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News vom 25.11.2019

How Initiatives turn into Standards

Review by Anne-Katrin Ehrt

Reviewing the ‘March to Standards’ in Public Relations

Research Interest

How is standard formation taking place in the measurement and evaluation of communication? What processes are going on in terms of terminology, involvement of target groups, and support and enforcement of draft standards (through labels, certification, or public knowledge resources)? Are there commonalities? What favors and what hinders the enforcement of standards?


Participatory expert analysis: The authors were involved in four major standardization projects in recent years, the Barcelona Principles (AMEC 2010 and 2015), the Integrated Evaluation Framework (AMEC 2016), the Reference Framework for Communication Controlling (DPRG/ICV 2011), and the Evaluation Framework (UK GCS). Formative documents from different phases of the development processes are evaluated.

Documented Period: 2000-2018


In the measurement and evaluation of corporate communication, standards function like non-technical process rules. They are not static, but evolve in implementation and negotiation by a variety of actors and institutions, according to a basic assumption of the study. That is why it includes not only distinctive frames of reference and models, but also best practices in the evaluation.

The development of standards can be divided into the following steps:

  • Create definitions Make connections to existing models and theories
  • Involve external experts
  • Communicate knowledge about the newly created standard
  • Create symbolic incentives for implementation, e.g. seals or certificates
  • Reach and retain critical number of implementing stakeholders to drive further development

All four models show their own distinct development paths:

  • The Barcelona Principles, developed mainly by practitioners, only cautiously define standards, and a look behind the scenes shows that even in the new edition, concrete specifications (such as a commitment to "smart" target setting) have not gained acceptance. The Principles still lack a sufficiently large volume of implementations and the resulting practical further development.
  • The Integrated Evaluation Framework, which involved more experts in its development, employs more concrete definitions, but not all connections to existing models have been incorporated into the final version. AMEC offers numerous, also free-of-charge, offers for knowledge transfer around the two standards.
  • The Reference Framework of DPRG and ICV developed a common terminology from communications and management practice through extensive informal exchange, but it has since been accused of not being intuitive enough. The model is firmly established in the German-speaking world, but is little used beyond that.
  • The GCS Evaluation Framework based its definitions on the preparatory work for the AMEC standards. It was massively promoted in the official hierarchies and government agencies were created to take care of the further dissemination of the standards.

Our Conclusion

Although the study deals - rather theoretically - with the formation and establishment of measurement and evaluation standards in communication, it also offers useful information on the topic to practitioners already active in the field. Compact insights into the emergence of four important current approaches can be helpful in re-evaluating and adjusting existing measurement concepts.

For those who are already involved in the topic or who want to deal with it in the longer term, an understanding of the mechanisms and processes of standard development might help them to assess new developments for their own practice and to justify decisions for or against them in a well-founded manner.

Newcomers to practical work with evaluation standards will probably need more detailed information on the content of the models described, which is not provided here.


November 2019: Alexander Buhmann, Jim Macnamara, Ansgar Zerfaß

More information on the survey: Reviewing the ‘march to standards’ in public relations

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