Mesopartner is increasingly active in the field of Quality Infrastructure (QI). The term relates to metrology (the science of measurement), standardisation, testing and quality management (in the past, the acronym MSTQ was used), including certification and accreditation.
Mesopartner is involved in different projects to facilitate dialogue between QI bodies and (potential) users of quality services in different value chains. Our main partner and client in the field is the German Metrology Institute (PTB). Mesopartner supports the PTB in the development of a practical approach to foster the QI through collaboration with its clients in selected value chains. More information is available at www.calidena.org, a website created and maintained by Mesopartner and commissioned by the Technical Cooperation of the PTB.
Standards and National Quality Systems that matter for competitiveness
There are two perspectives on quality issues: One is from the side of firms, which mainly look to standards and certifications to comply with the requirements of demanding clients and/ or gain access to more lucrative markets. On the other side we have the service providers and support institutions of the so called National Quality System (NQS) or Quality Infrastructure (QI). These technical terms refer to a specialized system of bodies in charge of quality assurance and conformity assessment. In former times the acronym MSTQ (Metrology, Standards, Testing and Quality Assurance) was used. These bodies focus on precise measurement and the formal accreditation of certification bodies, laboratories and inspection bodies. The interest of firms in being competitive is often beyond the horizon of responsibility of QI bodies.
Although the raison d'être (reason for being) of a National Quality System (another synonym for QI) is to support firms and protect consumers, their services are mainly used by larger, export-oriented companies. This is even more true in developing countries, where the majority of the economy is made up of micro and small firms which are working for the local market and where many of them are lacking formalization. Hence, we almost exclusively find representatives of large firms and their business associations and chambers in the governmental bodies of National Metrology Institutes (NMIs), Accreditation Bodies or Committees for Standard development. The services of QI bodies are consequently orientated towards the needs of the larger, international companies.
The exclusion of a large part of the developing economies from QI services is bad for local firms and consumers: Even though developing countries are opening their markets, SMEs rarely take advantage of this business opportunity, because of the quality requirements of the trade partner. The latter can be a country or a large buyer with its own quality requirements; in both case we find a specific expression of non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs). Therefore these small firms often lose competitiveness in relation to larger firms from their country and foreign companies. As many local firms do not comply with quality requirements, local consumers who buy their products and services are also discriminated against. All in all it is a vicious cycle.
How do we break this negative dynamic? Mesopartner is working to connect both worlds: We are facilitating Private Sector Development (PSD) like clusters and value chain and at the same time advising QI bodies on how to be more user-orientated. As the SME sector of developing countries lacks a voice and resources, the support of development agencies is very important. In this context, the Technical Cooperation of the German Metrology Institute (acronym in German PTB) is a key client which enables our consultancy firm to work directly with QI bodies in developing countries. This also enables us to sensitize other donors active in the promotion of value chains or clusters and encourage them to place more emphasis on the issue of quality services and standards within their programs and projects.
PTB’s CALIDENA methodology, co-developed by Mesopartner, is a practical approach to enhance collaboration between large and small firms in developing countries and QI bodies. It is pragmatic, participatory and action-orientated. The aim is to sensitize firms in developing countries to the need for upgrading and competitive advantages that can achieved by complying with national and international standards, and to help the QI bodies to adapt their services to the specific needs of the firms in developing countries.
How can development practitioners engage with the process? Practitioners active in private sector development, especially in value chain and cluster projects, are invited by Mesopartner to broaden their perspective and share experiences on how to upgrade the wider system of quality infrastructure beyond certain interventions in specific industries and locations. Representatives of QI bodies are also invited to contribute to the exchange on how to make quality services more customer-orientated. The proposal of Mesopartner – in close cooperation with the Technical Development Unit of PTB – is to create and consolidate knowledge and practical methodologies around the support of the QI to PSD.