Alternatives to Robert’s Rules

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Some people complain that Robert’s Rules are too complex to understand. Some people say that parliamentary procedure itself is too complex or too unfair. They say the act of “filing motions” and processing the “majority vote” shouldn’t require a million rules.

Well guess what? It is not a monopoly. You can compare prices.

If you don’t like the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order (i.e., the 11th edition published in 2011 titled “Newly Revised Robert’s Rules of Order” published by DaCapo Press), then your organization is free to adopt another from the competition. parliamentary handbook.

In fact, prior to 1876, the first year of publication of the original edition of Henry Martyn Robert’s little paperback, all organizations necessarily had to write their own custom set of parliamentary rules, because they had to; Comprehensive compilation within the reach of the average civic organization. That little pocket manual by HM Robert filled a marketing niche that had no competitors.

However, your organization cannot adopt any manual and write its own 100% custom rules. That’s right: complete anarchy, except for what your bylaws specify plus any unique rules you create yourselves. There’s nothing stopping you from reinventing the wheel; in fact, a 200, 300 or 400 page “wheel”, depending on how complete you want your custom manual to be. But do you really have 3-6 free years for such an undertaking?

If you don’t want to spend 3-6 years writing your own parliamentary handbook, and if you don’t like the 700+ page current edition of Robert’s Rules, what’s the alternative? Where can you turn for a ready-to-enforce set of democratic rules? What real alternative is there, right now, that can improve on or replace Robert’s Rules?

Good news on this front: Someone has done a survey.

One parliamentarian, Jim Slaughter of North Carolina, wrote an article (see footnote) listing the most popular alternatives to Robert’s Rules. In his survey, he asked serving MPs which parliamentary authority their clients were using. Slaughter’s findings were as follows.

• 90% use the newly revised “Robert’s Rules of Order”

• 8% use “The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure”

• 3% use some other parliamentary authority

Since number 2 on the list is “The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure” (abbreviated “TSC” for “The Standard Code”), let’s look at this book for its potential to replace Robert’s Rules.

The author of TSC was the late Alice F. Sturgis (1885-1974), who had serious credentials working with the United Nations. She taught at Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) and the University of California (Berkeley, CA). Her first book on parliamentary procedure was published in 1925. Following Sturgis’s death, revision of the book has been in the hands of a committee of the American Institute of Parliamentarians. The current edition is the fourth edition of 2000.

Some major organizations have taken the big step and traded Sturgis’s book for Robert’s book: the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, and the United Auto Workers Union.

What is different in Sturgis’s book? To a non-parliamentary reader, the rules in the current edition of TSC may appear so similar to Robert’s Rules that the differences are not obvious. In fact, any parliamentary handbook you choose must necessarily have significant overlap with all other parliamentary handbooks, due to the 300-year-old nature of British customs and traditions which are passed down more or less intact to all democratically elected legislatures. The fundamentals have not changed in 2,000 years. – (a.) Propose an idea; (b.) Discuss the advantages and disadvantages; (c.) Vote whether or not to carry it out. The terminology has also been preserved over the centuries. The differences that exist will refer to specific motions, specific applications and not general changes.

What you get with the fourth edition of the Sturgis TSC is satisfaction for some of the most popular demands about the 11th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order: (a.) fewer pages; (b.) larger letter; (c.) fewer motions; (d.) slang change to plain English.

There is no surprise here. One thing you can count on is that today’s competitors to Robert’s Rules will have simplified something or condensed something. That is to say, nobody is producing a parliamentary manual of more pages, more rules, than the current edition of Robert’s Rules, namely 716 numbered pages, and the book lists 86 numbered motions in its table. How many of the 86 moves will you see in your lifetime?

Beware of the difference in philosophy. The Sturgis book, plus all similar condensations and simplifications, should be understood as an essential rulebook, with principles that implicitly cover what the written rules do not explicitly cover. By contrast, Robert’s book claims to be encyclopedic in scope and claims to cover all contingencies.

What does this mean? It means that if you adopt Sturgis or a similar simplification, there will be parliamentary situations that the book will not cover. Whereas, on the other hand, it’s highly unlikely that any parliamentary situation you find yourself in for the rest of your life doesn’t have a corresponding rule in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Here is an analogy. — It’s like the difference between a hybrid/electric car vs. an SUV/Humvee: A vehicle will take you slowly and smoothly from point A to point B, as long as points A and B are not too far apart and are not too steep. But the other vehicle is a monster truck, and there’s nowhere it can’t go. — That’s the difference between a watered-down manual that covers essentials and an industrial-strength manual that covers things you’ve never heard of and never will.

That’s why one book is over 700 pages and the competition is 200-300 pages. The big book covers everything, and is meant to cover 100%. The smallest competition has deliberate gaps and is meant to cover 50%-80% of all situations: the easy ones, the popular ones, the non-complex ones.

Here’s another analogy using television as a medium: Robert’s Rules versus someone else’s rules is like the difference in the amount of data between a movie trailer and the actual movie. One contains some sound bites, some highlights, and the theme song. The other contains every line of dialogue, every scene, and every theme and motif.

Are there competitors to Sturgis? No, not really. All other competitors are sold out. The paperback knockoffs one might find on a keyword search are not recognized by any organization that I know of.

However, if you are a firefighter, there is a good chance that your parliamentary handbook is “Atwood’s Rules for Meetings” (Roswell Atwood, 1956, published by the International Association of Firefighters). Even more out of print than Atwood are its older competitors: George Demeter’s handbook. Franklin Kerfoot’s Handbook. Thomas B. Reed Handbook.

One more alternative to weigh and consider: State legislatures use the Mason manual (Paul Mason, latest edition 2010, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures). But Mason isn’t a real competitor to Robert or Sturgis because Mason’s handbook is intended for full-time legislative bodies, and as such, those rules won’t work for a once-a-month or once-a-month fraternity clubhouse meeting. to quarter. or a Little League board or a computer club.

That is the situation. If you have reservations, concerns, doubts, or fears about learning Robert’s Rules or being a victim of Robert’s Rules, then you don’t have to accept them. You can convince your organization to adopt a competitor, such as “The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure” or “Atwood’s Rules of Meetings.” And if you don’t like either Sturgis or Atwood, then you can go ahead and shoot your own. Yes, write your own rules of order, only yours. All inconsistencies and ambiguities will be your doing. Good luck.

But be careful what you wish for. If you write no rules at all, or if you write very few rules, then you will be at the mercy of an unscrupulous and untrained president with a hidden agenda, and you will have no way to fight back.

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Jim Slaughter, “CPP Parliamentary Practices in 2000,” Parliamentary Journal, XLII (January 2001), 1-11.


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