ICC Seeks to Expand Participation in Code-Development Process with Online Voting

Julie Ruth
August 20, 2014
COLUMN : Code Arena

When the prominent members of the U.S. Colonies had concerns about the taxes being imposed upon them by Great Britain, they gathered together in person to discuss the issue. Although not all the delegates sent to Philadelphia from the various colonies were originally in favor of succession from Great Britain, by early July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed.

It is somewhat interesting to speculate on whether such radical action would be taken by a unified body if its discussions had been via GoToMeeting or LinkedIn, instead.

The manner in which we communicate with each other is changing rapidly. For an old dog like me, it seems I have to learn “new tricks” almost daily.

These new methods of communication can have tremendous benefits. I sometimes think about my great grandparents while texting my sons questions about a sporting event I am watching. My great grandparents had to rely upon written communication to correspond with their family and friends back in Finland after they immigrated to the United States over 100 years ago. Today, “The U.S. can still go on to the next round, even if they lose to Germany” is conveyed to me over hundreds of miles in an instant with the touch of a button.

Although it has taken a few years for the exact concept to become formalized, the ICC has long wrestled with the idea of allowing code officials to participate in the code development process without having to travel to a central location.

The ICC has put into place a process called cdpACCESS, which, after thousands of hours spent in meetings developing, brainstorming, refining and testing, the ICC used as a pilot for this year’s revision of the International Green Construction Code.

Now, at the pilot cycle’s midpoint, it seems like a good time to stop and look at how the system is doing. There have been some glitches, but overall it’s worked, and the ICC staff seems devoted to fixing the glitches.

Proponents of code-change proposals were able to submit their proposals via the cdpACCESS system, although the use of the system generated a fairly large amount of errata. Most of these were noted before the respective committees began their consideration of the proposals during the Committee Action Hearings, and it did not interfere with their ability to consider the proponent’s original intent.

Code-change proponents had been promised they would be able to generate and submit proposal modifications for consideration by the committee and other interested parties using the cdpACCESS system. However, that aspect of the system wasn’t ready in time for the Committee Action Hearings, so they submitted floor modifications the way it had always been done.

If a member of the assembly did not like the committee’s action on any particular proposal, he or she was able to make a motion for an assembly vote. That occurred as it had in the past. But now, no vote was taken by the assembly at the hearings. Instead, the motion was deferred to cdpACCESS for online voting.

The results of the cdpACCESS voting have been determined and posted on the ICC’s website. All interested parties have those results available for their consideration as they develop public comments. The cdpACCESS allows members to submit public comments online. Again, there are glitches, but ICC staff is working to address and fix them.

MORE PARTICIPATION?

Has cdpACCESS achieved its goal of expanding participation in the code development process?

The response to the online voting system appears to have been tepid at best. Of the more than 600 codechange proposals considered during the Committee Action Hearings, assembly motions were only made on 20 of them. With the exception of one proposal, fewer than 200 people participated in the online vote for these 20 assembly motions.

Typically, there are more than 200 people in the assembly in the code hearing room during the day, but as the hour gets later the assembly gets smaller. It is not unusual for the hearings to go until 10 or 11 p.m. There have been occasions when an assembly motion has been made at this late hour with fewer than 30 people in the audience, and this small group of people has decided the fate of the code-change proposal in question.

Although the number of online voters might be regarded as a low participation rate in cdpACCESS, it can also be argued that participation in the process expanded beyond that handful of individuals that occasionally make key decisions at the ICC hearings. It could also be noted that nearly 200 people took the time to go online and vote on a model building code that only recently has been adopted as a mandatory code in any jurisdiction. Washington, D.C., has adopted the code with the intent to mandate compliance with it, and the City of Baltimore, Md., has indicated intent to do the same. But both of these instances have occurred within the last few months. Prior to that, the only adoption of the IgCC that had occurred was on an “optional” basis only.

Stephen Jones, ICC president, might be biased when he refers to the “outstanding successful roll-out of cdpACCESS” as “the new ‘Gold Standard’ of remote-representative voting and collaboration.” But it cannot be denied that for some proposals several more people participated in voting on a little-used code than have, on occasion, voted on much more widely used and enforced codes. And that may be an indication that the process might achieve its intended goal of expanding participation in the I-Code process after all. Only time will tell.

Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.