Robert's Rules of Order

Cicely Enright

Another Tool for an Effective ASTM Meeting

Come to an ASTM International meeting with an understanding of Robert's Rules of Order and you will have a sense of how they contribute to a productive ASTM meeting.

The use of these rules facilitates technical discussion for standards development. ASTM International committee meetings are about conversation and debate: the need for a specification, test method, practice, guide or definition; what a standard should cover to be most useful to producers and users; what wording will make a procedure or guide the most clear; and so on. Robert's Rules supports that work.

As a help for the discussion, and the differing views of those at the standards table, Robert's Rules provides another tool in running a committee meeting; according to the work (all 800-plus pages of it), the procedures are a framework for an efficient and effective meeting.

The agenda is the chairman or vice chairman's main tool for advancing committee work, with Robert's Rules governing the consensus process where there are no specific provisions in the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees. Robert's Rules, according to the ASTM International bylaws, governs the society where applicable.

About the agenda for a moment: it should be part of a meeting notification, available before the meeting, and approved at its beginning, with any proposed changes, by the majority of attendees. Items not on the agenda - perhaps a recommendation for a new standards activity - can be raised during the unfinished and new business sections of the agenda.

Sticking to the agenda makes for a more effective meeting. Members share the responsibility of following the Regulations and Robert's Rules during a meeting, but the chairman ensures adherence to the agenda and to parliamentary procedure. Such parliamentary procedures include the chairman recognizing speakers in the order that they have requested the floor and signaling when an out of order situation arises as well as putting the meeting on hold until the situation is resolved.

You, the individual member, have a voice. So does every other member. And Robert's Rules provides for each and every person to be recognized and to contribute to the discussion (possibly with time constraints as indicated by the meeting length on the agenda).

The single most significant time for using Robert's Rules in the ASTM consensus process is in managing the motion. Briefly, a motion, which can only be made by a member, states business to be brought before the meeting attendees. According to Robert's Rules, each motion is discussed after a second, with speakers recognized in order by the meeting's leader. Following discussion, the motion is voted on. A voice vote in favor of/opposed to a motion may suffice, if there seems to be general agreement about the motion as indicated by discussion. A hand count might be appropriate where a simple majority is needed. However, a role call vote to gain a precise record may be the way to do a count if the yays and nays are close.

Possibly the most important motion in the ASTM process is the one required to find a negative vote not persuasive (a motion does not find a negative persuasive; a negative is inherently persuasive unless voted otherwise). Both a not-persuasive action and a not-related action for standards ballots require a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass. In this instance, only members with official voting status can vote, to ensure balance among voting interests.

Other motions required and regularly used during ASTM meetings, which must be approved by a majority, include those to:

  • Approve the agenda,
  • Approve minutes,
  • Place an item on ballot,
  • Establish a task group,
  • Make an executive administrative decision (such as determining a meeting location),
  • Amend a motion, and
  • Adjourn a meeting.

Robert's Rules is a tool to ensure that a meeting is conducted fairly and helps to support the main focus of an ASTM meeting, which is to discuss, debate and advance technically accurate standards. A slide presentation about Robert's Rules and their use in the ASTM process provides additional details. If you have questions about Robert's Rules and their use, please contact your staff manager.

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