Robert's Rules of Order


Governance: Table of Contents

A discussion of governance in response to how to organize around the LEAP manifesto.


This document presents some basic ideas regarding governance, specifically regarding:

  • structure & meetings
  • laws & decision-making
  • motions, debates, voting

The goal here is to layout a simple set of options based upon relevant examples. First we will consult Robert's Rules of Order 1 for some basic concepts. Then we will review highlights of the constitution of the Green Party of Canada2, as an example of how a progressive political organization approaches these matters. We will apply these considerations to a possible governance model for LEAP Thunder Bay3, and finish up with a consideration of a progressive organization claiming to centre Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous rights in its structure and vision.


We will be taking the standpoint of an activist political organization engaged with change in a wider social environment, therefore, the assumption will be that the internal organizational environment should model, as best as possible, the ideal external organizational environment which the organization seeks to see realized. In other words, we will be pursuing a practice what you preach approach to governance issues.

Robert's Rules of Order

Structures & Meetings

Robert's Rules of Order considers "mass" meetings versus "permanent organization" meetings. For example, a gathering open to the public to discuss ideas could be distinguished from a members meeting of a permanent organization to create the rules used to regulate the conduct of the organization. We will draw these distinction as:

  • open versus closed meetings
  • informal versus formal meetings

Open versus Closed

Closed meetings will involve some notion of excusiveness based upon membership not recognized as a condition of open meetings.

Informal versus Formal

Informal will characterize meetings and discussions which do not have the capacity to produce binding rules which regulate the conduct of the permanent organization. So, for example, an informal, open discussion might be simply to gather or share information.

Conventions & Committees

Regarding meetings and structures Robert's Rules of Order considers: conventions and committees.


Conventions are large assemblies of members or delegates. However, we might want to also consider conventions which are open to non-members. So we might want to consider:

  • open conventions
  • closed conventions

Again, the open versus closed distinction would likely distinguish an open discussion convention versus a rule-making convention where, in the latter case, the convention rules may bind the future conduct of organization members.


Basically, Robert's Rules of Order distinguishes three kinds of committees:

  • boards or executive committees
  • standing committees
  • special committees
Boards or Executive Committees

Executive committees typically include permanent offices tasked with guiding the day-to-day operations of the organization. Office holders are typically elected or appointed, for some specified period, by some superior source of decision-making authority.

Standing vs Special Committees

Standing committees are appointed for a specified time frame. Special committees are appointed for a particular purpose. Committees often produce reports for consideration by more authoritative decision-making bodies. However, less important or less permanent decisions may be made by a committee.

Rules and Decision-making

From Robert's Rules of Order, we will consider 3 main kinds of rules or regulations governing the conduct of an organization:

  • constitution
  • bylaws
  • standing rules


Robert's Rules of Order describes constitution rules as the most authoritative and the most permanent, and thus, are created by, and can only be changed by, the most permanent and authoritative body of the organization.


Bylaws require notice in order to be created or changed, however, they are typically of lesser importance or permanence than the content of the organizational constitution.

Standing Rules

Standing rules may be created or changed without notice by the majority of a body authorized to do so. Generally, such standing rules concern items less important and/or less permanent than bylaws or constitution items.

Motions, Debates, Voting

Here we consider the process of decision-making regarding rules that will bind the conduct of members of the organization. We are not considering open or public discussions which are often simply information sharing or gathering deliberations.


Generally, a motion is a procedure whereby an item, issue or resolution is brought to the attention for consideration by some deliberative body: a committee or an assembly.


Debates involve a discussion of the pros and cons of some motion before a deliberative body. Generally everyone present should be allowed to speak until the question is put or if a vote is called by a two thirds majority.


Voting to determine an action may be by a plurality, by simple majority, by two-thirds majority or by consensus, of some deliberative body authorized to make such changes, typically, either a committee or an assembly.

  • simple majority
  • two-thirds majority
  • consensus

Such differing voting requirements may be a reflection of the importance or permanence of the item under consideration.

Governance: Table of Contents

  1. Robert's Rules of Order ↩︎
  2. Green Party of Canada ↩︎
  3. LEAP Thunder Bay ↩︎