QUALITY INFRASTRUCTURE DATA SERIES
Accreditation is a central component of the National Quality Infrastructure. Through the accreditation of testing and calibration laboratories, certification and inspection bodies, the national accreditation bodies build trust in the overall conformity assessment system.
There are three main reasons for collecting and publishing accreditation data:
- The users of the services need detailed information on the accreditation of a conformity assessment body to be able to verify its technical competence. That is why the standard for for “Conformity assessment – Requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies” (ISO/IEC 17011:2017) specifies that accreditation bodies should provide detailed information on criteria and procedures for the assessment and accreditation conformity assessment bodies. This information shall also allow potential applicants to understand how to perform to achieve accreditation.
- The regional and international accreditation groups (African Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC), Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (APAC), Arab Accreditation Cooperation (ARAC), European cooperation for Accreditation (EA) and Inter-American Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC) as well as International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC)) calculate their membership fees based on the number of accredited conformity assessment bodies or accredited scopes per country.
- Finally, the accreditation bodies use the number of accreditations in their reports and infographics. In this way, the accreditation bodies demonstrate their importance and the continuous growth of accreditation.
The standard ISO/IEC 17011 defines in section 7.8. the information which should be provided by an accreditation body. In principle, the accreditation body shall indicate the name, legal form and an identification number of the conformity assessment body. Besides, the validity period and the scope of the accreditation shall be stated. The information may be provided in an accreditation certificate or in any other appropriate way (e.g. in electronic form). 
Accreditation distinguishes ten so-called arrangements (level 3) that are shown in Table 1 below agreed by the Multilateral Recognition Arrangement (MLA) of IAF and by Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) of ILAC:
Table 1: Accreditation arrangements and levels
Source: Own elaboration.
For each of these accreditation schemes, ISO/IEC 17011 specifies the minimum information to be published regarding the scope. For certification bodies, accreditation bodies must indicate the type of certification (e.g. management systems, products, processes, services or persons) and the covered products, services and industrial sectors. For calibration laboratories, the measurement capability and measurement uncertainty must be stated. Comparable requirements are required for data from accredited testing laboratories, providers of proficiency tests and producers of reference materials.
National accreditation bodies do publish information about accredited conformity assessment bodies (CABs) on their websites. Usually, there is a directory of accredited bodies written in the official languages and English. The larger accreditation bodies often offer search functions which make it easier to find specific CABs. In some cases, the data can be exported entirely.
However, each accreditation body has chosen an individual form of data presentation. As a result, data access and the scope of data varies significantly between accreditation bodies. The comparability of the data is further complicated because some accreditation bodies show Conformity Assessment Bodies and other show all individual sites of the same CAB. The details of the scope are often only published in the form of a PDF document so that the content is not easy to analyse. Also, the attachments of accreditation documents, which contain the detailed scopes, are usually in the national language and not available to the international audience. The accreditation bodies should also inform about data update dates, or at least inform how often they refresh or modify their database.
Data availability and access
The secretariats of the regional and international accreditation cooperation groups publish aggregated data. In its latest Annual Report, ILAC publishes the development of the number of accredited conformity assessment bodies under its MRA from 2010 to 2019.
Figure: ILAC Number of accredited CABs (2010-2019)
The most recent publicly available IAF Annual Report is the 2018 edition. In contrast to ILAC, IAF shows the number of accredited scopes (not bodies). Furthermore, IAF provides data disaggregated by regional accreditation groups (AFRAC, APAC, ARAC, EA and IAAC). Only from 2015 onwards, IAF differentiates numbers according to the different accreditation schemes. As an example, we show the figure for IAAC. 
IAF and ILAC use these graphics to show a continuous increase in the number of accreditations.
Ways to improve data quality and transparency
The secretariats of the regional and international accreditation groups publish the data only at the global level and at the level of continents or regional accreditation groups. However, AFRAC, APAC, ARAC, EA and IAAC as well as IAC and ILAC collect annual data from the accreditation bodies to calculate their membership fee, they do not publish disaggregated data at the national level. The secretariats informed us that they consider this information as “confidential” and therefore, it is not available to the interested public.
This argumentation is difficult to understand since all information of the accredited conformity assessment bodies is published anyway on their websites. Publishing disaggregated accreditation data, the accreditation community would benefit from higher data transparency. The progress, but also the setbacks, of accreditation in different countries, would become visible and comparable. This would be valuable for policymakers, investors and monitoring and evaluation of system performance. This information would be helpful for the management of the accreditation bodies, their customers and development partners. The development and promotion of accreditation would thus be better informed by evidence in the form of verified data. Such data could also be used for further research on Quality Infrastructure and sustainable development.
We like to encourage the accreditation bodies and groups to take a step towards greater transparency and openness. The Regional Accreditation Groups can make a valuable contribution in this respect by preparing the guidelines for the preparation and publication of the data and by publishing aggregated data.
At the same time, we see possibilities for improvement related to the data published by the national accreditation bodies. The requirements of ISO/IEC 17011 regarding the publication of information are not sufficiently precise, which in practice leads to many different publication practices. We, therefore, propose to formulate standard rules for the dissemination of information on accredited conformity assessment bodies in a guideline.
The principles of open data should guide the accreditation bodies. The data on accredited conformity assessment bodies should be open by default. Accreditation bodies and groups should justify data being kept confidential, for example, for security or data protection reasons. At the same time, the data sets should be comparable and interoperable. The more high-quality data sets users have at their disposal, and the more comfortable they can communicate with each other; the more user value can derive from them. Here, mutually agreed data standards could play a decisive role.
Ultimately, we see a huge opportunity to ensure that the extensive data collected can be used for multiple purposes. Better access to reliable data can improve a country’s overall Quality Infrastructure and strengthen its contribution to sustainable development.
Feature image by Pexel photo
 ILAC 2020: ILAC MRA 2019 ANNUAL REPORT
 IAF 2019: IAF Multilateral Recognition Arrangement (MLA)
 OPD 2015, INTERNATIONAL OPEN DATA CHARTER