Using Robert's Rules for Deliberative Assemblies - dummies

Using Robert’s Rules for Deliberative Assemblies

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP, PRP

The time-tested rules of parliamentary procedure using Robert’s Rules are applicable to meetings of several types of organizations. Most of these groups are what are known as deliberative assemblies, and Robert’s Rules was designed to assist at meetings of these groups and the bodies subordinate to them.

The key identity for such groups is that of a deliberative assembly. Your group is a deliberative assembly if:

  • You meet to act together in the name of the group, and you make your decisions after thorough deliberation (that is, an airing of the pros and cons), where the majority gives the minority full opportunity to present its case and increase its number to a majority.

  • Your meetings are held so that members are able to participate simultaneously in the discussion. The location most often is a room where all the participants can hear each other. You can hold meetings via teleconference or videoconference only if the use of the technologies is authorized in your group’s bylaws.

  • Your meeting attendance is large enough that you need some formal structure to keep things on track and business moving along.

  • Your members are free to use their own judgments in connection with making the group decisions, and each member’s vote counts the same.

  • You don’t have to quit, or resign from, the group if you don’t concur in the final decision.

  • You have rules protecting the rights of absentees, and you require some absolute minimum number of participants to be present before taking action in the name of the group.

Robert’s Rules uses the word session as another word for a meeting, particularly when so much needs to be accomplished that the group needs more than one meeting to get it all done. A session, therefore, is a meeting or series of meetings that gets your assembly through all the business it needs to take care of at one time.

In general, most groups are divided into two types of deliberative assemblies (and the committees subordinate to them). They are

  • The local assembly of an organized society: You’re probably most familiar with this type of deliberative assembly. Examples include your civic or service club, your neighborhood association, or a professional or trade association meeting at the local (or maybe state) level.

  • The board: The board is an administrative or management group, the members of which are appointed or elected. It may be an executive board that is subordinate to a larger assembly; or it may be an autonomous body elected in public elections, appointed by public officials or government agencies, or appointed by the membership of a private organization.

Three other general types of deliberative assemblies exist: mass meetings, conventions of delegates, and legislative bodies. The legislative body includes lawmaking bodies like state and national legislatures. Except for small legislative bodies such as city or town councils that are run like boards, legislative bodies operate under specialized parliamentary rules and authority. Robert’s Rules wasn’t written for them.