ISO 20252

Market Research

Business and Quality Management


  1. Introduction
  2. Overview
  3. Global adoption
  4. Benefits
  5. Auditing
  6. Choosing a registrar
  7. Route to registration
  8. Costs
  9. Contributing editor


Business and society rely heavily on market research, with users including companies, governments, research institutes, consumer associations, universities, marketing and advertising agencies. In its various forms market research contributes to many aspects of modern life, from products and services we buy, to the way we vote and to our behaviour as consumers and citizens.

ISO 20252 is a standard established by the International Standard Organization. The standard was issued to promote the principles of international quality standards to market, opinion and social research, and to harmonize other national standards already available. ISO 20252 establishes the terms and definitions as well the service requirements for organizations and professionals conducting market, opinion and social research, especially when operating on an international scale.

Market Research is now a global industry and the cross-border trade in this activity will be facilitated by ISO 20252 which standardizes the requirements for market research worldwide, encouraging consistency and transparency in the way surveys are carried out, and confidence in their results and in their providers. Since online research is the easiest method of research to conduct globally, global standards are needed to ensure quality and consistency.

Driven by the global market research industry and professional and trade associations, including European Society for Opinion and Market Research (ESOMAR), ISO 20252 provides an internationally recognized framework and common language for online quality and is a global standard suitable for any size organization that undertakes research, both nationally and internationally.


ISO 20252 ensures as a minimum a documented quality management system that provides transparency to clients. It specifies procedures and documentation and sets minimum levels of validation for key elements. It applies to subcontractors. ISO 20252 specifies the processes in conducting research projects from proposal, through sampling, fieldwork and data analysis to the final report. It guarantees staff training and development protocols as well as proper control of subcontractors. ISO 20252 addresses the quality triangle of Design, Process and Fitness. Reporting guidelines in the standard apply to both Quantitative and Qualitative research.

Is ISO 20252 relevant to your organization?

Cultural, social and behavioural differences between countries make conducting, monitoring and relying on international research very difficult. The implementation and certification of a quality management system based on ISO 20252 enables an organization to regulate these differences and carry out cross-border, multi-country research studies with the assurance that working procedures are compatible.

By implementing the ISO 20252 an organization can show clients that their research will be carried out under controlled conditions therefore providing a high level of confidence that they can rely on results. ISO 20252 ensures that each aspect is managed consistently and that respondents are protected.
ISO 20252 provides a solution to enhance stakeholder confidence, as it establishes clear terms and references, definitions, and fundamental service requirements. It provides an internationally recognized framework for best practices, and it is applicable for all organizations and individuals offering market opinion and social research services. It helps to succeed through improved customer satisfaction, staff motivation and continual improvement. It is suitable for any organization looking to improve the way it is operated and managed, regardless of size. It is particularly relevant for organizations that currently certify to their national standard as the national standards on these subjects will be removed.

To meet the expressed wishes of service providers and clients, ISO 20252 also clarifies the differences between market, opinion and social research, and other activities such as direct marketing. It also embodies some essential principles of international standardization including openness and transparency, consensus of interested parties and technical coherence.

Global adoption

The acceptance of the global ISO 20252 norm for market research is not only the end of a carefully managed process of consensus seeking professionals, but is also the beginning of a tremendous worldwide implementation effort. It is a key challenge to achieve a smooth acceptance of the ISO norm for market research focusing on target groups.

Representatives of nearly 30 countries worked together develop the ISO 20252 standard. Countries involved in developing the norms represent around 90% of the global market research market. The adoption process differs from country to country. In countries that already had national norms, organizations will have the choice between replacing these with the ISO norm, or keeping the national norms and adding ISO 20252 as a supplement.


ISO 20252 can provide a number of benefits for organizations commissioning, buying and carrying out market research and opinion polls. Demonstrating best practice is a potent statement to consumers and competitors.

For clients, knowing that a company is certified to ISO 20252 verifies that the organization is following processes that are standard in the industry. They benefit by knowing that they can buy effectively and in a timely manner. In addition ISO 20252 systems encourage efficiency and better defines internal responsibilities that can promote satisfaction in the workplace. It reduces errors and provides a framework that produces consistent, reliable and transparent products and services. It is suitable for any organization that undertakes research, both nationally and internationally.

ISO 20252 will help organizations overcome barriers to trade by demonstrating that local requirements have been met, maximize revenue by gaining worldwide market access, improve efficiency and risk management by streamlining business processes and eliminating waste, inspire client confidence by demonstrating quality and reliability of service, comply with regulations and professional codes in a cost-effective manner, and ensure research is carried out in full accordance with the Data Protection Act.

ISO 20252 will strengthen the quality of insights and other services delivered to them. They will see more consistency and compatibility in the handling of international projects. Ultimately, ISO 20252 will safeguard the quality and good practice of the research partner they work with.

ISO contends that the ISO 20252 saves adopting organizations money by facilitating getting projects right the first time, requiring less rework.


ISO 20252 does require a compliance audit by a third party to become certified, an organization has to ask an accredited certification body to assess whether it meets all requirements. The external accredited certification bodies check independently that the specified procedures are followed by the company.

The organization shall carry out, at pre-planned intervals, internal audits to establish compliance to the quality management system, project specifications agreed with clients including documented amendments throughout the project.

Choosing a registrar

There are over 1,000 certification bodies globally. It is important to select an approved certification body and to ensure they comply with the following criteria:

  • Ensure the company is accredited to ISO/IEC 17021:2006, and the certification body accreditation is issued by a recognised competent body.
  • Receive quotations from several certification bodies.
  • Do not select the cheapest as their auditing or service may be below standard.
  • Ensure the certification body is recognised by your customers and they have the relevant sector experience for your industry.

Route to registration

There are various phases to registration:

  1. Pre-audit Assessment
    • Check documentation with your auditor
      Together, you and your auditor will review your documentation. This will ensure that all documented procedures cover the requirements of ISO 20252.
    • Determine date of assessment
      Together with your auditor you will determine the best timetable for your registration and agree on a date for initial assessment. Many organizations benefit from a pre-assessment "dry run" of the formal assessment.
  2. Initial Assessment conducted
    An initial assessment will be conducted by your auditor. You will be informed of his recommendation at the closing meeting.
  3. Registration Confirmation
    Following your auditors recommendation, your registration will be confirmed by technical reviewers.
    • Certificate Issued
      Your certificate of registration will arrive soon after your registration has been confirmed.
  4. Continued Assessment
    After registration your auditor will visit your organization every 6 months or annually to ensure that your management system continues to meet the requirements of ISO 20252.
  5. Reassessment
    Your registrar is required to perform a reassessment of your management system every 3 years. This is normally 2/3 of the initial assessment duration at the end of the closing meeting your auditor will confirm the outcome if you successful.


There are various costs involved including internal costs to implement a quality management system and certification costs.

In terms of costs to implement, if you choose a full do-it-yourself approach, the only real costs will be the time for resources dedicated to the implementation process and in time spent writing documents and training your staff. If you have little experience with ISO 20252, or have limited internal resources, you might choose to get some outside professional help through a management system consultant. There are advantages by recruiting a consultant as you are able to guarantee your registration within a given period. If management is genuinely committed to delivering good quality and service, implementation can be very fast.

Costs of registration are dependent on the size of your organization and the number of locations. Most registrars charge a certain rate per day to be on-site at your facility. This day rate will vary depending on your country and the registrar. Small organizations with less than 20 staff could expect one auditor on site for 1-3 days; Large organizations can expect several auditors on site for up to up to 10-15 days.

Other fees include application fees, certificate fees and annual licence fees. There are also costs to maintain your certification. To maintain your certification, the Registrar must return annually to audit a portion of your system. These costs will be less than the original visit, since the time spent will be shorter. Once every three years, the Registrar returns to audit your entire system.

Contributing editor

Bernadette van Pampus

Bernadette van Pampus is Director of BVP Organisatie Advies based in The Netherlands. For the last 20 years, Bernadette has been involved with Quality Management Systems, working mainly in ISO 9001 and ISO 20252. Bernadette helps organizations understand requirements and how to interpret the requirements. She also provides organizations with consulting support to develop and implement the system within the organization. Bernadette runs training and coaching for quality managers and internal auditors.

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