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What Does the New Robert’s Rules Mean for You?


October 28, 2020 by Ann G. Macfarlane
Category: Legislative Body , Council-Commission Advisor

What Does the New Robert’s Rules Mean for You?

In September the 12th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised was published by the Robert’s Rules Association. What does this mean for you? If your local government body has adopted Robert’s Rules of Order, your parliamentary authority is now the 12th edition. Here is the quotation from the horse’s mouth:

This Twelfth Edition supersedes all previous editions and is intended automatically to become the parliamentary authority in organizations whose bylaws prescribe “Robert’s Rules of Order,” “Robert’s Rules of order Revised,” “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised,” or “the current edition” of any of these titles, or the like, without specifying a particular edition. Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition (RONR), p. vii

I’m not too thrilled with this arrangement, since it means that groups that use Robert’s Rules automatically are shifted to a book that they may not yet have reviewed or studied. However, it is the way this particular authority is structured. So, if you use Robert’s Rules, you should purchase, review, and use the 12th edition, unless your bylaws specify a specific earlier edition.

The good news is that the 12th and its immediate predecessor, the 11th, are the same in substance. There are minor changes in language and in some details. The 12th also uses a different reference system. But if you’re accustomed to doing things “according to Robert,” you won’t have to make a lot of shifts in your practice. One great new feature is an appendix with sample rules for electronic meetings.

The new edition is printed in slightly larger type on larger pages, so the length is approximately the same. The reference system, identifying portions by section number rather than by page and line number, is an improvement. Electronic editions have been published at the same time, and the use of section numbers makes referring between the paper and electronic versions much easier.

The index is a substantial leap forward. It has sub-topics and cross references that increase the ease of use. Given that Robert's Rules of Order is intended more as a reference work than a book to read straight through, you will find that index invaluable.

If you want a paper edition, we recommend this spiral-bound edition, available only from the National Association of Parliamentarians. It is much easier to work with than the paperback. (Be careful in choosing and don’t buy the hole-punch edition unless you specifically prefer that format! It’s a lot of loose pages.)

You can download the appendix, “Sample Rules for Electronic Meetings,” which includes bylaws provisions and rules that cover many important situations, such as signing in and out, video display, voting, technical malfunctions, and forced disconnections. Reviewing these sample rules brought to mind features that should be included in any set of rules for online or virtual meetings.

There are four scenarios given:

  1. Use of full-featured internet meeting services
  2. Teleconference with internet voting and document sharing
  3. Some members participate by speakerphone in otherwise face-to-face meeting
  4. Telephone meeting without internet support

People sometimes say to me, “Well, we don’t use Robert’s Rules of Order, so we don’t have to worry about meeting procedure.” As you know, in Washington State, local government bodies have the right to establish rules of order for their meetings, per RCW 35A.12.120, which states: "The council shall determine its own rules and order of business, and may establish rules for the conduct of council meetings and the maintenance of order."

Jurassic Parliament strongly recommends that you adopt Robert’s Rules of Order and also adopt your own council rules of procedure. Robert’s Rules is the foundation on which you build the house that you’re going to live in. Its widespread use in our society mean that many people are familiar with it through their experience in private life.

However, Robert’s Rules of Order was written for “ordinary societies,” not for local governments. Some topics of concern for municipalities are not found in Robert’s Rules, such as staff/elected official relations or public comment. (Jurassic Parliament has published many articles on these topics.) It is useful for local governments to add their own rules on the foundation of Robert’s Rules. MRSC provides examples at the Council/Board of Commissioners Rules of Procedure topic page.

Working together to review and/or adopt your own rules of procedure ensures that everyone buys in to the process. This means that your council, board, commission, committee, or board will hold smoother and more productive meetings. You will be less liable to internal dissension and disruption. Most important, you will be able to serve your community to the very best of your council’s abilities.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Ann G. Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane writes for MRSC as a Council Commission Advisor.

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments, and blogs regularly at www.jurassicparliament.com.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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