-ten trips?), you get to take family members along, extending the visit by another week for a personal holiday at your own expense. Of course, that assumes that the meeting date corresponds with available vacation time for family members, which almost never seems to happen.
The point here is to not let your sponsor get away with the junket accusation. It is not all beaches and flowery drinks, folks.
John G. Abbott, PhD, is principal of John Abbott Consulting. He specializes in standards and regulations dealing with medical devices.