Using Quality Infrastructure to cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic

PTB’s Covid-19 Task Force

Soon after the Covid-19 pandemic started raging around the globe in spring 2020, the German Metrology Institute PTB founded a Task Force Covid-19 to discuss the specific requirements during the crisis, potential longer-term effects and the extent to which PTB needs to adapt its development work to new conditions. A key question discussed was the decision on topical areas relevant for QI response to the Covid-19 pandemic. After a few meetings, some topical areas emerged that addressed health-related services, sustainable economic development, capacity development online, strengthening digital infrastructure in partner countries, public relations and new challenges for project assistance. For each topic, subgroups were formed that jointly worked on papers, online tools and other outputs. Each subgroup included a combination of PTB colleagues and external experts regularly working with PTB.

Mesopartner consultants joined the subgroups of sustainable economic development and capacity development online. This blog post looks at the subgroup sustainable economic development (SED) and, particularly, its main output paper.

How could QI activities help overcome the crisis’s economic consequences?

The SED group decided to work on ideas of QI support to promote sustainable economic development in PTB partner countries. The critical question to address was how QI activities could help overcome the crisis’s economic consequences. From the start, the intention was to prepare a position paper with recommended actions to be shared with the German Federal Ministry of Cooperation and Development (BMZ), other development organizations and partners in project countries.

The subgroup, consisting of nine members, started its work in June 2020, prepared a draft paper until autumn 2020 and a final draft until early 2021. The discussion paper was finally published on the PTB website in spring 2021 and presented in a PTB blog post on 11 May 2021.

What are Covid-19 response activities in sustainable economic development?

From the onset, the challenge was addressing a broad and complex topic in a brief, easily understandable paper, not exceeding ten pages. Given this premise, what aspects to discuss and what issues to ignore? What are examples of Covid-19 response activities in SED in and outside PTB projects? How to collect a good overview of such measures? What else, beyond real-life examples, could we recommend?

After a series of group meetings, some focus areas and a paper structure emerged. The group understood that a well-functioning and agile QI is essential for cross-border trade, social and sustainability standards, rural development and agricultural value chains, innovation activities, and sustainability and resilience of companies and value chains. This especially holds in times of crisis, such as a global pandemic. The QI of individual countries and their international associations needed to react swiftly to the challenges of the situation and adapt and innovate quickly to continue offering existing and new services with reliable quality. Different group members took on the task of drafting topic-specific chapters, which were then discussed jointly and weaved together during the bi-weekly group meetings.

The result is a discussion paper that proposes measures that international QI donors – such as PTB – can take during a pandemic to mitigate the consequences of the crisis and sustainably strengthen the economies in developing and emerging countries. The focus is on measures at the intersection of QI, sustainable economic development and Covid-19 relevance.

The global health crisis expanded the meaning of quality by health, hygiene, safety and resilience

Against the conceptual background outlined in each sub-chapter, Annex 1 of the paper presents recommended actions currently implemented or at the stage of concrete ideas. Apart from financial support, there are many technical measures in the QI area that can help companies and other actors in economic life assure the quality of products, services, and processes. During the global health crisis, the very meaning of quality expanded with a stronger focus on health, hygiene, safety and resilience.

Among the relevant topics discussed in the paper, innovation is particularly inspiring. Changing framework conditions force innovation in companies and other organizations. During a crisis of the magnitude of the corona pandemic, the pressure to innovate is exceptionally high and acute. Alternatives to the usual processes, products and services must be found quickly to work and react to new needs of customers, partners, and regulators. This often leads to radical innovations condensed into a relatively short period. Particularly in times of crisis, various actors in an innovation system innovate independently or in mutual interaction. These actors are primarily QI institutions, companies and regulatory institutions that set the framework conditions. Innovation here means introducing new QI services (e.g. developing hygiene standards for non-food sectors; online training on ISO 22301 Business Continuity) and adjusting how QI services are delivered to clients (e.g. free access to selected standards; remote services for certification and accreditation). In finding alternative ways of doing things, innovation is a cross-cutting topic concerning promoting SED during health crises and addressing other relevant matters, such as the healthcare system, the digital infrastructure, and digital learning formats.

What could QI contribute to mitigating the economic impacts of the current and future pandemics and crises?

Ultimately, this PTB paper intends to encourage a discussion on what QI could contribute to mitigating the negative economic impacts of the current crisis and any future pandemics coming along. It tries to support the Build Back Better discussion aiming at the global economic system to change for the better sustainably after the crisis. Enjoy reading!

PTB 2021. Using Quality Infrastructures to Cope with the Economic Impacts of the Pandemic. Discussion Paper. 

What do companies need to know about quality infrastructure?

SMEs need to be informed about the technical requirements

Exported goods are rejected repeatedly at foreign borders. Import rejections mean loss of revenue and generate considerable costs for the exporter due to the return or destruction of non-compliant goods. According to a study by UNIDO, these “export losses” cost companies several hundred million USD every year [1]. Especially for SMEs in developing countries, such rejections can threaten their existence.

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Quality Infrastructure 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are in the midst of a fundamental transformation that will radically change the way we live, work and interact with each other. This transformation began before COVID-19 but has accelerated through the pandemic. Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, speaks in this context of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which will be in its scale, scope and complexity a transformation, unlike anything humanity has ever experienced. Although we do not know yet precisely how it will unfold, the expected changes must be integrated comprehensively and inclusively (Schwab 2017).

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