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What Does 'Context of the Organization' Mean in ISO?

Context of the Organization is not always the most straightforward clause to understand, as it can be interpreted in many ways.

Modern ISO Standards follow the Annex SL Structure (see the article last month), which ensures consistency across the Management System standards. The first real actionable clause of this structure - so no matter which standard you are looking - is number 4, 'Context of the Organization'.

In essence, this states that an organisation must actively consider any internal and external concerns that might affect the Management System. But Context of the Organization is not always the most straightforward clause to understand, as it can be interpreted in many ways. Also, context can evolve as the organisation grows and internal and external factors change.

Your company must determine external and internal issues that are relevant to your purpose and strategic direction, and that affect your ability to achieve the intended result(s) of your Management System. You will need to monitor and review the information about these external and internal issues.

Determining the context of your organisation is a requirement of ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, ISO 45001:2018 and ISO 27001:2013. Also known as contextual intelligence, this approach is not new to those familiar with business planning and strategic development.

Your organisation is required to identify and assess all internal issues and external issues that could impact upon your management system’s ability to deliver its intended results. You will need to develop a methodology to understand the needs and expectations of all interested parties.

Identify the stakeholders of your organisation’s management system and capture their relevant requirements that might influence the type and complexity of your management system. You need to determine internal issues relevant to your organisation’s purpose and strategic direction that may affect its ability to achieve the intended results of your management system.

This information should be retained as a strategy or tactical planning document to underpin your organisation’s policies and to provide a road map to achieve future goals.

You should allow time to develop an understanding of the key internal and external factors that influence your business, and to set up processes to capture, monitor and review these issues. The following types of documents and tools often help to provide a source of contextual information:

  • Policy statement(s) regarding your organisation’s purpose and strategic direction;

  • Individual strategy documents underpinning your organisation’s policies that provide a road map to achieve its goals;

  • Records of meetings where context is routinely discussed and monitored;

  • Structured risk assessments of external and internal issues;

  • Use of PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental) analysis for external issues;

  • Use of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for internal issues;

  • Documented information describing organisational context.

A review of organisational context could include interviews with senior management, questionnaires, surveys and research. Cross-functional input is essential for the specific expertise required to identify the full breadth of issues, such as finance, training, human resources, commercial, engineering and design, etc.

Not only will this ensure a broader appreciation of organisational context but also wider engagement, particularly with those functions not previously involved with the management system.

If you would like to look at how to implement an ISO 9001 quality management system, then simply contact us.

Or, if you want to see what's involved in more detail, then get a completely free, no obligation, totally tailored ISO Gap Analysis for your business (only available to UK businesses).

Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog

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