Code Development Moving Online
Those of us who have been involved in code development for an extended period of time have a saying–“The code is written in the hallways.”
The saying reflects the more historic action of simply stopping one’s colleague in a hallway to have a discussion. It reflects the importance of seeking out, and obtaining, feedback on what one plans to present before it’s ever presented.
Success in this game we call code development requires collaboration with other parties who may have an interest in the code change proposals one is bringing forward. It is in our best interest to try to reach agreement with these other parties on just what is being brought forward before presenting it to the bodies who are actually going to vote on it. If this isn’t done and there are objections, those bodies will be forced to make the decision themselves on what the code should require. And usually, if there appears to be uncertainty or controversy, those bodies, whether they are a code change committee, or the International Code Council active members in attendance at code hearings, will disapprove the proposal.
Relying on hallway discussions worked well when most interested parties were in the same business location for an extended period of time.
As business locations became more scattered, however, hallway discussions were replaced with telephone conversations. Conference calls were arranged for discussion by a group of people. Fax machines were used to exchange sketches and diagrams that were difficult to describe over the phone.
The advent of the Internet gave us e-mail. Today most of us spend a fair part of our working day in e-mail discussions. Many of those are group discussions, perpetuated by using the “Reply all” response.
Most of us also now carry ‘smart phones’ that also allow us to send and receive e-mails and text messages as well as phone calls, almost anywhere. Now even when in the same room as another interested party, it is often easier to communicate with them via e-mail or text message than by speaking directly to them, particularly if we wish to communicate without interrupting other activities that may be occurring in that same room.
The Internet has also given us the ability to have virtual meetings using such programs as GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar. My son can play video games with his friends the same way whether they are in the next room in his fraternity, or on another side of the world. Technology has changed the way we interact with each other. My most frequent communication with my daughter is via Facebook. I have found that my youngest son responds best to text messages, rather than e-mails or phone calls.
Much has been written about this by social scientists; I am not an anthropologist, just a “codie.” My interest is the codes. As reported previously, the ICC board of directors has set a goal of allowing remote voting by active ICC members (governmental) for all 2018 International Codes. A pilot of this process will be used for the International Green Construction Code in 2014.
If we are going to be relying on remote voting, we must ask “How do we seek out and obtain meaningful feedback from those remote voters who are not attending the hearings, but whose vote we need to get a proposal approved?”
It is likely we will continue to use many of the methods I have already mentioned above. Face to face meetings, virtual meetings, conference calls, e-mail discussions–all serve a purpose and can be helpful. Each of these methods have certain shortcomings, however, as well. E-mail for example, is a useful way to have a discussion with a group of people who are not close by. One of the downsides is that the discussion is limited to those who are copied in the e-mail.
Move to LinkedIn
It appears one possible answer may be social media. Multiple LinkedIn discussion groups regarding upcoming ICC Group A code change proposals already exist. It seems likely more will follow.
During the recent AAMA National Summer Conference a presentation on social media was given. The purpose of the session was to help members better utilize social media for business purposes and to participate and create discussion forums on AAMA’s LinkedIn group. One of the advantages of group discussions such as those on LinkedIn is that they are much easier to follow from beginning to end, without having to read each new comment at the time it’s made. Participants can indicate if they want to receive an e-mail notice for each new comment made in a particular discussion. Or, we can choose to simply review the discussions that are taking place in the groups of which we’re members when we’re able. When we do so, we can scan the headings much as one might browse through a newspaper to see if there is anything there that catches our attention.
The other advantage of discussion groups such as LinkedIn is they are much more likely to draw feedback from other interested parties than an e-mail discussion that was started with a finite group of individuals. Obviously if it’s a discussion you don’t want to share with others, you don’t want to have that discussion in a discussion group. But if you are interested in getting feedback from all interested parties, discussion groups can be a good way to achieve it.
Just as it is helpful to reach out to others with whom we may be able to reach resolution on one or more code change proposals, it is also helpful to know if others have objections to one or more proposals. Sometimes we can’t reach agreement with other interested parties. So we bring forward what we need to, knowing that others will object. There is still a chance that our proposal will be approved. The chances of this are increased if we’re able to anticipate who may be speaking against a proposal, and why.
It is also in our best interest to know who voted against a proposal, and why, especially if it is disapproved. If we can gain an understanding of why voting members voted against a proposal, it can help us bring back a modified proposal in the future that has a better chance of being approved.
Code development has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. It’s likely that even more dramatic changes will occur over the next 20. Perhaps there will come a time when we ‘codies’ will say “The code is written in discussion groups.”