Alternatives to Robert’s rules
Some people complain that Robert’s rules are too complex to understand. Some people say that the parliamentary procedure itself is too complex or too unfair. They say the act of “making motions” and processing the “majority vote” shouldn’t require a trillion 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 (that is, the 11th edition published in 2011 entitled “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised”, published by DaCapo Press), then your organization is free to adopt another parliamentary manual. .
In fact, before 1876, the first year of publication of the original edition of Henry Martyn Robert’s little paperback, all organizations necessarily had to write their own custom set of parliamentary rules, because they had to: there was nothing ordered , complete compilation available to the average civic organization. That little pocket manual from HM Robert filled a marketing niche that had no competitors.
However, your organization cannot adopt any manual and write its own 100% custom rules. That’s right, total anarchy except as specified in your bylaws plus the unique rules that you yourself create. There is nothing stopping you from reinventing the wheel; in fact, a 200-page, 300-page, and 400-page “wheel” depending on how comprehensive you want your custom manual to be. But do you really have 3-6 years free for such a company?
If you don’t want to spend 3-6 years writing your own parliamentary manual, and if you don’t like the 700+ pages of the current edition of Robert’s Rules, what is the alternative? Where can you go to get a set of democratic rules ready to be applied? What real alternative is there, right now, that could improve or replace Robert’s Rules?
Good news on this front: Someone has conducted a survey.
One MP, Jim Slaughter from North Carolina, wrote an article (see footnote) listing the most popular alternatives to Robert’s Rules. In his survey, he asked working MPs which parliamentary authority their clients were using. Slaughter’s findings were as follows.
• 90% use “Robert’s recently revised Rules of Order”
• 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 review this book for its potential to replace Robert’s Rules.
The author of TSC was Alice F. Sturgis (1885-1974), who had some serious credentials working with the United Nations. He taught at Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) and the University of California (Berkeley, CA). His first book on parliamentary procedure was published in 1925. After Sturgis’ death, the revision of the book has been in the hands of a committee of the American Institute of Parliamentarians. The current edition is the 4th edition of 2000.
Some large organizations have taken the leap and swapped Sturgis’s book for Robert’s book: the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, and the United Union of Auto Workers.
What is different in the Sturgis book? To a non-parliamentary reader, the rules in the current edition of TSC may seem so similar to Robert’s Rules that the differences are not obvious. In fact, any parliamentary handbook you choose must necessarily have significant overlap with all other parliamentary handbooks, due to the 300-year-old nature of British customs and traditions that are transmitted more or less intact to all democratically elected legislatures. The basics haven’t changed in 2000 years. – (a.) Propose an idea; (b.) Discuss the advantages and disadvantages; (c.) Vote if it is carried out or not. The terminology has also been preserved over the centuries. The differences that exist will be with respect to specific movements, specific applications and not wholesale changes.
What you get with the fourth edition of the Sturgis TSC is satisfaction for some of the more popular demands on the eleventh edition of Robert’s Rules of Order: (a.) Fewer pages; (b.) larger letter; (c.) fewer movements; (d.) change from slang to plain English.
No wonder here. One thing you can count on is that current competitors to Robert’s Rules will have simplified or condensed something. In other words, no one is publishing a parliamentary manual of plus pages plus rules, than the current edition of Robert’s Rules, that is, 716 numbered pages, and the book lists 86 numbered motions in its table. How many of the 86 movements will you see in your life?
Beware of the philosophical difference. Sturgis’s book, plus all similar condensations and simplifications, should be understood as an essential rulebook, with principles that implicitly cover what the written rules do not explicitly cover. In contrast, Robert’s book is intended to be encyclopedic in scope and is intended to cover all contingencies.
What does this mean? It means that if you adopt Sturgis or a similar simplification, there will be parliamentary situations that the book will not cover. Whereas, on the contrary, it is highly unlikely that any parliamentary situation you will find yourself in for the rest of your life will not have a corresponding rule in Robert’s Rules of Order.
Here is an analogy. – It’s like the difference between a hybrid / electric car vs. An SUV / Humvee: A vehicle will take you slowly and smoothly from point A to point B, as long as points A and B are not too far apart or too steep. But the other vehicle is a monster truck and there is nowhere it cannot 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 heard of.
That is why a book is over 700 pages long and the competition is 200-300 pages long. The big book covers everything and is meant to cover 100%. The smallest competition has deliberate loopholes and is intended to cover 50-80% of all situations – easy, popular, non-complex.
Here’s another analogy using television as a medium: Robert’s rules versus someone else’s rules is like the difference in the amount of data between a movie trailer and the actual movie. One contains some sound bites, some highlights, and the central theme. The other contains every line of dialogue, every scene, and all the themes and motifs.
Are there any competitors from Sturgis? No, not really. All other competitors are sold out. The paperbacks one might find in a keyword search are not recognized by any organization that I know of.
However, if you are a firefighter, your parliamentary manual is most likely “Atwood Meeting Rules” (Roswell Atwood, 1956, published by the International Association of Firefighters). Even more exhausted than Atwood are the oldest competitors: George Demeter’s manual. Franklin Kerfoot’s Handbook. Thomas B. Reed Handbook.
One more alternative to weigh and consider: State legislatures use Mason’s manual (Paul Mason, latest edition 2010, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures). But Mason is not a true competitor to Robert or Sturgis because Mason’s handbook is intended for full-time legislative bodies and as such those rules will not work for a monthly or quarterly frat clubhouse meeting. or a little league board or a computer club.
That is the situation. If you have reservations, concerns, doubts, or fears about learning Robert’s Rules or being a victim of Robert’s Rules, you don’t have to accept it. You can convince your organization to adopt a competitor, such as the “Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure” or the “Atwood Meeting Rules”. And if you don’t like Sturgis or Atwood either, then you can ride like a cowboy and roll your own; yes, write your own rules of order, only yours. All inconsistencies and ambiguities will be your doing. Good luck.
But be careful what you wish for. If you write no rules, or if you write very few rules, you will be at the mercy of an untrained and unscrupulous president with a hidden agenda, and you will have no way to fight back.
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Jim Slaughter, “2000 CPP Parliamentary Practices,” Parliamentary Journal, XLII (January 2001), 1-11.