Codes & standards: The code is written in the hallways
August 6, 2012
FABRICATION : CODES & STANDARDS
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.”
This saying reflects the importance of obtaining feedback about what you plan to present and, historically, has meant simply stopping a colleague in the hallway to have a discussion. It is often during these hallway discussions proposals that eventually become code language are developed.
Successful code development requires collaboration with other parties who might have an interest in the code change proposals you bring forward. If you don’t reach an agreement with these parties before presenting your proposal to the voting bodies, and there are objections, those bodies will decide themselves what the code should require. And usually, if there appears to be uncertainty or controversy, they will disapprove the proposal.
It is also helpful to know if others have objections to proposals. The chances of getting your proposal approved are better if you can anticipate who might be speaking against it and why.
Hallway discussions worked well when most of the interested parties were in the same business location for an extended period of time. However, as business locations became more scattered, hallway discussions were replaced with telephone conversations and conference calls. 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, the majority of us spend a fair part of our working day in e-mail discussions. Many of those are group exchanges, perpetuated by the “reply all” function.
Most of us also now carry smart phones that allow us to send and receive e-mails, text messages and phone calls almost anywhere. Even when we’re in the same room as another interested party, it’s often easier to communicate with them via e-mail or text message than to speak to them directly for fear of interrupting other activities.
The Internet also has given us the ability to have virtual meetings using programs such as GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar.
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 I reported in the July 2012 issue of Glass Magazine, the ICC board of directors has set a goal of allowing remote voting by active ICC members (governmental) for all 2018 International Codes. ICC will conduct a pilot program in 2014 for the development of the International Green Construction Code.
If we are going to rely on remote voting, we must ask, “How will 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 same methods I have already described. Face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, conference calls and e-mail discussions all serve a purpose and can be helpful.
Each of these methods has its shortcomings, however. E-mail, for example, is a useful way to have a group discussion with people who are not close by. One of the downsides is it limits the discussion to those copied on the e-mail. Another downside is that the group can grow to an unmanageable size, as original participants copy others who they think might have an interest. And, hitting “reply all” can copy people who are not necessarily interested in reading every new comment in a discussion. It also can be difficult to catch up on a discussion by trying to read the most recent e-mail and then reading backwards through the e-mails that preceded it.
Social media appears to be one possible solution. Multiple LinkedIn discussion groups regarding upcoming ICC Group A code change proposals already exist. It seems likely more will follow.
The recent AAMA National Summer Conference featured a presentation on social media 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, they can choose to simply review the discussions that are taking place when they can. Participants can scan the headings to see if anything catches their attention.
The other advantage of discussion groups such as LinkedIn is that they are much more likely to draw feedback from other interested parties than an e-mail discussion with a finite group of individuals. Obviously, if it’s a discussion you don’t want to share with others, this isn’t an appropriate forum. But if you want to get feedback from all interested parties, discussion groups can be a good way to do so.
Code development has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, and it’s likely that even more dramatic changes will occur over the next 20. Perhaps there will come a time when we “codies” say, “The code is written in discussion groups.”