Can an Agenda Be Changed During a Meeting?

I’m one of those people who considers agenda-making an art form. If you’re the meeting-planner, in charge of lining up what’s going to happen when in the next business meeting, there’s definitely a proper way to do it. But once it’s beautifully crafted and adopted, is an agenda set in stone? If a member wants to propose a different agenda than the official order of business, is that okay within parliamentary procedure? This post walks you through the agenda approval process and provides a guide for how to manage any proposed changes to an agenda after it’s been adopted.

1. How is a meeting agenda adopted?

An agenda is adopted by taking a vote at the start of the meeting. To start a meeting, the Chair will say, “This meeting is now called to order.” There may be a few preliminaries, and then, the very next thing that should happen is approval of the agenda. An agenda is adopted if a majority of the votes cast are in favor of it, and the vote can often be taken by unanimous consent. The Chair can simply say, “The agenda for this meeting was provided to you in your registration or check-in materials. Is there any objection to adopting the agenda as distributed?”

And if no one objects, that distributed agenda is adopted.If someone does object to the adoption of the agenda as distributed, or if the Chair learns that the agenda actually is a controversial item, he should kickstart the normal motion process—asking for a motion to adopt the agenda, asking for a second, and then opening the motion for discussion before taking a vote.

What could possibly be controversial? Sometimes approval of the agenda is a hot issue because there’s a strategy to the order in which the topics on the agenda will be discussed. Maybe votes on certain issues will affect the results of votes on other items of business. Or there might be individuals that can only stay for part of the meeting but whose votes are key to the adoption of certain motions—and so members want to see those motions considered earlier in the agenda.

So if there’s an objection to the agenda and a member wants to tweak it, how should that happen exactly? When the Chair asks for discussion on the agenda, any member can move to amend it and ask the group to vote to change the proposed order. And if a majority of the votes cast are in favor of the amendment, then the amendment to the agenda is adopted, and the group proceeds to discussion and a vote on the amended agenda.

2. How can a board or group change an agenda after it has been adopted?

Theoretically, once an agenda has been adopted, business should start to roll along as scheduled. But we all know that as a meeting progresses, people can sometimes get new ideas about what should happen next. Or they rethink what they approved at the start of the meeting and decide that they actually do want a different order of events.

Here’s the how-to for changing an agenda that has already been adopted.

  • A member seeks recognition by the Chair and makes a motion to amend the adopted agenda, detailing the new order of business she is proposing.
  • The Chair asks for discussion on the proposed amendment to the agenda.
  • The Chair takes a vote to approve the proposed amendment to the agenda.
  • The agenda can be changed by either a two-thirds vote, or a vote of a majority of the entire membership, or a vote by unanimous consent.
  • If the group agrees to amend it by one of these votes, then the agenda is amended and the group follows the new order.

3. What should you do if a group is not following an adopted agenda?

Got someone in your group who loves to go down rabbit trails during your meetings? It’s tough to get a meeting back on track if people have veered from the agenda. So, if the group is not following the agenda that was officially adopted, a member should say, “I call for the orders of the day.” Bizarre, unfamiliar language, I know. But that’s the official Robert’s Rules way to say that you want the group to follow the order that it agreed on earlier in the meeting.

Also, that particular motion—calling for orders of the day—gets interrupting privileges. If the meeting is off course, you may interject this motion, even during someone else’s moment at the mic. This motion is code for “Hey, everybody—time to regroup and get back to the business that’s next on the approved list.” There’s no vote required. The Chair must immediately go back to the agenda that the group adopted.

One final option: If the group realizes that “oops—we made a mistake on that earlier adopted agenda and really ought to continue the ‘rabbit trail’ and pause on that approved agenda order”—that is allowed. But to set the agenda aside, you need to follow the process described in point 2 above.

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