Working with and beyond Robert's Rules

Christine Whitney Sanchez milagro27 at
Fri Sep 28 13:09:48 PDT 2007

Dear AI, World Cafe and Open Space Friends,


I'm deeply appreciative of the input I received from our communities
regarding my query below.  As promised, I have compiled all the responses in
the order in which they were received.  


I have gotten a copy of Roberta's Rules of Order and it looks promising,
although it is designed to work with small nonprofit groups and my situation
involves thousands.  What's especially cool about Roberta's Rules of Order
is that it "attempts to codify a chaordic meeting method" that balances
chaos and order.  And author, Alice Collier Cochran's intention in
developing Roberta's Rules was to bring forward "methods that are:


	Less formal (Robert is a first name; Robert was Henry Robert's last

	More feminine (but not just for women) with a softer tone and
nonmilitary language

	More flexible (so that you can customize them to fit your
organization's culture)"

Right up our alley!
Thanks for the generative conversation.
Warm regards from cloudy Phoenix,
Christine Whitney Sanchez
CWS - Collaborative Wisdom & Strategy
2717 E. Mountain Sky Avenue
Phoenix, AZ  85048-8990
480.759.0262 <>  


(My original query)

Hi All,


I'm in conversation with a large membership organization about using
participatory methods at their delegate convention.  For the past 50
conventions they have used Robert's Rules of Order for their decision
making.  They fully realize just how tedious and antiquated a process that
is and they are eager to open the dialogue during the business meeting.  But
they are understandably concerned about the impact of engaging in high
engagement processes such as AI Interviews, World Cafe discussions and Open
Space Technology meetings and then switching to something so linear and
formal as Robert's Rules for voting on the proposals before the delegate



I'm hoping for stories of membership organizations that have successfully
used something other than Robert's Rules as the decision making process.

I've just begun checking into Roberta's Rules of Order and would welcome
those examples, as well.


Thanks in advance for any examples.  I will compile the results and feed
them back.


Warmly from cooling Phoenix,




Christine Whitney Sanchez

CWS - Collaborative Wisdom & Strategy

2717 E. Mountain Sky Avenue

Phoenix, AZ  85048-8990


 <outbind://163/> <>  





 You may know this book, if you don't order Roberta's Rules of Order!


Billie T. Alban

400 Seabury Drive

Bloomfield, CT 06002

Phone: 860-242-9662

Fax: 860-243-0622

Cell: 203-770-6911

 <mailto:albanb at> albanb at 



 Robert's Rules of Order by my recollection, does seem to focus on order
more than on decision making.  It is possible that some alternative voting
methods may be needed?  What if you replaced the voting with a consensus
tool.  Fist of Five comes to mind.  This is a discription of the technique
from the web .  This
allows you to keep the assembly focused using Robert's Rules.


Nancy Heinsz

 <mailto:n.heinsz at> n.heinsz at 


I spent many years working organizationally with Will Schutz (FIRO B).

When we wanted to ensure consensus in the group, we used the power of YES.
The process was elegantly simple:  If people agreed to support the decision
they would say 'yes' NOT okay or sure or yeah.  It had to be yes.  Any other
word meant they were not totally in agreement to support  the decision. If
they said NO or any of the other conflicted words, the group would stop and
listen to their concerns.  By the end of the process, which sometimes would
require checking agreement a few times around the circle, all had been heard
and were in agreement.  I did not experience a stalemate in all the times I
used this process. It made decision execution very smooth. Gail

 <mailto:gailkelley at> gailkelley at 


Sociocratic Decision Making can be a good alternative to Robert's Rules. It
bears some similarity to Roberta's Rules, but is more formalized and also
more consensus-based (yet very efficient). It was developed to be used
within a Sociocratic organizational structure, but I've found it can stand
alone as a decision-making process.

Alice Leibowitz

 <mailto:alice at> alice at 




Hi Christine:


It is my understanding that Robert's Rules is for use to conduct a meeting,
i.e., protocols of when to vote, what kind of vote is required, etc. The
application of the rule in its true form or on occasion to varying degrees,
is traditionally done at Board of Education or Town council meeting. Absent
following Roberts Rules, it can lead to legal problems or the threat of


In my experience in education, I have always had a lawyer in attendance at
our Broad of Education meetings. Actually when I was in a large  school
district  (4,000 kids) , we had two lawyers at our meeting as one was
general council and the other was a contract specialist. Between utilization
of Robert's rules and the lawyer(s) we still had people getting warned about
"the law" or what they can and can not say in public.


The utilization of high engagement program to come to an agreement would, in
my opinion, mitigate problems at a BoE meeting as the processes you describe
involves people. Having folk involved in a process, come to consensus and
then present it to a Board Of Education is always effective. To pass a
school budget, we involve people in the process and it yields positive


Each serves a purpose, in my opinion. After dealing with 1M law suits for
not following Robert's rules, I have quickly gained an appreciation of when
it should and could be used.




Mario C. Barbiere 

 <mailto:DrMCB503 at> DrMCB503 at 


Hi Christine,

Many organizations are mandated through their constitution to use Robert's
Rules for their decision making. I have found that Robert's Rules can be a
lot more "pleasant" and workable when they are not being used too strictly.
For example, it is often a lot easier to discuss an issue, come to a
decision (by whatever means you choose), and then craft the resolution to be
voted on. If most people already agree on the resolution then there
shouldn't really be any more discussion and voting will just be a formality.
This is process that I see most of the time. Occasionally, I see some chair
who wants to do Robert's Rules "properly" (i.e. no discussion before the
resolutions is been tabled) making the meeting dreadful. In most membership
organizations, very few decisions will ever be legally tested but on certain
times you need to be a 100% sure that you are following whatever decision
making rule you are supposed. An example of this could be a budget. But
again, you can have discussed the budget before the formal resolution is

I once sat in on a church meeting where the congregation had to make rather
fundamental decision for the future. I was shocked to see that the meeting
chair started (after a prayer, of course) with reading the resolution which
ended up being the final decision. All that people could do was to speak for
or against the resolution. Did not seem very Christian to me.

What I am very interested in hearing, is if someone has managed to mix in
some of the processes you mention into a Robert's Rules meeting. I am not
sure how to do this myself because they are so different. It would feel more
natural a more structure but collaborative process than the ones you
mentioned On option would be to divide the meeting in two and have the first
part a more open dialogue (using your process if choice) and follow that
with a more formal meeting. Or if it is a long meeting (1 day or more), you
could have a break in the middle for an open dialogue. It all depend on what
they want with the dialogue.

Hope this is some help.


 <mailto:bui at> bui at 


I have never had any problem with Robert’s Rules so long as it was
understood what they were good for. And that is not decision making. It is
the formalization of decisions that have already been made even if the votes
have not been counted. Actually the best  and most actionable decisions are
usually those that never come to a vote. The issue is simply resolved in the
course of community conversation. Which brings me to Open Space. As we all
know, OS is a wonderful way to hold a community conversation which leads to
resolution and action. If formalization is required, so be it – and bring on
the Robert’s Rules. 



 <mailto:hhowen at> hhowen at 


I guess my response was kind of cryptic. What I meant to say was that on
several occasions (precisely when and where now clouded in the great cloud
of unknowing) I worked with large groups that had good luck with doing an
Open Space on “their future” and when it came to convergence/action, part of
the assignment was to determine whether there was any necessity for formal
action. If so, the group had the responsibility of formulating the
appropriate motion which was presented to the whole group in a separate (and
very short) formal session at the end of the affair. Discussion and argument
was quite limited if only because there had been a lot of that during the



 <mailto:hhowen at> hhowen at 



Hi all, 

You may want to contact Chris Bui, who works with a very effective and
simple "keypad" technology to take people's ideas coming out of

engagement approaches like World Cafe and helps the harvesting and
"convergence" process happen in a much more "open" and

lively way than Robert's Rules of Order (and it's quick!)  I've just
experienced it in a trans partisan dialogue across political divides and I
think it

has a lot to offer to our own thinking, at least in the World Cafe
community, about taking our normal harvesting process to another level that

is both clear and actionable and can easily be used to construct subsequent
Open Space style conversations (in a more organized way) as well

as other action planning modalities.


I've copied Chris on this e-mail so you and he can be in touch.





Christine -- 


This is an area I am really interested in.  A statewide group I worked with
in Texas took a few steps into an approach based on the "reality dialog" in
future search as a way to "do business" as an organization. 


The shift here is from focusing on what decisions need to be made and how to
make those decision to where the common ground is and how we want to act on
that common ground.  In fact, taking up new ways of thinking about action,
can call into question all kinds of assumptions regarding what a decision is
and why or if we even need this concept.  It is also related to how we
define concepts like "implementation," "sustainability" and "success" and
how we evaluate outcomes.  These are issues deliberative bodies using ROR
are generally helpless around.


We are so used to a set of conventional assumptions in the arena of
"decisionmaking." assumptions which seldom get surfaced or questioned, that
we typically fall into established patterns in these areas.


It often seems like Roberts Rules of Order "works best."  This is not
surprising, since many of our ideas about what decision making is were
defined by Roberts Rules of Order in the first place.


If we can step back and take a fresh look at what it means for a group of
people to come together and act effectively together, a much richer horizon
makes itself visible.  This is pretty much new territory, though, in my
experience, there is much rich ground to till here and much wisdom already
in existence which can be harvested from the fruits of that labor.  Among
other things, I would trust that there are new possibilities and see what
you can discover along with your clients.


It may be" inquiry" more than "decisions" that is needed.


Ask questions like:


What are we trying to do here (really!)?

What would feel right?

How would the world be different if we succeeded?

Anyone know how to make that happen?

Who needs to be involved in what we do and in figuring out what that is?

How can we include them in the conversation?

How can we act to make our work and lives meaningful and achieve the goals
we want to achieve?

What are the elements that support meaningful and effective action?

How have we achieved those things in the past? (What do we already know)


You know, just simple things like that . . .




PS -- If they are determined to use Roberts Rules of Order, give them an
experience first where they work together as a group to generate a common
vision they all feel passionate about.  They will then figure out themselves
how to use Roberts Rules of Order to accomplish that vision.  There are a
log of ways of doing that, World Cafe, future search, dynamic facilitation
and others.  (They may even come up with another way to make decisions



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