The Parliamentary Assistant: A Preliminary Plan of Action

Jon Bosak and Ken Clements
25 February 2000
This version:
Current version:


We have proposed web-based realizations of the legal procedures governing deliberative assemblies. We call a deliberative process constituted according to a standard parliamentary authority such as Robert's Rules of Order a parliamentary automaton, and we call our version of a software implementation of a parliamentary automaton a parliamentary assistant (PA). See for details.

Objectives and Priorities

The primary objective of the initial project is to replace the existing paper-based implementations of Robert's Rules automata with online versions that are legally equivalent. Thus, it is a necessary property of a successful implementation that it can be substituted in situ for the existing process in organizations that run according to Robert's in a way that would be judged equivalent in a court of law.

Within the boundaries set by the primary objective, the secondary objectives are to optimize the process for maximum efficiency and to enrich the user experience in a way that makes participation in the Robert's process easier and more rewarding.

A tertiary objective is to explore the possibility that the burden carried by the chair in the traditional process becomes reduced to the point where the position of chair effectively disappears and the workings of the machine become the direct expression of the majority will of the participants, limited only by the minority safeguards built into the traditional process. Interconnected networks of parliamentary automata thus constituted could exhibit interesting emergent properties. There is considerable doubt, however, whether it is possible to achieve this goal, especially within the requirement of formal equivalence with the traditional process. In terms of the traditional process, we can summarize this by saying that the primary goal is to replace the traditional parliamentarian and a distant subsidiary goal is to explore the possibility of replacing the traditional chair.

Preliminary Plan of Action

This description represents our current intentions and is subject to change as we receive suggestions in response to our proposal.

  1. Solicit comments on the proposal and this preliminary plan.

  2. From those indicating an interest in participating in the further development of this idea, form a mailing list under the aegis of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). Participation in such a list is limited to OASIS members; memberships cost USD 250 per year. OASIS will provide (a) an organizational infrastructure for the development and standardization of the Parliamentary Assistant and (b) a procedural framework identical to the one we propose to implement in software. One of the authors (Bosak) is chair of the OASIS committee responsible for the design of OASIS procedures, thus providing a channel whereby this work, if successful, can be proposed for broader use within OASIS. See for information about OASIS and for information about one of its most important current initiatives.

  3. Form an OASIS technical committee (TC) to specify the operation of the Parliamentary Assistant in order to ensure that implementations conform to a single procedural model and that they are legally equivalent to the traditional deliberative process so that the electronic versions can legally be substituted for the traditional process.

  4. Encourage multiple implementations of PAs conforming to the OASIS specification. At the same time, seek funding for a reference implementation.

  5. Continue to evolve the specification in light of implementation experience.

  6. Submit the refined specification for OASIS standardization.