What Is the Standard Code?

Personally, I love a situation where I have more than one good option. And this is precisely how I feel about the parliamentary authority known as The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, created by Alice Sturgis back in 1950 as a strong alternative to the very popular Robert’s Rules of Order. Dissatisfied with some aspects of Robert’s Rules, Sturgis wrote her own rulebook, and it lives on today as another very useful resource in helping organizations across the country run orderly meetings and implement parliamentary procedure.

About the Author 

The résumé of the late Alice Sturgis makes us parliamentarians proud. Alice Sturgis was a champion of everything helpful about parliamentary procedure. Her leadership in the field during the 1900s was exemplary, and her dedication to make things better and easier for all types of groups remains an inspiration.

  • A publication in 1969 lauded her as “the nation’s leading parliamentarian.”
  • She wrote a thesis on parliamentary law while earning her master’s at Stanford.
  • She taught parliamentary procedure courses at University of California, Berkeley.
  • She served as an advisor for all types of organizations, small and large, for almost 50 years.
  • She co-authored a parliamentary procedure textbook.
  • She wrote The Sturgis Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure in 1951.
  • Her Standard Code is still published by the American Institute of Parliamentarians.

Over Time 

Like Robert’s Rules of Order, this parliamentary authority has morphed in its title throughout the years. Sturgis included her last name as part of the title initially and in its second edition. But after she passed, subsequent editions were called The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure. And now, since the American Institute of Parliamentarians (AIP) took over the publishing, it’s been titled The AIP Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure or for short, just The Standard Code. 

Short and Sweet 

If you’re a fan of concise, clear communication, then you’ll love The Standard CodeAmazon’s copy (paperback only) is 336 pages, compared with the 816 pages of Robert’s Rules. Sturgis believed that if people understood the principles behind meeting procedure and organizational rules, then their common sense could supply many of the specifics, and they could apply the broad ideas of The Standard Code to their group.

For the Average Joe

Frustrated by the complex language of much of Robert’s Rules, Sturgis created a parliamentary authority that uses simple words whenever possible. Headings, tables, and lists make the material very accessible for non-expert users. It’s written in a very organized, ready-reference style—with a brief description of the what, how, and why of each rule.

May It Please the Court 

Other parliamentary rulebooks have made little effort to explicitly dovetail procedure with legal precedent. But Sturgis felt that a history of court decisions would provide a strong basis for her book of principles. She definitely didn’t want to advise groups to proceed in ways that got them in legal trouble later!

So, in drafting The Standard Code, Sturgis reviewed 3,000+ court cases and consulted lawyers and leaders of the American Bar Association. Recent editions continue to include updates that reflect modern, real-life organizational situations and guide users accordingly.

Still in High Demand 

If you’re wondering which groups choose The Standard Code over Robert’s Rules, the answer is, not surprisingly, connected to Sturgis’ own work history. With her passion for order and efficiency, Sturgis served organizations like the American Medical Association, American Dental Association, American Bar Association, and the United Automobile Workers Union.

Today, The Standard Code continues to be ranked as the #2 parliamentary authority, used by many of the nation’s largest trade associations, especially within the medical industry. Plus, groups who’ve adopted Robert’s Rules as their rulebook also find The Standard Code to be a helpful backup resource—a secondary perspective that they can consult for understanding or to guide them in drafting special rules.

*This post drew heavily from Edwin C. Bliss’s article, “Who Is This Sturgis?” printed in Parliamentary Journal, 63:3, December 2022.

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