Ericson's Interview

Excerpt of Ericson interview

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Listed below are questions that original author, Jon Ericson, responds to.  He responded to a similar set of questions for a printed interview that appeared in the Commission on American Parliamentary Procedure’s annual newsletter to its member in fall 2006.  With the 2012 publication of the Fourth Edition of Notes and Comments, Jon returns to similar questions and provides readers with insights that first led to the publication of Notes and Comments.  The responses reveal the personal commitment that has kept the work in publication for over thirty years – a rarity for books about parliamentary procedure.

 

1. How would you describe the purpose of your book, Notes and Comments on Robert's Rules?

While Robert is widely adopted by organizations, it is also widely ignored.   Robert’s length -- more than 700 pages -- and the technical and sometimes archaic language combine to intimidate most of the members it is intended to serve.  Our task as parliamentarians is to ensure that parliamentary procedure assists rather than intimidates the individuals and members it serves.  Hence,  the purpose of Notes and Comments is to emphasize the simple machinery in Robert, to relate Robert’s Rules to the procedures most commonly used in meeting and conventions, to encourage members to obtain and study, rather than shy away from, Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised.

There is no shortage of manuals written to simplify procedure for the small, local, informal group.  All well and good, but overlooked was the need to focus on the individual who participates in his or her professional organization as an engaged member or delegate.  The same applies to someone in a leader role, or aspiring to be a leader.  These individuals need to know parliamentary procedure in order to be effective representatives of those who elected them to be delegates, or serve in leadership positions as committee chairs and elected officers.  Notes and Comments clarifies procedure for these members and encourages them to become involved.  At the same time, the procedure should be grounded in a manual that will meet the needs of a large, complex, and often controversial meeting or convention.  That manual is usually Robert’s Rules.  Thus, Notes and Comments serves as a companion to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised that makes the latter accessible, understandable.  Eureka!!

2. Did you have trouble finding a publisher for your book?

For the first edition, yes.  I published it myself!  For the second edition, I sent it to two academic presses.  Both accepted, and Southern Illinois University Press published it in 1980 and continues to do so.  I must say it is a source of personal satisfaction to have a book on parliamentary procedure that’s been in print over thirty years. Notes and Comments meets a need, and, frankly, that’s satisfying to know.   It’s also gratifying to have the fourth edition published and to have worked with Jim Slaughter and Gaut Ragsdale, two experienced parliamentarians, in on this new edition.  Revising a book on parliamentary procedure among three parliamentarians is something we wondered at times if we would survive.   I won’t drag you through my misery.   However, Wow, Oh Wow, we had spirited and robust discussions—and the book is better for it and we remain friends having survived the brutal revision process.  Also, we are still with same publisher but I suspect the good people we worked with at Southern Illinois Press think we are a little too focused on parliamentary procedure.

3. How did you select the format for the book, and how have users reacted to the format?

The book is written in the question-answer format on the premise that most members of organizations turn to a manual on parliamentary procedure only when they are faced with a procedural problem.  They do not read to learn about the subject of parliamentary procedure; they read to solve a problem, or respond to a pressing need.  The question-answer format serves the primary responsibility that a parliamentarian has to the leaders and the members of an organization: to provide immediate, accurate answers to procedural problems.  But the parliamentarian also has a responsibility to serve parliamentary procedure.  That is why I included Notes:  to provide readers with a picture of an evolving process of debate and change.  Also, within the text, I weave in parliamentary authorities other than Robert’s Rules so the reader can discover alternatives and perspectives Robert’s Rules.

4. Do you prefer to teach parliamentary procedure or serve as a parliamentarian, or write about it? (Note: Dr. Ericson won distinguished teaching awards at Drake University, and has a reputation for lively and entertaining training sessions on parliamentary procedure.)


The tasks complement one another nicely.  Doing either for a lengthy period makes me look forward to the other.  Outside of the three-credit university course, most of my presentations are three to five hours.  As every parliamentarian knows, clients want to know everything they need to know about parliamentary procedure and they want to know it in a one-hour session.  Of course, I am the same way about computers.   Regarding writing, for me most of that has been responding to particular parliamentary situations, sometimes quagmires, and it helps to think about and write out a proposed solution to a situation.   As I’ve said, Notes and Comments has been my written response to the need for parliamentary procedure to be more accessible and understandable to individuals.  Put simply, I want help them be more effective in using procedure that govern voluntary and non-profit organizations.  My co-authors, Jim Slaughter and Gaut Ragsdale, feel exactly the same way.  All of us believe you use parliamentary procedure to help individuals and groups to make quality decisions and operate effectively.  We say in jest we are parliamentary missionaries, and, the truth is often said in jest!

5. How often does Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised get revised, and what are your thoughts on this schedule?

A new edition arrives roughly every ten years.  Given that major changes in procedure seldom occur, a cynic might suggest that new editions prompt sales.  But when you think about how digital technology has impacted organizations, even voluntary ones, and the emergence of online communication, and the astounding number of meetings that occur every day,  it’s understandable that Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revisedwould need revision about every decade  to stay abreast of the world we live in. Likewise, when Robert’s Rules is revised, Notes and Comments should be revised.

6. Is there anything you would like to add?

Yes,  It is too bad teachers of communication, especially of the Greeks, don’t connect parliamentary procedure to what Hannah Arendt called a person’s inherent need to perform, and that one avenue to happiness is by entering the polis and that satisfying that need to perform.  In other words, democracy works because it is fun.  It is an idea that deserves more treatment than time in this interview allows.  Simply put: participation in rather than complaining about our club, our board, our organization, our political institutions produces happier citizens.  The first step to that happiness is to learn the rules.

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Resources

 

Resources