Can You Discuss a Topic without a Main Motion?

If you’ve ever tried to discuss a topic without a main motion on the floor, you’ve probably been reminded by a lover of parliamentary procedure (yes, there are those people) that your comments are out of order. And that person is correct… sort of. Actually, there is a way to discuss a topic without a main motion and keep the parliamentary procedure gurus happy. Sometimes it’s the most efficient way to make progress. Here’s how you do it.

Use the Motion Called Consider Informally

There is a motion that’s called Consider Informally, and it means just what it says—that the group will follow a less strict/proper/prescribed process for consideration of a certain topic. Practically, this means that (1) debate limits are relaxed and (2) the group can discuss a topic before there’s a main motion.

Here’s an Example

Let’s say you’re a board member for a non-profit or for a homeowners association. Odds are high that that non board members will from time to time talk with you about problems or initiatives they’d like the board to address. They’re talking with you, of course, because you’re a board member that probably has power or influence that can help achieve their goals or solve their problem.

Now, if you at least appreciate this member’s perspective enough that (1) you think the topic is worth discussing at a board meeting, but (2) you’re not sure what a well-crafted main motion on the topic would look like, or even if you want to make one, and (3) you kinda want to feel out other board members on this to see if they think the idea has legs….

Then, this is the perfect time to use the motion called Consider Informally. Informal consideration allows you to take that member’s idea to the board, ask that it be placed on the agenda, and then discuss it freely without a main motion.

Here’s the “How-To”

When there’s a topic that you want to consider in a more relaxed manner, you have two choices.

  • Option 1: Ask to consider a topic informally before making a main motion, which means no need for a main motion and also means no debate limits.
  • Option 2: Make a main motion and then ask to consider it informally, which just gets rid of debate limits.

Example of Option 1

A non board member approaches you about waiving member dues for the year and covering the loss in revenue with funds from reserves. You could request that the topic of dues be placed on the next board meeting agenda, and at the appropriate time in the board meeting, say, “I move that the topic of dues be considered informally.”

The Chair can handle this motion by general consent, or can ask for a second and a majority vote. If it’s adopted, the board can now discuss this topic of waiving dues without a main motion and without any limits on the amount of time or number of times that each member can speak.

When the board has discussed the topic to its satisfaction, a board member can either move to end informal discussion, or she can make a well-crafted main motion for formal discussion and a vote, and the making of that main motion brings an automatic end to the informal consideration.

Example of Option 2

You can craft a main motion on the topic to present to the board, but if you feel the board would benefit from discussing it without any limits on the number of times or length of time each member can speak, you can make the main motion and then say, “I move that this motion be considered informally.”

Again, the Chair would likely handle this request for informal consideration by general consent, but if not, a second and a majority vote are what you need to discuss informally.

One Final Note

Two of the primary parliamentary authorities, The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, differ on the details of how informal consideration works—e.g., how and when you get in and out of it; what happens to the minutes; which rules are relaxed, etc. The goal of this post isn’t to give you all the nitty gritty on informal consideration. It’s to present a different way of conducting business for certain type of topics in case that option is more efficient. For more help, ask your parliamentarian or pull out the parliamentary authority that your group has adopted and read up on the details.