Certifications Public Policy

A visionary article about certifications from forty years ago

Some of us, scholars studying certifications, like to think that our field is very new. That is why I love this article by Taylor, where he touches on certifications a good forty years before we started thinking about them.

Taylor’s take is fairly descriptive. He was writing circa a decade after the introduction of the ‘Lanham Act’ in the United States, which gave statutory recognition to certification marks. There was a need to inventorise certifications.

That said, Taylor’s thinking contains considerations that are insightful even today. He approached the matter comparatively, which is best practice nowadays. He proposed a rather applicable definition, marks that certify presence or absence of XYZ characteristics in the products/services of others. He classified certifications as per the type of ownership (similarly to modern attempts to establish who is behind a certification) and hypothesised about how certifications’ goals vary as per ownership.

But what I like the most is that in addition to the above, he also boldly went where some of us, regulatory scholars, are still scared to go.

Taylor noted that the government is one of the main providers of certification and that governmental certificatory efforts can be divided into two: those that certify against legal requirements and those that enhance customer information. This remains valid today. In modern times, government-led certification is typically mandatory when it certifies that laws are being followed and optional when it aims to inform consumers.

Yet, regulatory studies do not quite know what to do with optional certificatory efforts run by governments. Are these part of what we would call state regulation? If so, how does one deal with the fact that they bear an extremely high resemblance to the activities by private actors like certifications? Are these, then, what we would call non-state regulation? If so, how do you deal with the fact that they are run by state organisations?

Header photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash.