How To Keep A Meeting On Track – The railway line principle
Meeting procedure is like a railway system – if you think of it as a series of railway tracks, understanding exactly what is happening at a particular time becomes that much easier.
A meeting begins on a main track, as laid down in the agenda. When a motion is moved, it is attempting to take the meeting in a particular direction to a desired outcome or destination. We have travelled along the main track (the agenda) and reached a set of points (the first motion) which will take us to a certain destination – a decision about the issue.
Whilst on the track of this motion, there is nothing else to discuss except that motion because we have only one motion before us and we cannot, as in a train, be on more than one track at once. However, like trains, meetings change track from time to time. Just like points and junctions, these allow a decision to be made in terms of which direction (track) the meeting will take.
Here are three examples of what can happen.
A procedural motion is moved.
As we travel on our original track (the substantive motion) to our original destination a person may move a procedural motion. In terms of our railway line this is like a set of points and we immediately switch to a side track. While we are on that side track, we can’t talk about anything else because, like a train, we are on one track- the procedural motion track.
While we are on the procedural motion track, we have a new destination; it cannot take us to the same destination as before because we’re on a different track. When the procedural motion has been dealt with, we move back to either the original track (the substantive motion), or to another track which may be our main track, the agenda.
An amendment is moved.
We may be on our first track from the main agenda heading toward our original destination (the substantive motion) and an amendment is moved. This equates to another set of points. When we get to the amendment, we decide whether or not to run with it and we move onto the side track- the amendment track.
Just as with the procedural motion, while we are on that track, we can talk about nothing else except that amendment.
When amendments are moved, the debate must centre around the amendment and not on the amended motion if the amendment is successful.
The amendment is eventually put and if carried we are back on our original track but with an extra carriage (the amendment) having been attached to the original motion, at the beginning, the end, or anywhere in the middle.
If the amendment is lost, we simply back onto the substantive motion track with the same number of carriages as before and we continue towards our destination. The substantive motion remains the same and we now stay on the same track.
A procedural motion is moved during discussion on an amendment.
We are travelling on our substantive motion track towards our destination and an amendment is moved so we have now switched to a side track and we’re discussing the amendment. A procedural motion is moved during discussion on the amendment and we now switch over to a fourth railway line and here we discuss nothing but the procedural motion. When the procedural motion is dealt with, we switch back to the amendment. When the amendment is dealt with, we switch back to the substantive motion, then when that is dealt with, we switch back to the main track.
If you use the railway line principle, you’ll know how to keep a meeting on track!
Adapted from ‘Meeting Procedure Made Easy’ by Freeman David Price, who has a blog on everything to do with meetings which is free to subscribe to. Visit davidprice.com