Rules of Order
Everything old is new again – which perhaps is why re-discovering Robert’s Rules of Order, the authority on parliamentary procedure, felt so right. The discovery was precipitated by my election to Secretary on the board of a local non-profit. When I inquired as to what my duties were, I found none of my fellow board members could tell me. I searched our bylaws, only to be directed to our guidebook, Robert’s Rules of Order.
Most people recognize Robert’s Rules of Order as the verbal procedure of “I motion that…,” “I second the motion!” followed by “Yeah”s and “Nay”s. To many, this seems like antiquated formality. But what you may not realize is that Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert wrote down these rules because of his involvement in numerous civic groups. As an army man, who travelled a lot, HM Robert sought to be involved in his local community whenever he could. He found that without process to direct the meetings, the groups quickly devolved into argument and accomplished nothing. His original intention was to write a “1-pger” that members could have in front of them during meetings. The text evolved over the years through numerous questions, answers and clarifications into the 669 page tome it is today. However, it is still possible to get a basic understanding of Robert’s Rules in a few minutes.
It turns out that the Rules solve many of the basic problems with online discourse. For example, many people have told me that they simply don’t engage in politics online because people are too vitriolic, too hateful, or because one or two people dominate the debate. These are not problems with “online” they are problems with “discourse” and Robert’s Rules handle them simply: 1) No personal attacks are allowed – debate issues not personalities, 2) Every member gets two statements on a motion, and may only make a second statement once everyone who wants to has gotten a first.
The rules of parliamentary procedure also handle other questions we’ve long had in developing Civinomics. Should there be moderators? Absolutely. 2 of them, elected by the membership. For in-person groups these are the Chairman (Chair) and the Secretary. Should moderators edit people’s voteable objects if they are not clear? Yes, restating the question, ensuring that it includes enough specificity to be voteable, is one of the most important functions of the Chair. How should we handle amendments? Simple, you can ammend the motion being debated by 1) striking out/removing words or paragraphs, 2) adding words or paragraphs and 3) substituting words or paragraphs. Amendments take precedence over the Main Motion and must be voted on before debate on the Main Motion can continue.
There are many functional implications from adopting parliamentary procedure to the web, and it will take us some time to implement them all on Civinomics. Nevertheless, below we’ve summarized the main rules of order we plan to integrate.
Finally, it’s worth noting that in Robert’s Rules of Order, under “Electronic Meetings,” it is warned that email and other written exchanges cannot fully embody a deliberative assembly because they do not provide adequate context for the minority (or anyone) to present their opinion and guarantee all members hear debate on the topic. At this point, it is hard to say whether additional functionality can make a text based debate sufficient. Perhaps we will need to enable video statements, or integrate video calls to truly bring parliamentary procedure into the 21st century. Whatever the functional implications, Civinomics course is much clearer now that we have connected with the work of our foremothers and fathers. Long live rules of order.
Civinomics Rules of Order – draft 11.24.15
Whereas, online discourse is at best equal to in person discourse in it’s likelihood to devolve into disagreement, and is if anything more likely to involve extreme language and slander given that another human being is not present to temper the speaker, Civinomics shall adopt rules of order. The rules contained in the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised shall govern Civinomics in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with any special rules of order Civinomics may adopt.
The rules listed below are intended to at once summarize Robert’s Rules of Order, and where they diverge, be considered the special rules of Civinomics. Individual organizations using Civinomics may choose to modify these rules for their own governance, but it is not recommended that they do so.
- Speech Limit – So that every member has equal opportunity to present his/her viewpoint, each member shall be granted no more than 2 statements of 500 words or less on any motion made by him/herself or others.
- Questions – Requests for Information or Points of Information on other member’s statements should be phrased as though directed to the Chair or through the Chair to the member. Members should not include information in their requests, they should include such informative points as part of their own statements.
- Germane-ness – All comments of any type must be related to the business at hand.
- Debate Issues, Not Personalities – No personal attacks are allowed. You may not attack the motives of another member. You may not say that another member’s statement “is false.” Instead use “I believe there is strong evidence that the member is mistaken” in your own statements and explain why. Terms such as “fraud” and “liar” are never allowed.
- Formalities that Avoid Personalities – To avoid debate becoming personal, use titles instead of names whenever possible. For example, refer to “the “Secretary’s report,” or the “Member from Live Oak’s Report,” not “John Robert’s Report.”
- Every organization shall have a minimum of 1 moderator, 2 is recommended. Moderators are elected by the membership for a 1 year term. These moderators shall have the specific offices of Digital Chair and Digital Secretary. In small organizations the Digital Chair may also assume the duties of the Digital Secretary.
- Digital Chair
- Ensures sufficient detail in new motions and clears them for debate by the rest of the members.
- Removes comments that are out of order.
- Maintains focus of the group.
- In organizations of 13 or more, in order to maintain impartiality, the Chair does not participate in debate and only votes when it will change the outcome of a vote
- Digital Secretary
- Ensures the accuracy of the organization’s files.
- Ensures supporting documents are available to all members.
- Has the ability to record the votes of members not directly using the Civinomics platform, such as a City Council Member who voted during a regular meeting.
- Digital Chair
- Elections happen once every 12 months by nomination of the membership and/or by the a specially elected nominating committee.
- Motions are the way that business gets done on Civinomics. They are suggestions for actions or resolutions that the group should adopt. A new motion is called the Main Motion. Amendments are considered secondary motions.
- Motions must be Seconded before the Digital Chair reviews them and opens them for debate by the organization. Motions not seconded within a reasonable amount of time will be marked as Lost.
- Any voting member can make a motion. In groups where non-voting members are participating on Civinomics, such as a City Council Meeting with members from the public participating, the group may require that a higher number of seconds be made before the group will consider the motion.
- Unlike in live parliamentary debate, multiple motions may be open simultaneously on Civinomics at the discretion of the Digital Chair.
- In most cases, a 51% majority of all voting members is required for a motion to pass.
- In the following cases a 2/3 majority is required:
- motions that limit the abilities of other members
- amendments to the bylaws of the organization
- Motions that reopen adopted or lost motions must be made by a member who voted with the majority the first time it was considered (e.g. the member who previously voted against the motion when it failed, now wants it reconsidered).
States of a Motion
- Motioned – A member has made a motion.
- Seconded – The motion is seconded. The seconder need not agree with the motion, she only seconds that she wants the motion debated by the group.
- Open for Debate – The Digital Chair has reviewed the motion for clarity and approved the motion for debate by the group.
- Called – A defined time has been set when votes on the motion will be counted.
- Postponed – A vote on a motion may be postponed till another (specified) time, no more than 3 months in the future.
- Referred – A motion may be referred to a committee for further study or to develop an amendment to accomplish a particular purpose. If a motion’s content falls under the jurisdiction of a standing committee, it must be referred to that committee.
- Adopted – the motion is passed and adopted by the organization.
- Lost – the motion is rejected. Tie votes are considered lost.
- Other members may move to amend the main motion including:
- inserting or adding words or paragraphs
- striking out words or paragraphs
- substituting words or paragraphs
- Amendments must be voted on before the main motion is further debated or voted on.
- Approved amendments modify the main motion, but they do not imply its passage.
- Amendments may be amended with secondary amendments. To limit complexity, tertiary amendments are not allowed.
- Civinomics allows multiple amendments to be considered simultaneously, reducing the need for amendments to amendments.
- Amendments must be related to the original motion.
- To preserve the efficiency of the group, amendments to parts of a motion that were previously amended are not allowed if they are essentially different versions of an amendment the group has already voted on.