Robert’s Rules of Order vs The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure vs the AIP Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure

Jim Slaughter

A question came up during a recent online discussion of pros and cons between Robert’s Rules of Order and The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. One comment asked if Robert’s was “archaic and obsolete.” Here’s my answer.

There are several major parliamentary manuals, with Robert’s Rules of Order being the best known. Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure are viewed as one and the same by most of the public. Of organizations that have a parliamentary authority in their governing documents, Robert’s is by far the most common choice (some surveys suggest 80%-90%) . State statutes that prescribe a parliamentary authority for some types of entities, such as homeowner and condominium associations or governmental bodies, tend to always cite Robert’s. Some courts have held that Robert’s can be relied upon even without a required parliamentary book. The fact that Robert’s is the most popular and easiest-to-locate book on parliamentary procedure argues strongly in its favor as a parliamentary authority.

Robert’s really shouldn’t be called “archaic and obsolete.” After all, the last edition just came out in 2020 and has significant additions on electronic/virtual meetings. Here’s an article on the latest book: https://lawfirmcarolinas.com/blog/new-roberts-rules-of-order

However, at 714 pages of tiny print, Robert’s is THOROUGH. But just because Robert’s has a rule for everything doesn’t mean that all organizations use the whole book. Most assemblies get by with using only a fraction of Robert’s. The book also makes clear that an organization can adapt or modify its rules to suit the assembly’s specific purposes. And boards with fewer than about 12 can follow more relaxed procedures, such as no seconds, informal discussion without a motion, etc. (See Board Procedure Versus a Membership Meeting)

The Standard Code of Parliamentarian Procedure (sometimes referred to as “Sturgis” after original author Alice Sturgis) has for decades served as a shorter, simpler alternative to Robert’s. Sturgis (or “TSC”) is often used by organizations of physicians and dentists, which enjoy and utilize its reference committee process. That said, the Fourth Edition from 2000 is likely the last version of TSC (though the books can still be printed on demand at sites such as Amazon). The American Institute of Parliamentarians Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, while not a direct successor to TSC, is a newer work based on the principles of Sturgis. In general, TSC and the AIPSCP are very similar. For organizations that have used and enjoyed The Standard Code, it may be worth taking a look at the AIP Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure.

In looking at Robert’s Rules of Order versus The Standard Code, it would be unfair to say one parliamentary book is “best.” That’s like asking if a flat-head screwdriver is better than a Phillips-head screwdriver. It really depends on the specific need. Similarly, these different parliamentary manuals fill different niches, based on the size of the assembly, complexity of the organization, and the types of business that will be handled. Different organizations will likely prefer one parliamentary authority over another, in part based on what they have always used. That said, many organizations are locked into a particular parliamentary authority based on bylaws language that can be a challenge to change.