After talking to you about Robert’s Rules for a couple months now I realize I need to stop, reverse course, and talk about where they apply.
Back in the first column I asked you to please get a copy of the bylaws for whatever group you are planning to apply these tools to. So go grab your copy if it mentions a specific type of parliamentary law that’s what that group uses. Most of them are fairly common. Legislative bodies use a different book that has rules that apply only to those strange and foreign bodies, because really, they are strange and have very odd rules and set-ups. I won’t talk about that at all, because, well as of now I don’t and have never worked in a legislative body (I’m open to job offers though J ).
Before Robert’s Rules you had common parliamentary law. Then this guy Henry Martyn Robert came along and wrote it all down. Now we have this book of rules. If your organization doesn’t specify you use Robert’s Rules. So that’s pretty easy.
They aren’t however the top of the food chain. These rules are actually the bottom rung. For the sake of this column I’m assuming you are an American, (I’m not sure about the laws for what applies where in other countries, but once you know that you use RR they are the same everywhere) sorry. Top run is the Constitution, it rules over all, if anything conflicts with it, it wins. After the constitution you’ve got whatever your state constitution says, then state law, and down the line to your little hamlet. More important that this ladder however is the organizational ladder (which is international, though they may have different names here or there). Top of the organizational ladder is the charter if you are a charter organization. If you aren’t, well forget that rung. The standard ladder is organizational constitution and then bylaws (which can be changed), and then my personal favorite, precedent. Precedent, essentially, means that whatever you always do, rules.
The book that matters is always the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, we are currently on the 10th edition. (There is an odd chance that your bylaws specify a different edition and if they do, they they rule, so you use the old edition.)
Robert’s Rules are theoretically a way for common sense and decorum to make sure that the meetings are fair and just and across the board standard. You and I, however, know that this isn’t always the case. They are often used to exclude people and manipulate the system and the way things work. They are clear and available everywhere though, so if you care enough you can turn those manipulations back on those who attempt to exclude you.
Interesting side note if your group plans to have electronic voting it must be written into the bylaws. It’s not a Robert’s Rules friendly thing (supposed to have immediate and face to face interaction) but if your bylaws say it, it is so. You could video conference or even phone conference and use Robert’s Rules. And while I’ve never heard of it being done I imagine you could also do it in a chat room scenario. The first person to find me an example of chat room Robert’s Rules gets a cookie!