The Role of a Parliamentarian

The Role of a Parliamentarian

Parliamentarians have been credited with assisting the standardization community and standards developing and setting organizations in particular in addressing difficult questions and applying their policies and procedures in a consistent and fair manner. 

When confusion about a requirement or process arises, a parliamentarian can play a crucial role in clarifying, arbitrating, and supporting the decision making process. 

On March 11, 2021 Women in Standards Executive Officer Karin Athanas sat down with Darlene Allen, the National President of the National Association of Parliamentarians to learn more. 

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A Discussion with Darlene Allen, the National President of the National Association of Parliamentarians

Image of Darlene Allen

 

 

Darlene T. Allen, PRP

President

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Tell me a little about yourself and your role at the National Association of Parliamentarians® (NAP).

I am Darlene T. Allen, a Professional Registered Parliamentarian.  I have been a member of NAP since 1998.  I live in Washington, DC and serve as the National President of the National Association of Parliamentarians®.

Tell me a little about NAP, its history and its membership.

NAP was founded on June 23, 1930 in Kansas City, Missouri by Dr. Silas W. Longan, Mrs. E.A. Holmes, Mrs. Robert E. McDonnell, Mrs. George Stevenson, and Dr. Kathryn K. Allen.

Our mission statement is that NAP is a society dedicated to educating leaders throughout the world in effective meeting management through the use of parliamentary procedure. Our vision is to provide parliamentary leadership to the world.

NAP will be celebrating its 91st Anniversary on June 23, 2021. Our current membership is 4, 500 with members also residing in 13 countries outside of the United States.

What is a parliamentarian and what do they do?

A parliamentarian, or parliamentary procedure consultant is an expert in interpreting and apply the “rules of order” for meetings.  These rules enable groups to discuss and determine actions to be taken efficiently and fairly.  The main function of the parliamentarian is to give advice on parliamentary procedure to the president, officers, committees, and members. Parliamentarians can assist organizations as a convention parliamentarian, bylaws consultant, advisor to the board, expert witness, professional presiding officer, trainer in parliamentary procedure, election supervisor and meeting planning strategist and script writer.

Are there many parliamentarians working in the industry?

There are two levels of credentialing in NAP, registered parliamentarian, and professional registered parliamentarian. NAP currently has approximately 730 members who have attained credentials as professional registered parliamentarians or registered parliamentarians.

Are there standards that parliamentarians follow?

Yes, parliamentarians have standards contained in the NAP Body of Knowledge that outline what skills or competencies parliamentary consultants need to possess. The standards cover eight areas or domains.

  • Domain 1: Motions and Meeting-Related Procedures
  • Domain 2: Governing Documents
  • Domain 3: Serving as Parliamentarian in Meetings and Conventions
  • Domain 4: Teaching
  • Domain 5: Business and Ethics
  • Domain 6: Governance
  • Domain 7: Consulting Skills
  • Domain 8: Nominations, Elections, and Voting

How could a parliamentarian support the standards development process?         

Parliamentarians can support by helping to identify the need for standards in new opportunities and through piloting and testing. This would provide valuable data on creating benchmarks.  The new reality of holding meetings in electronic environments creates different parliamentary challenges and an opportunity to discover and test the options available to organizations to hold efficient meetings.

How would a standards developing organization (SDO) go about finding and selecting a parliamentarian?

An organization should go to the NAP website, www.parliamentarians.org.  There is a link in the upper right-hand corner on the home page to “Find a Professional Parliamentarian” on the website.  Search criteria would be entered into the fields such as locating a parliamentarian in a particular state or surrounding states. The results of the search will yield the names and contact information for professional registered parliamentarians that met the criteria.  An organization can also contact the NAP Headquarters staff and an email could be sent to professional registered parliamentarians with information about how to contact the organization.

How could a parliamentarian support the standards development process?       

Parliamentarians can support by helping to identify the need for standards in new opportunities and through piloting and testing. This would provide valuable data on creating benchmarks.  The new reality of holding meetings in electronic environments creates different parliamentary challenges and an opportunity to discover and test the options available to organizations to hold efficient meetings.

Darlene, you mentioned that parliamentarians can support standards development by helping to identify the need for standards – can you expand on this or perhaps provide an example?

Parliamentarians can support standard development because we, as parliamentarians, have standards that guide us.  We have our standards and expectations contained in our Body of Knowledge for what we need to know as members, leaders, and consultants.  We also have adopted a joint Code of Professional Responsibility for Parliamentarians with the American Institute of Parliamentarians. The standards contained in this document governs the minimum standards that we expect of ourselves and other parliamentarians.

In our outreach to standards developers, a common issue that many face are various types of conflict that arise between participants. When an issue between participants occurs, is there a procedural process or recommended steps that you’d suggest?

The person who is presiding or chairing the meeting has the responsibility of keeping the participants on track by facilitating the dialogue between them. The presider should direct the conversation being aware to remain neutral, fair and consistent.  Allow participants the opportunity to engage in discussion without anyone monopolizing the discussion.  Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition has information to assist a presiding officer.

And as a follow-up, sometimes the written requirements for a process are vague and can be open to interpretation. In these cases, should organizations choose the interpretation that is in their own favor or defer to the other party? How might a parliamentarian assist in these situations?

The parliamentarian would give advice based on the governing documents or constitution, bylaws, special rules, parliamentary authority or rule book, and standing rules. Ultimately, the organization’s members decide upon the interpretation.  In this situation the parliamentarian may advise that the members decide through a vote after reviewing the governing documents.

During the past year, many standards developing organizations and business sin general have moved their meetings to a virtual setting. Some have noted that this has created issues with voting, confirming quorum, and other procedural hurdles. Can you share your thoughts or ideas on how organizations can approach these unique challenges?

It will be helpful for an organized team of members to carry out the separate functions needed. Depending on the meeting size, organizations may find that having the members pre-register for the meetings will assist with the quorum.  The pre-registration form can ask for the full first and last name, email address and whether the attendee is a member or guest.  A meeting link can be sent automatically sent to the member registering or the link can be sent manually after being reviewed. Ground rules will be needed to assist the presider.  These rules would cover when to mute and unmute, how a member will be recognized to speak (raising of hand icon or write in chat, etc.), how decisions can be made (yes or no icons, raising hands, use of polls, etc.)  If non-members are present will there be an outside voting platform used for members to vote or is there the ability to temporarily remove nonmembers or nonvoting members to the waiting room or breakout room while voting is underway? Is the use of the webinar format (Zoom) available that allows only the voting members to be present in the meeting? Will the use of the chat or QA assist with the flow of the meeting?

How do you see the role of a parliamentarian evolving in today’s tech-heavy environment? Is the process evolving?

Yes, the role is certainly evolving.  Our expertise and strengths in meeting management allow us to give advice and tangible examples to assist in developing rules for electronic meetings that support members rights.  Methods to facilitate a member’s right to participate in the business of the organizations they serve remain important during electronic meetings. In most organizations members have the right to attend and participate in the deliberations.  Finding fair, efficient, and creative ways to assist organizations allows us to increase our skills.               

You mentioned that the NAP serves a community of over 4,500 individuals from the United States and throughout the world. Many standards developing organization serve a wide community as well or are thinking of engaging more broadly with international members. Are there unique challenges when working with an international audience or cultural differences that should be considered?   

Yes, in addition to cultural differences, organizations should be aware of time zone differences, the need for translators and interpreters due to language differences or abilities, monetary exchange rates if products and services are offered to members, and shipping, handling or delivery of products.

NAP will celebrate its 91st Anniversary on June 23, 2021. Tell us a little about the celebrations NAP has planned and how others might participate.

Due to COVID-19, our 90th celebration was held electronically culminating with the release of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised 12th edition in August 2020 at our National Training Conference.  It appears that our 91st will be a virtual celebration, also. The planning has not been completed.  We celebrate Parliamentary Law Month each April.  The NAP event calendar will contain events and meetings where the public can attend.  Our website address is www.parliamentarians.org

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