Robert's Rules of Order/Wright State University Lake Campus

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How to break the rules without breaking the rules

Two great beacons of hope for the human race are education and democracy. For this and other reasons, all faculty senates should have a deep understanding of rules of order. A strong disincentive against learning Robert's Rules of Order (RRO) are the facts that they (1) are rarely needed if members of the assembly act in good faith, and (2) cannot rescue a completely dysfunctional assembly.[1] The purpose of this essay is to explore how a faculty senate can informally incorporate rules of order in order to gain a deeper understanding of how parliamentary democracy. History shows that the culture of democracy cannot be transplanted by simply focusing on the rules. Perhaps an effort by this faculty sentate to develop informal rules can lead to insights that might make it easier to disseminate knowledge about how democratic assemblies should function.

Is it OK to modify Robert's Rules by making them less formal?[edit | edit source]

Absolutly! [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

The great flexibility already built into RRO suggests that the best way to understand and incorporate RRO might be to completely ignore Robert's Rules and instead focus on making the meetings more efficient. After that one can easily make RRO conform to the chosen set of rules.

The fact that an assembly can modify or even ignore Robert's Rules might explain why these rules have not been replaced[7] or significantly modified[8] for over a century.

A number of methods can permit an organization to achieve a workable democracy before attempting to follow RRO:

  1. The simplest is to actually break the rules! In almost all cases, bad decisions resulting from a breakdown of democratic procedures are best reversed by by acting within the scope of the rules to rescind the decision. Judgements can be reversed due to technical flaws in our legal system, but not under RRO.
  2. Another way to avoid the rules is to hold discussions before or the meeting (see for example this straw poll ). It is also possible to halt formal procedures during a meeting. This approach is important even for organizations that have mastered the intricacies of RRO. These rules are for debating and deciding, not for discussing, analyzing, or finding compromises.[9]
  3. Once an organization has found a comfortable set of procedures, a suspension of the rules can be achieved (without debate) by a 2/3 majority. It should be noted that a senate that cannot find this 2/3 supermajority regarding the rules would be in trouble even if Robert's Rules were fully understood and in effect.
  4. After a set of rules has been agreed upon, they can be placed in the bylaws. Robert's Rules are intended to serve not as a universal set of rules, but instead as an almost arbitrary set of default parameters that can facilitate the expression of whatever rules best suit a given organization.

the rest of this page contains ideas that need to be organized

==Ignore the rules==
*<small>This section was inspired by documents that ranked high on a Google search on simplifying Robert's rules.<ref></ref><ref></ref><ref></ref></small>

Another way to avoid Robert's rules is to simply ignore them.  This may sound odd, but most decisions made by a senate stand even if an infraction of the rules took place during the deliberation and nobody immediately objects.  If a tiny disruptive minority objects for trivial reasons,  2/3 of the senate can [[w:Suspension of the rules|suspend the rules]].  Seen in this light, a "functional" assembly is likely to occur if over 2/3 of the assembly is committed to democracy within the senate.

Oddly, both mechanisms by which Robert's Rules can be ignored are incompatible.  A senate can either allow the president to govern by general consent, or suspend the rules.  General consent is the default method for a senate not familiar with the rules.  

===General consent===
This is also called unanimous consent.  According to [ ''Survival Tips''], 

 "If there is no objection ..." are the 5 most helpful words a chairperson will ever find.<ref></ref>

But it is essential that the president pauses to allow all members to ponder the question.  This is where a president's ''people skills'' are especially useful (... or dangerous).

===Considering things informally===
Guy: Mention 2/3 suspension of rules.


A regular assembly, no matter how large or small, has some options to relax its rules and deliberate on any particular subject under the rules for committees and boards. It may
*Resolve itself into a committee of the whole or a quasi-committee of the whole. The entire assembly makes itself one big committee and uses committee rules as the rules of debate on a particular subject. In a quasi-committee the presiding officer of the whole body and the committee can be the same person.
*Simply relax the rules and consider a particular subject informally.This move essentially relaxes the limits on debate. Votes during informal consideration are votes of the assembly.
*Establish breakout groups. This method requires some planning in advance so that facilitators can be appointed to bring back the results of these short committee meetings.
Following is from

“Can the president move a motion at a meeting? What law is this held under?”
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that a wise chair will only move certain motions from the chair.
The only motions a president or person in the chair should move are motions of congratulations or motions of condolence or motions of thanks. These are nearly always “carried by acclamation” with the obvious exception of the motion of condolence. These are often carried without a seconder.
Inexperienced or “power chairs” sometimes move all sorts of motions and in so doing demonstrate their lack of understanding of their role.
Procedural motions should never be moved from the chair. For instance, a motion seeking to close debate, when moved from the chair, takes away all impartiality – the cornerstone of the chair’s authority.
Substantive or main motions can be moved from the chair technically, but a wise chair will not – they will invite a members to move the motion.
A chair may suggest that it would be appropriate for a particular motion (procedural or substantive) to be moved but encourage someone else to move it. They may even suggest the wording.
The minute a chair moves a motion from the chair, they have “declared their hand” and their impartiality goes out the window. They therefore cannot, with integrity, preside over the discussion which follows and their major role is to fairly and impartially preside.

==If you need rules, streamline them==
* See [[Robert's Rules of Order/North American Federation of Temple Youth]] for one way to do this.

Main motions are usually written resolutions. Amendments must be written by the person making the amendment on an amendment sheet.  This amendment sheet is maintained by the parliamentarian.  If the author of the amendment accepts it as friendly, the motion is automatically changed to include the amendment.  Amendments not accepted as friendly are debated as per Robert’s rules.
Placard system for making motions:
Voting member raises the placard and says only, “MOTION.” Another delegate raises placard and says “SECOND.” There is no need to wait, and seconds are not recorded.
If the motion is debatable, members put thumbs up to speak pro, and thumbs down to speak con. Speakers alternate pro/con, with the maker of the motion speaking first.  Those who have not yet spoken are given highest priority to speak.
Speakers will start with two minutes each, and are encouraged to yield early for either questions or the next speaker.
To end debate, delegates can call for the previous question.  “I MOVE TO THE PREVIOUS QUESTION.” The chair will states the motion, and the assembly then votes whether or not to end debate. The motion to end debate requires a 2/3 vote (as per RRO)
Majority: A majority vote requires more than half of the votes cast.  The president is allowed to vote, but usually does so only after all others have voted.  If the motion passes by only one vote before the president votes, the president has the option to block the motion by creating a tie. 
Two-thirds supermajority: An easy way to count votes if a 2/3 “supermajority” is required is to multiply  the negative vote by two. This number must be less than or equal to the affirmative votes to carry the motion.
Any member has the right to ask for a standing vote. 
According to the 1915 (public domain) version of RRO, the motion to hold a secret ballot is undebatable and requires a simple majority to pass.
===Can the chair make a motion?===
Unofficially, yes!  Some authors use the term “presumed motion”, but NFTY recommends “suggesting” motions be made as follows:
:Chair: “The chair will now entertain a motion to ''(motion stated)''.
:''Member1'': “Motion to ''(motion stated)''”
:Chair: “We have a motion by ''Member1'' to ''(motion stated)''. Is there a second?”
:''Member1'': “Second.”

===Sample motions===
I move that we:
Meet in breakout groups OR as committee as a whole
 I move that we limit debate to __ minutes per person
move to the previous question
vote by secret ballot
a point of personal privilege” 
a Point of information”

Other essays from Wright State Lake Campus (by the same author):

  1. As evidence, note how often meetings have gone well without using RRO, and also how often televised assemblies of professional politicians are seen to break down completely.
  2. Parlimentarian James Sayers at WSU-Lake once stated that worst way to introduce Robert's rules is to bring in a copy of the manual
  3. Robert's Rules of Order/North American Federation of Temple Youth
  4. "Some organizations require a strict enforcement of parliamentary rules, while with others the best results are oabtained by being informal. It is important that the presiding officer have tact and common sense, especially with a very intelligent assembly."
  9. Even a straw poll can be viewed as a means to seek compromise in an organization dedicated to maintaining unity because knowledge of the size of the "losing" side of an issue will guide centrists who wish to sustain this unity.