Six Things You Should Know About Parliamentary Procedure Before Attending a Meeting

  • Doyle, Christine, MD
| May 12, 2013

The American Institute of Parliamentarians recently released a new version of The Standard Code. For years, it has also been called “Sturgis” – for Alice Sturgis, the parliamentarian who first created it over 50 years ago. The Standard Code provides a more streamlined method for running meetings and conventions than the oft-dreaded and quoted Robert’s Rules of Order.

The CSA and ASA have been using The Standard Code for many years. One of the authors of this current version is Barry Glazer, MD, a past president of the ASA, and the person who taught me (and CSA Speakers Jim Moore, MD, Johnathan Pregler, MD, and Linda Hertzberg, MD, before me) about parliamentary procedure in one intense weekend.

What are the Six Things you should know about parliamentary procedure?

1. The goal of parliamentary procedure and rules is to ensure fairness and consistency to all participating in any meeting. Each person should be able to express his or her opinion but any one person should not be able to derail the entire proceeding. Participants know that they will have the opportunity to express their opinion, to hear other opinions and then to make an informed decision about an issue.

2. Creation of an agenda is an important part of the parliamentary process. The order of business is the blueprint for the meeting, and the agenda is the specific items to be considered. Reports of officers and standing committees most often come first, before unfinished business and then new business. Items on the agenda may be For Information or For Action. Items for action ultimately lead to a vote.

3. Any meeting, even a non-profit board meeting, hospital committee, or anesthesia/medical group meeting will benefit from being run with adherence to parliamentary procedure. Giving notice of date, time and place of the meeting, publication of and adherence to an agenda will produce more productive, effective, and (hopefully) shorter meetings. For this to work well, it is important that at least one member of the group have a rudimentary knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and a copy of The Standard Code and the groups bylaws/policies and procedures on hand.

4. Not all decisions (action items) need a formal motion, or even a formal discussion before action is taken; mostly this means that the presiding officer calls on people in turn to discuss a particular agenda item, but there is no other restriction. This usually leads to an initial consensus that is used to create the actual motion for a vote. In a smaller group this may be a productive way to function, while in a large group it is usually helpful to follow parliamentary process more closely, with discussion following a formal motion. The CSA Board frequently engages in “informal discussion” before a motion has been made.

5. Motions are classified into groups and have a hierarchy of precedence. The Main Motion is what people think of most often, and its purpose is to bring substantive proposals up for decision. It is actually the lowest ranking motion, and things like Amendment, Limiting Debate and Recess are higher ranked. In addition, motions are voted on in reverse order of proposal. A major portion of the parliamentarian’s job is to keep it clear to the assembly (Board or House of Delegates in the CSA’s case) what exactly we are discussing and voting on.

6. If you make a motion to Close Debate the body must vote on this motion, which requires a 2/3 majority to pass. If the motion is to close debate on all pending motions, the whole issue would be decided at once, with or without amendments, depending on whether or not they had been previously adopted by the deliberating body This is the equivalent of the Roberts Rules motion to “Call the Question.” However, simply yelling out “Question” is not adequate to make this motion.

The highest-ranking motion? Mr. Speaker, I move to Adjourn!

For more details, you can order either a paper or electronic copy of The Standard Code from Amazon and other retailers. 

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