February 21st, 2021

Gavel of WSFS

Why New Editions?

I responded to this comment on LiveJournal, but is deserves a longer and top-level answer.
Is there actually a requirement that the WSFS business meetings be run by the latest version of Robert's Rules? Could you just vote to accept a particular edition and stick with it? I don't know how often it's updated, but it might get annoying to keep having to learn new rules.

Robert's has been updated about once a decade since Newly Revised (the seventh edition of the series of manuals dating back to 1876) was first issued in 1970. None of the subsequent editions has been a top-to-bottom revision that has made wholesale changes to the basic structure of parliamentary procedure. That is, the general precedence of motions and the structure of handling them has remained broadly the same. Each edition since 1970 has been mostly additive, and sometimes consists of clarifying rules that have proven to be confusing. The Robert's Rules Association undertakes what amounts to an ongoing dialog to keep the rules updated. The 11th edition, for example, included rules for handling remote meetings, and I think there are expansions to that in the 12th, although I haven't gotten that far yet.

It is possible to encode a specific edition of RONR into your rules, but it's a bad idea, and the recommended practice is to reference the current edition. WSFS does so in section 5.1.4 of the WSFS Constitution:
5.1.4: Meetings shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of (in descending order of precedence) the WSFS Constitution; the Standing Rules; such other rules as may be published in advance by the current Committee (which rules may be suspended by the Business Meeting by the same procedure as a Standing Rule); the customs and usages of WSFS (including the resolutions and rulings of continuing effect); and the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised.

Trying to encode a specific edition as your authority is a bad idea. Besides meaning that you're not staying up to date with current practice, older editions don't stay in print, so forcing your members into depending on a manual that can't be easily obtained favors only people who have been around long enough to have obtained copies back when they were current.

In any event, notice the order of precedence here: your parliamentary authority is only the default rules that apply when you don't have a specific rule in your bylaws/constitution, standing rules/special rules of order, or encoded in traditional practice (which in WSFS's case effectively means recorded in the Resolutions and Rulings of Continuing Effect.

I'm not expecting major changes, but I am expecting some improvements.