Conformity assessment and attestations
One of the key activities in the procurement process is to assure that the product or service offered by the tenderer actually has the characteristics and qualities specified in the Technical Specifications and Award Criteria. This section describes the different types of evidence that procurers may ask for and guidance on which one to choose.
There are two main reasons for assuring compliance: ensuring value for money and equal treatment of bidders. If the procuring body does not enforce compliance, it runs the risk of paying for something that does not have the intended functionality. Secondly, false statements of a tender may be accepted, giving honest bidders a competitive disadvantage. Not controlling the compliance violates the principle of equal treatment of bidders, laid down in the EC Treaty.
Requiring the bidder to submit evidence of compliance to the technical specifications and the award criteria laid down in the Call for Tenders is the major method of enabling the procuring body to make sure that the criteria are fulfilled.
Contracting authorities have a number of choices of hich type of attentation to request as proof of compliance. The lowest level, with the lowest degree of credibility, is a "yes" answer to the question "Does your product comply with requirement X?". Requiring an attestation, however, gives higher credibility. For attestations, the different levels range from a first party declaration ("we certify that ...") to an accredited third party certification ("an external independent party, inspected by an authority, certifies that ...").
Five different types of attestations to choose from
The standard EN ISO/IEC 17000:2004 defines five types of attestations:
- A first party declaration is a statement issued by a supplier or manufacturer that fulfilment of specific requirements has been demonstrated.
- A Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity (SDoC) is a first party declaration with details compliant with the standard EN ISO/IEC 17050. A Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity can be substantiated by supporting documentation for which the supplier is responsible. Anyone should be able to repeat the verification and arrive at the same result using this information.
- A second party attestation is an attestation of conformity issued by a second party, usually the buyer or user of the product. Mostly, this term applies to a company controlling its subcontractors or a large buyer or government agency carrying out the assessment itself.
- EN ISO/IEC 17000:2004 defines third party conformity assessment activity “as performed by a person or body that is independent of the person or organization that provides the object and of user interests in that object”.
- A conformity assessment body of any type (first, second and third) can apply for accreditation. Accreditation is the procedure by which an authoritative body gives formal recognition that a body or person is competent to carry out a specific conformity assessment.
Guidance on which type of attestation to choose
The accessibility of a product is independent of the type of attestation requested. A product is not more accessible just because it is accompanied by a third party certification. Such a certification can only increase the credibility that the product actually is as accessible as it claims to be.
Statements and documents giving evidence may be more or less detailed and credible. The procuring body is faced with the task to decide which kind of evidence, with which degree of credibility, to require. This selection must be based on a number of factors:
- Users and employees with disabilities have to perform their tasks in an effective and efficient way like all other colleagues. If this is not possible, e.g. when a system with less accessibility is replacing an outdated one, there is the danger of losing tasks or even the job. Procuring bodies should be aware of this effect for disabled employees and therefore they may choose a type of evidence with higher degree of credibility.
- Regardless of the type of attestation, the cost of the determination of conformity can vary substantially. You should be aware that even if the weight of the accessibility criteria to be verified is low, the cost of determination may be high, which points towards a type of evidence with lower complexity.
- In some cases the verification of fulfilment of a requirement needs interpretation, special competence or special measuring equipment. In these cases, the reasons for requiring a third party certification are greater, provided that it can be justified from the principle of proportionality. Where the fulfilment of a requirement is easy for the procuring body to ascertain, the need for high credibility of the evidence is low. A simple first party declaration or a "yes" statement in the tender, may be sufficient.
- The level (priority) of an accessibility requirement is often provided to assist in accessibility evaluation. For example, the WCAG 2.0 uses a three-level concept with priority A (lowest level), AA, and AAA (highest level). The choice of the level of accessibility will probably have no impact in the selection of a conformity assessment method but on the evaluation cost.
- An ICT product or service is presumed to pass through a number of stages in a value chain and have functions, characteristics and other value added during this process. Characteristics and features providing accessibility may be created and added during several stages. For some products, the accessibility is implemented during production while for other products in the stage of customization. Since it is in the tenderer’s responsibility to demonstrate the fulfilment of given functional accessibility requirements of the complete offered solution, conformity assessment of accessibility should be made in the stage where the final accessibility appears. Examples of appropriate evidence for different technologies are presented in the Accessibility Requirements Generator.