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Roberta's Rules of Order: Sail Through Meetings for Stellar Results Without the Gavel



Roberta's Rules of Order: Sail Through Meetings for Stellar Results Without the Gavel

Alice Collier Cochran

ISBN: 978-0-787-96423-8 February 2004 Jossey-Bass 336 Pages

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This one-of-a-kind book challenges nonprofit leaders (and anyone who runs meetings) to retire Robert's Rules of Order and adopt a simpler, friendlier, and more effective method for conducting meetings--Roberta's Rules of Order. Using traditional sailing ships as a metaphor, meetings and governance expert Alice Collier Cochran helps groups make the journey from the "shore" that represents the culture of Robert's Rules--procedural formality, debate, simple majority rule--to the opposite "shore" of Roberta's Rules--informality, dialogue, and decision-making options.? In doing so, she helps them to conduct friendlier, more effective meetings and to take the first step toward creating flexible, democratic organizations.

Read a review and listen to an interview with Charity Channel Founder/CEO Stephen C. Nill:

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Figures, Exhibits, and Tables.



The Author.


Part I: A Gradual Sea Change Toward More Flexibility.

1. Shifting Shores from Robert’s Rules to Roberta’s.

2. Rescuing Democratic Principles from Parliamentary Procedure.

Part II: Navigate Decision Making Through Rough Waters (Northeast Course).

3. Developing Proposals Before Launching Motions.

4. Testing the Current Before Heading for Consensus.

5. Reaching for Concordance When Consensus Is an Obstacle.

Part III: Select Easy Meeting Methods to Get All Hands on Deck (Southeast Course).

6. Balancing Traditional Meetings with Modern Media.

7. Respecting Everyone’s Time by Steering a Steady Course.

8. Ending with Reflection and an Eye on the Horizon.

9. Polishing Up the Dull and Boring Annual Meetings.

Part IV: Stay Focused While Riding the Tide of Diversity (Southwest Course).

10. Expecting and Respecting Different Frames of Reference.

11. Tacking Away from Debate Toward Dialogue.

12. Streamlining Discussions with a Clear Destination.

Part V: Tuning the Governance Rigging (Northwest Course).

13. Building a Strong Yet Flexible Structure.

14. Plotting Your Course with Mission, Vision, and Values.

15. Overhauling Your Bylaws.

16. Staying on an Even Keel with Simple Operating Policies.





Reviewed by: Stephen C. Nill, J.D., CEO CharityChannel

Anyone who has ever participated in nonprofit board meetings that were governed by Robert's Rules of Order will not be surprised to learn of the military background of its author: U.S. Army General Henry M. Robert. The rules make a good deal of sense to those who love rigid structure, and rules, rules, rules. After sitting on nonprofit boards and serving as legal counsel to nonprofit organizations for more than two decades, I have come to loathe Robert's Rules of Order. I've seen how these rules often stifle meaningful dialog and problem-solving by giving advantage to some while relegating others to the sidelines. Indeed, they rarely coax a full contribution from those who are naturally quiet and thoughtful, or who hold back because of a lack of standing in society and/or within the board itself. It is this latter failing that cuts against the grain of our sector--a sector that so obviously values, and draws strength from, full participation from those of diverse views.

Thus it was with great interest that I learned of the book provocatively titled Roberta's Rules of Order, by Alice Collier Cochran. I was so taken by the book that I spent a half-hour or so on the phone with its engaging author, talking about her motivation for writing the book, what she wanted to accomplish with it, and so on. You can listen to our discussion, part of the CharityChannel WE INTERVIEW series, at

Cochran succeeds in what she sets out to do: Provide a less formal, more feminine, and flexible approach. She replaces formality with informality; strict rules with guidelines and agreements; parliamentary procedure with democratic principles and processes; language of the 1800s with that of today; military terminology with civilian terminology; one-size fits all with flexibility, by culture; a framework designed for English and European males with that for a pluralistic society; win-lose voting with win-win decisions; a decision between two choices with straw polls and multiple choices; highly controlled and constrained meetings with those that are relaxed; and complicated with simple. I've saved perhaps the two greatest contributions for special mention: Roberta's Rules of Order replaces debate with dialog, and she puts the motion AFTER a discussion of the problem and its solution, where it belongs.

While the author wants us to know that the concepts and processes she presents are not new--she gives ample credit where it is due--she should have no reluctance to take credit for putting it all together into a very well-written, easy-to-understand, fast-reading book. She uses a sailing metaphor to good advantage throughout.

I do not overstate it when I say that this book is perhaps one of the most important contributions to the third sector I have seen. If board meetings could really become warm, easy, productive and effective, imagine how that would strengthen the organization! I intend to put it into the hands of board members on every board I serve on or advise.