Dear Dinosaur Advice Column

Got questions about Robert's Rules of Order? Ann Macfarlane is a dinosaur who knows her stuff. She explains the complexity of Robert's Rules so it makes sense. She loves hearing from readers with their questions about Robert's Rules of Order.

What’s the point of the discussion period?

Dear Dinosaur:  A commonly expressed sentiment by both the public and elected officials is that the Discussion Period on any agenda item should not be viewed as an opportunity to convince colleagues to vote one way or another. One should ask questions, and perhaps state one’s own viewpoint. However, attempting to sway votes one way or another is not the purpose of that portion of the meeting.

The public has often expressed the desire that council meetings should be as harmonious as possible. There is a concern that any form of open debate appears somehow acrimonious. But to be clear, this is not simply about the tone of the discussion. There seems to be a genuine lack of agreement as to what the Discussion Period is meant to accomplish. Can you provide some clarity on the purpose(s) of the Discussion Period?

Answer:  The purpose of the discussion period is for the councilmembers to debate the issues before them, each person making the best case they can, in order to arrive at the best possible decision. Yes indeed, members try to convince their colleagues to see things their way. Vigorous discussion is helpful and appropriate. Unfortunately, sometimes our culture tends to value emotional harmony over reason and intellect. In a healthy council, people can express different opinions without getting personal, and still remain friendly colleagues at the end of the day.

Dear Dinosaur provides simple, practical answers to questions about Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedure. Send your questions to Dear Dinosaur here. Our answers are based on Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 12th edition. As always, nothing in this post constitutes legal or business advice. For specific issues, seek a qualified authority.

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Ann Macfarlane

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 nonprofit board directors 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.