So, you have questions about Robert’s Rules or parliamentary procedure. Well, the solution for every one of those queries is…. ask a parliamentarian.
Definitions for 500, Alex. A parliamentarian is a person who is obsessed (in a good way, of course!) with parliamentary procedure. Parliamentary procedure is the term for the rules that groups must follow to conduct proper business meetings. And as far as resources or rule books go, Robert’s Rules is just the title of the most popular collection of parliamentary procedure rules, but there are others.
Now, for a roadmap—telling you how to find a parliamentarian and get answers.
Step One: Decide What Type of Parliamentarian You Need.
The first step to getting help with Robert’s Rules or answers to parliamentary procedure questions is to determine what type of parliamentarian you need. As with any field, not everyone who calls himself a “parliamentarian” has the same level of expertise. Here’s a quick guide to understanding different types of parliamentarians.
- Lay Parliamentarian – This person knows more parliamentary procedure than the average man on the street but has no credentials in the field. This is often someone who was exposed to parliamentary procedure early in life (perhaps through Future Business Leaders of America or Future Farmers of America) or someone who has spent enough time in organizational leadership to gain basic knowledge.
Feel free to ask questions to lay parliamentarians because often they know a great deal. But just be careful: Ask them for page references to Robert’s Rules as backup. There’s a lot of confusion out there about parliamentary procedure, and you want to be sure you get it right. Keep going back to the rule book.
- Member Parliamentarian – This person is a lay parliamentarian who also happens to be a member of your organization. Often this person voluntarily serves as the group’s parliamentarian, which is wonderful. Just follow the advice above to make sure you’re getting accurate information and know when to consult a parliamentarian with credentials and more experience.
- Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.
Generally, there are four possible credentials:
Consulting a credentialed parliamentarian means you’re talking to someone who has spent significant time learning parliamentary procedure rules and has taken an examination on some of them. A credentialed parliamentarian should be able to point you in the right direction, if not answer your questions conclusively.
Not all parliamentarian credentials are the same, however. Each requires varying levels of knowledge and experience. Before you “stake your life” on a credentialed parliamentarian’s answer, and definitely before you hire one, learn what his or her credentials mean and ask about the amount and type of experience that he or she has.
- Lawyer + Credentialed Parliamentarian – This person has a law degree, has passed one or several examinations on parliamentary procedure, and has experience serving as a parliamentarian for different organizations.
Sometimes lawyers make good lay parliamentarians because they have experience counseling organizations on governance issues and have attended numerous business meetings. But a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian brings a greater depth of knowledge and experience to an organization’s parliamentary procedure questions and needs. Similarly, a credentialed parliamentarian who is a lawyer brings the ability to provide legal advice in addition to parliamentary procedure guidance, which is a valuable pairing given that the two fields intersect easily and often.
Step Two: Look for a Parliamentarian in Your Organization or Online.
Once you’ve determined the type of parliamentarian you need, there are several ways to find that person. If you need a lay parliamentarian, ask around among the members of your organization to see if anyone has knowledge and experience that they would be willing to provide on a volunteer basis.
And if you need a credentialed parliamentarian or a lawyer who is also a credentialed parliamentarian, start with a simple online search, or contact the National Association of Parliamentarians or American Institute of Parliamentarians. Both organizations can give you contact information for individuals who are certified.