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Alternatives to Robert’s Rules
Some people complain that Robert’s Rules are too complex to understand. Some say that the parliamentary procedure itself is too complex or too unfair. They say that the act of “making moves” and processing a “majority vote” should not require a thousand rules.
Well, guess what? It is not a monopoly. You can shop around.
If you do not like the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order (namely, the 11th edition published in 2011, which is entitled “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised”, published by DaCapo Press), then your organization has the right to adopt another competing one. parliamentary handbook.
Indeed, by 1876, the first year of publication of the original edition of Henry Martyn Robert’s paperback, all organizations had to draft their own personalized set of parliamentary rules, because they had to – there was no proper, complete compilation available to the average citizen organization That little pocket-sized handbook by HM Robert filled a marketing niche that had zero competitors.
Or your organization cannot adopt a manual at all and draft its own 100% customized rules. That’s right – complete anarchy except for whatever your bylaws specify plus whatever unique rules you create yourself. There’s nothing stopping you from reinventing the wheel – indeed, a 200-page, 300-page, 400-page “wheel”, depending on how complete you want your personalized manual to be. But do you really have 3 to 6 years free for such a venture?
If you don’t want to spend 3-6 years drafting your own parliamentary handbook, and if you don’t like the 700+ pages of the current edition of Robert’s Rules, what is the alternative? Where can you turn for a set of democratic rules ready to be applied? What real alternative exists now that can improve or replace Robert’s Rules?
Good news on this front: Someone did a poll.
One member of parliament, Jim Slaughter of North Carolina, wrote an article (see footnote) that lists the most popular alternatives to Robert’s Rules. In his poll, he asked Labor MPs what parliamentary authority their clients used. Slaughter’s findings were as follows.
• 90% use “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised”
• 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”), then let’s discuss this book on its potential to replace Robert’s Rules.
The author of TSC was the late Alice F. Sturgis (1885-1974) who had some important 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. After the death of Sturgis, the revision of the book was in the hands of a committee of the American Institute of Parliamentarians. The current edition is the 2000 4th edition.
A number of large organizations took the big step, and exchanged the Sturgis book for the Robert book: the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association and the United Automobile Workers Union.
What is different in Sturgis’s book? To a non-parliamentary reader, the rules in the current edition of TSC might look so similar to Robert’s Rules that the differences are not obvious. Indeed, any parliamentary manual you choose must necessarily have significant overlap with all other parliamentary manuals, due to the nature of 300 years of British customs and traditions passed down more or less intact to all democratically elected legislatures. The basics haven’t changed in 2,000 years. – (a.) Propose an idea; (b.) Debate the advantages and disadvantages; (c.) Vote whether to implement it or not. The terminology has been similarly preserved over the centuries. Whatever differences exist will be about specific motions, specific applications, and not wholesale changes.
What you get with the fourth edition of the Sturgis’ TSC is satisfaction for some of the most popular demands over the 11th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order: (a.) fewer pages; (b.) larger print; (c.) fewer movements; (d.) change from jargon to plain English.
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, no one publishes 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 moves in its table. How many of the 86 moves will you see in your lifetime?
Note the difference in philosophy. The Sturgis book, plus all similar condensations and simplifications, are meant to be understood as a book of essential rules, with principles covering implicitly what the written rules do not cover explicitly. In contrast, the Robert book is intended to be encyclopedic in scope, and is meant to cover every eventuality.
What does this mean? It means that if you adopt Sturgis or a similar simplification, then there will be parliamentary situations that the book will not cover. Whereas, by contrast, it is highly unlikely that any parliamentary situation you encounter in the rest of your life will not have a corresponding rule in Robert’s Rules of Order.
Here’s an analogy. — It’s like the difference between a hybrid/electric car vs. an SUV/Humvee: One vehicle will slowly and lightly take you from point A to point B, as long as points A & B aren’t too far apart and aren’t too steep. But the other vehicle is a monster truck, and there’s no place it can’t go. — That’s the difference between a watered-down manual that covers essentials versus an industrial-strength manual that covers things you’ve never heard of and never will.
That’s why one book is 700+ pages, and the contest is 200-300 pages. The big book covers everything, and aims to cover 100%. The smaller competition has deliberate gaps, and aims to cover 50%-80% of all situations — the easy ones, the popular ones, the uncomplicated ones.
Here’s another analogy using television as a medium: Robert’s Rules versus someone else’s rules is like the difference in amount of data between a movie trailer versus the actual movie. One contains some sound bites, some highlights, and the core theme. The other contains every line of dialogue, every scene, and all themes and motifs.
Are there competitors to Sturgis? No, not really. All other competitors are sold out. The paperbacks that one might find in a keyword search are not recognized by any organization that I know of.
However, if you are a firefighter, then there is a good chance that your parliamentary handbook will be “Atwood’s Rules for Meetings” (Roswell Atwood, 1956, published by the International Association of Fire Fighters). Even more out of print than Atwood are older competitors: George Demeter’s manual. Franklin Kerfoot’s handbook. The Thomas B. Reed handbook.
One more alternative to weigh and consider: State legislatures use Mason’s handbook (Paul Mason, last edition 2010, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures). But Mason is not a real competitor to Robert or Sturgis because Mason’s manual is intended for full-time legislative bodies, and, as such, those rules will not work for a once-a-month or once-a-quarter fraternal clubhouse. or Little League board or computer club.
This is the situation. If you have reservations, concerns, doubts or fears, about learning Robert’s Rules or being victimized by Robert’s Rules, then you should not take it. You can encourage your organization to adopt a competitor, such as “The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure” or “Atwood’s Rules for Meetings.” And if you don’t like Sturgis or Atwood either, then you can cowboy up and run your own — yes, draft your own rules of order, uniquely yours. Any inconsistencies and ambiguities will be of your own doing. good luck
But be careful what you wish for. If you don’t draft any rules, or if you draft too few rules, then you will be at the mercy of an untrained, unscrupulous chair with a hidden agenda, and you will have no way to fight back.
* * *
Jim Slaughter, “Parliamentary Practices of CPP in 2000”, Parliamentary Journal, XLII (Jan. 2001), 1-11.
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