The Robert’s Rules Tool

Cicely Enright

Fairness. Productivity. Efficiency. These are universal goals for meeting outcomes in offices and conference rooms around the world.

One tried-and-true tool to ensure fairness, productivity, and efficiency used by ASTM International technical committees is Robert’s Rules of Order. Along with the agenda, Robert’s Rules helps meetings go as smoothly as possible.

Note: In cases of conflict, the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees take precedence. Robert’s Rules supplements the Regs. (See the Regs Corner below for more.)

And while you may not be the one leading the meeting, being aware of a few points about motions (which are perhaps the heart of Robert’s Rules, at least for ASTM International work) can be useful.

Motions are used to approve the agenda and minutes, place an item on ballot, establish a task group, and adjourn a meeting. For these, a simple majority of voting members is needed. For motions to find negatives not persuasive or not related, a two-thirds majority of official voters is needed.

In addition:

  • Motions need to be recorded word for word for the minutes.
  • Motions can only be made by members, and they need to be seconded before discussion and voting.
  • Meeting chairs provide guidance on how the discussion will go — recognizing members in order for a certain period of time within the overall meeting time constraints.
  • All participants have a right to speak in debate.
  • Incidental motions (ones while a motion is open) can be raised, and the original motion can be amended as a result.
  • Motions are made to find a negative not persuasive, never to find a negative persuasive.
  • An “Out of Order” situation such as recording or interruption of the business as included on the agenda must be resolved to resume the meeting.

One particular tip to remember: A member cannot automatically end the discussion by saying “call the question.” In itself, “call the question” or “previous question” is also a motion. Defeating this motion will return the meeting to the discussion. The motion needs to be seconded and passed by a two-thirds majority to end the discussion and go to a vote on the main motion.

For more information about Robert’s Rules and their use, see or contact your staff manager.

Regs Corner

Rules for Conduct of Business

If the title above sounds familiar, that’s because it’s right out of the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees; it’s Section 9.

The Regs help members navigate the standards process and related situations, and in Section 9, you’ll find some critical basics.

Here are some key points from that section.

  • Any meetings of a technical nature are open. (Executive subcommittee meetings can be closed if there are no technical matters to be discussed.)
  • Meetings shall not be recorded.
  • Meeting minutes should contain a summary of the status of standards, resolutions of negatives, and action items. Minutes should not be a transcript of actual discussions.
  • A proxy can be assigned from one voting member to another member from the applicable subcommittee or main committee or from one voting member to another individual from the voting member’s voting interest (organization). A signed and executed handwritten proxy form must be sent by mail, email, or fax to the committee or subcommittee chair before the meeting or action.
  • Officers are elected by ballot before Dec. 31 of odd-numbered years.

Read about how Robert’s Rules also aids committee business; see How-To in this issue. The Regs are available in several languages at the link for “ASTM Regulations” at






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