UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Standardizing and Regulating Emerging Technologies

What are the main challenges of standardizing emerging digital technologies and processes such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or algorithmic decision systems (ADS)?

About the project

Standards play a crucial role in the economy, with recognised benefits such as improving productivity and efficiency, reducing production costs, ensuring interoperability and managing risk and compliance. Yet, beyond their contribution to businesses and the economy, the relationship between standards, regulatory frameworks and public policy objectives remains one of the most underexplored and misunderstood topics of inquiry. 

Standards stock image

This project investigates the complex relationship between standards and regulations as new digital technologies emerge, disrupting established processes and products. Working closely with the UK’s national standards body – the British Standards Institution (BSI) – we specifically tackle three questions: 

  • What are the main challenges to standards-development, adoption and implementation faced by SMEs at the forefront of digital innovation? 
  • How can standards provide certainty, minimize risk and ensure consumer protection when emerging technologies disrupt highly regulated sectors, such as the rise of connected and intelligent medical devices?
  • How can standards-development and review processes become more agile to respond to the rapid pace of technological change and the growing application of digital technologies and processes across most sectors and domains?

The project has also established an educational partnership between the BSI Student Research Programme and UCL STEaPP’s MPA in Digital Technologies and Policy. The partnership has produced two successful MPA Group Projects on the following topics: 

  • Burden or Benefit: Do Standards Work for IoT SMEs? (2018-2019)
  • The Regulatory and Standardization Challenges of Connected and Intelligent Medical Devices (2019-2020)

Media coverage 


The British Standards Institution (BSI)

Formed in 1901, BSI was the world’s first National Standards Body and over a century later is globally recognized as champions of best practice. BSI is responsible for originating many of the world’s most commonly used management systems standards and publishes over 2,700 standards annually.  These standards address the most pressing issues of today from clear billing to energy management and disability access to nano-technology; spanning domains including Aerospace, Automotive, Built Environment, Food, Healthcare and ICT.