Robert's Rules 8.12.05

Robert’s Rules aren’t very funny so I can’t start with a joke. I aim to make this not like actually reading the book, cause that makes me fall asleep, I try for good information, brevity, and a little wit.

Robert’s Rules are the set of parliamentary rules followed by nearly all city, state, and federal governmental body meetings. Most nonprofits, many corporations, political organizations, clubs, and groups also follow them. They are how you navigate and manipulate your way through a system. If you don’t know these rules they can be used to trample all over you. If you do know them you can use them to help make the process more democratic. If you know them well you can use them to get what you want. You can, not that I would ever promote this, use a solid knowledge of the rules to trample over your opponents and crush them into dust.

I believe the main competitor for running meetings is the consensus method, which is a newer process in its current formal state. I can some time on this if there is desire for it but it’s usually used by groups where there is a lot of common beliefs, I recommend not using it if you have any large divide in your group, and the government will not be adopting this method any time soon.

You might also run into meetings that are run “informally”. This can mean what it says, a laid back group that takes up issues when they need to and it’s not formal or strict about rules. It can, however, mean that it is a small group at the front of the room, or the back, running everything and that unless you are part of the clique you don’t have any say, you don’t get to have your voice heard and essentially you might as well not be there.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order. You can get a cheap copy at a local used bookstore. There are websites where you can download and print the whole book, but I recommend getting a physical copy, weather by website or bookstore. You ought to be able to get a copy for under $5, go pick it up.

Getting ready for and getting to the meeting are really important. Know where you are going, have a map to the location. Get there early. Even if your issue isn’t until later if this is the first meeting of this particular body you’ve attended get there early. Take the time to introduce yourself to the people who are influential. This might not be fun, but it might be great. Go up, introduce yourself and your position on the issue. If the issue is something they don’t particularly care about you are much more likely to get the vote if the issue has a name and a face, they like you, they like your issue. (This doesn’t work as well on controversial issues.)

Make sure to get an agenda if you didn’t get one ahead of time. There is also a sign in sheet usually. Be wary, it’s usually good to sign in, and nearly always required, but if possible and especially if you know who else stands on certain positions on your issue sign in last. Or at least don’t make it the first thing you do, that way you can look to see who else is at the meeting (not as important for smaller meetings where you know everyone). They also usually ask for something more than your name. Address, phone number, organizational affiliation, e-mail are all common requests. Remember just because it’s asked for doesn’t mean you have to give it (you might have to give address if you can only vote if you are in the area) but giving it usually means you will hear more from the collector of the list, decide if that’s good or bad before deciding what information you want to put down. I never give my phone number because I don’t want a call. I always give my e-mail. I’m happy to get e-mails, they are easy to delete and block if I want, and I deal with that on my own terms. But you need to decide for yourself what information you want to give or not give.

When you are getting ready to head out to your meeting make sure to grab the following:

  • Pen/Pencil (if you want to be liked bring extra)
  • Paper (again bring to share)
  • Agenda (if you got one in advance)
  • All materials they sent you ahead of time
  • Reading material (you might get bored, you’ll want this), knitting, crossword puzzle, something to do
  • A snack (crucial if you think it’ll be long without breaks)
  • Your copy of Robert’s Rules
  • A copy of the organizational bylaws if you can
  • Your “I’m so happy to be here” face
  • Your excuse to leave early
  • All the patience you can find, bring your neighbor’s, your best friend’s, your goldfish’s, any patience you can get

Don’t bring:

  • your child,
  • your pet,
  • your “I’m too good for this meeting and I’m going to let you all know it” attitude,
  • or your noisiest cell phone ring.

Can Robert’s Rules be used to stifle the democratic process? Yes. Absolutely.
Can your knowledge of Robert’s Rules be used to push this back? Yes.
Is this knowledge every useful in the real world? Yes
Does your neighbor want to put a huge 8-car garage onto their tiny little lot and you want to stop it? There is probably a neighborhood or district meeting that you can go to and voice your opinion.
Do you want the local Democratic Party to support your issue? You’d better be involved and ready to pull out the big guns, simple reason and facts are never enough.
Am I going to tell you how to muck up the works? You bet!
There are many times when this can come in handy.
Read it, use it, and embrace it.

Websites to check out:–00.htm–02.htm This gives you the table. It’s an easy reference. If your copy RR doesn’t have this I recommend printing it out and tucking it in the book.

Up next? Making a motion.

I look forward to getting your feedback and requests as to what parts and actions you’d like covered. I have Motions, Seconds, Suspending the Rules, Lay on the Table all planned, and would appreciate hearing what you want to know about. Contact me at

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