Monday, December 05, 2005

Roberta's Rules of Order (1-3)

Roberta's Rules of Order is a book by Alice Collier Cochran, and it presents a fairly comprehensive set of rules for holding meetings. Her deal is not these rules should replace Robert's during large, formal meetings, but rather they are a good solution for smaller, informal groups that meet fairly frequently. She starts from the place that Robert's purpose was to make meetings accessible and to protect people's rights. So she says that you can use those principles to guide your meetings, while adapting certain alterations to the time-honored volume of rules.

One thing that makes this otherwise quite useful book annoying is that it uses this sailing metaphor throughout. It's a very grating metaphor (milked for all it's worth) that could lessen the book's cachet if you had to do any selling at all to get a board to try something new. Fair warning!

But if you've been to quite a few board meetings you will probably recognize many of the techniques that she lays out in the book.

Chapter 3 talks about developing proposals before launching motions. A good idea. One organization I had talked about "board-ready materials," which essentially accomplished this goal. The point is that people have a chance to consider the pros, the cons, etc., before making a motion to do x or y, because "hasty motions can create long-term problems." Hear, hear! However, this is in opposition to the way things are done with Robert's because therein, an issue can't be discussed until a motion is made. "Motions thus put the solution before the problem." So having a proposal first and discussing it ensures that people have a chance to see if they agree on the nature of the problem before the "take up polarized positions."
Groups need to consider the problem before the solution. What goes on in the problem space is an effort to define, evaluate and organize information that will determine the causes of the problem. Defining the problem and understanding its causes provides the best information to help find alternatives.
So, the mechanism for doing all of this is the proposal, which can be either simple or structured. A simple one is just verbal. A structured one is "prepared ahead of time by several individuals or a group."

Here is a good checklist to presenting a simple proposal (directly quoted)
1. State the suggestion verbally to the group, and explain the need.
2. Clarify by answering questions for understanding.
3. Check for disagreement (objections); if none, then check for agreement. (Stop at this point if everyone agrees to the proposal.)
4. If there are objections, clarify issues as necessary and ask for statements of both pros and cons.
5. Ask for modifications or another proposal.
6. Check for disagreement; if none, then check for substantial agreement. If necessary, vote [ed. not having to resort to voting is kind of her thing: she treats it as a last option]
Here is when you should do a structured, written proposal, according to the system.
1. Do it for any issue that is complex, controversial, or confusing.
2. Include information about the current situation (the problem or opportunity) and the proposed future situation (the recommended solutions).
3. Write and circulate the proposal in advance if possible.
4. Have more than one person present the proposal--the more the better.
5. Give everyone a chance to ask questions for clarification, speak for or against it (within a specified time limit), and suggest modifications.
6. Use the group's predetermined decision-making method to approve or not approve the proposed solution.
So, more to come on this book--it's a multi-entry one, and it covers an area I need to work on which is the actual tactics of board management. In one way, I feel kind of odd reading this before I feel I know Robert's all that well, however, I think that working through this will actually help me when I go back to Robert's. Also, I want to join the parliamentarians at some point and do their trainings, which look like lots of fun.

By Alice Collier Cochran
ISBN# 0787964239