The Standards Game

 

‘Robert’s Rules’ in an electronic age?

image ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ are used in practically every standards committee meeting. They form the foundation for fair operations in the standardization process. The familiar,”I’d like to make a motion,” “I second the motion,” and “All in favor, say ‘aye’,” are some of the phrases that roll off the tongues of standards participants.

‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ was first published in 1876 with the complete name, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies. It was written by US Army Brigadier General Henry Robert who wanted to create a concise set of rules for parliamentary procedure after he became involved in several activities that required him to maintain order at meetings.

Lately, I’ve been part of discussions about Robert’s Rules and what they mean in today’s electronic age. As often as not, standards committees meet electronically – via WebEx, GoToMeeting, NetMeeting and other live Internet meeting services – or by teleconference. These kinds of “meetings” allow more people to participate because they aren’t required to travel in order to be part of the discussion. (Standards committees, though, often meet face-to-face at least once a year. There’s nothing like a real meeting.)

image We standards people are noticing some interesting situations in our electronic meetings. For instance, challenges arise on teleconferences when more than one person speaks at the same time. The committee chair can’t see raised hands in order to start a queue to allow everyone a chance to speak and might not be able to hear voices that are drowned out. Even asking, “Who’s on the line?” ends up in chaos. (A roll call by the secretary could mitigate this.) Internet meeting tools allow hand raising, but if committee members don’t have full access to the tools (like times when they’re calling in on their smart phones), some members may have an advantage over others. Voting by email becomes complicated when an item is emailed to the group and some people approve while others simultaneously suggest changes.

It seems that Robert’s Rules need to be revisited. If you know of any resources about Robert’s Rules applied to electronic and telephonic meetings, please let me know. It will be interesting times as we grapple with – and ultimately resolve – an enhanced set of Robert’s Rules for keeping order in a virtual world.

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