There are many clichés in standards development, such as that there are too many standards, that standards aren't reactive enough, or that the processes involved are too complicated. Some of these accusations are valid. One recurring criticism of the standards process is that it takes a long time. History is riddled with stories of the standards project that goes on for years, seemingly without progress or end in sight. Occasionally, this has to do with maturity of technology, while other times the cause is more overt competitive actions by players. Some projects are just so complex and intertwined that simply doing the work and addressing community issues takes a long time.
An increasingly apparent reason for lengthy development periods is the reduction in time that companies allow their employees to voluntarily engage in community efforts, such as standards. As resources get squeezed, efforts that are not obviously tied to the company's bottom line are squeezed, too. Without volunteer contributions, nothing will get done within NISO or within most standards organizations. Still, the pace of NISO standards development has been moving forward at a decent clip for the past decade. For most projects, our efforts have taken less than two years from start to finish.
Take, for example, the NISO project on Alternative Assessment, which issued a call for working group members in December 2014, just 14 months ago. NISO began work on new forms of assessment in July of 2013, with the backing of the community, our members, and generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. However, it's important to reflect on the status of the community back in 2013. There was hardly consensus that standards or best-practice work was necessary or valuable with regard to alternative assessment. A few participants voiced concern that consensus development would hinder innovation and stifle competition. We began the project with no preconceived notions of what the outputs would eventually be. The project opened with brainstorming and discussions about what might be necessary. The fact that definitions, use cases, and data collection practices surfaced to the top is an indication of how vaguely we grasped what exactly the term altmetrics encompassed. Participants and audiences have associated altmetrics with social media, which is one component, but assessment is moving in a variety of directions and taking various approaches, both in terms of the granularity and the breadth of data sources.
The first part of the draft recommended practices were released last week. Another component due later this week and a third forthcoming later in March are the next steps in the advancement of the conversation. After contributions from dozens of volunteer experts, it is time for the broader community to contribute their thoughts. This entire process has been driven by community input and participation. At every step from the webinars to the in-person brainstorming sessions and the feedback on the summary white paper of project ideas, the involvement of the community has been critical.
The entire project has been more than simply a recommended practice initiative, it has been a thought leadership exercise on the part of NISO and the many participants in this community. We have all learned and applied things as we moved forward. Engagement and interest have grown throughout the effort. The number of people participating has increased significantly since the second altmetrics meeting at Northwestern University in 2012, which was attended by around 40 people. The latest altmetrics meeting, meanwhile, was sold out and hosted more than 150 participants, which was only a sliver of the larger assessment community. People are starting to look at altmetrics with a more knowledgeable eye and the number of vendors providing altmetric types of services in their offerings continues to expand.
The process might take time, but if one reflects on where we stood just five years ago, it's clear that we have come a long way, and done so rapidly. We might not be all the way there yet, but we have made tremendous progress. We can use your help to keep the work moving forward. The drafts we are releasing are for public comment, and you can feed your thoughts and reactions back into the process and help us keep pushing forward.