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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Funded vs. Unfunded Standards Development

I've noticed a trend of late.  A significant number of standards efforts are being pushed forwards by funded projects, instead of through unfunded initiatives.  I'd call them "volunteer-led" initiatives, but in an SDO, there are few real volunteers.  I get paid by my employer to participate in standards activities, as do most people I know who are involved.  It is simply a matter direct vs. indirect economic benefit.

What I find disturbing about this trend is that unfunded initiatives that get significant industry backing are where I think the gold is in standardization.  And all these funded initiatives mean that there is more competition for volunteers and mindshare (yes, volunteers still contribute a big chunk to funded efforts) .  It makes it difficult to develop truly innovative efforts.

Let's look at a couple of examples on either side:
FHIR is an unfunded initiative being led by HL7 members.  The CCD efforts were also unfunded.   On the other hand, CCDA was certainly backed by ONC, and CMS backed development of HQMF Release 1 and 2.  And then there's the CDC backed HAI work.

From an innovation perspective, I think the unfunded efforts have more industry value.  I find it difficult to identify a funded effort that created something new, rather than refined something that already existed. Although I do believe that HQMF was one of the more innovative funded efforts (but it also received quite a bit of unfunded support, so maybe that made a difference).

Well, you can make a business of just about everything someone values, and I can't argue against that.  But it does make me wonder where the next innovation will come from, and if we won't be able to do it because we are working so hard on everyone else's agenda items.  Do we really need a seventh release of the HAI specifications (I'm NOT kidding)?  Isn't there a better use of time?

I'm not certain which is the better way to go, or where the right balance is.  It just seems somewhat disturbing.


P.S.  One of the challenges with some funded efforts is that often the customer for the work isn't deeply involved in the work, which can make it harder to figure out what their real requirements are.


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