Ah, Robert’s Rules of Order
You, like me, have probably witnessed many meetings where Robert’s Rules of Order, the popular parliamentary procedure, was used. It’s the go-to guide for deliberative bodies to conduct meetings in the United States.
But is Robert’s still relevant today?
No one gets over his or her first time witnessing Robert’s in action. I was first exposed while watching my college’s student government meeting. Nothing prepared me for seeing thirty 20-years-olds in deliberative furor.
Robert’s can be intimidating. It can be tedious and can be used to bully people who may not understand its intricacies. Maybe there’s a better system. The politicos use Mason’s Manual, the United Kingdom has the Westminster system. I never did crack the spine of Thomas Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which I bought at a souvenir shop in near Independence Hall. (As to why, I have no idea.)
New York Times tackles the issue of Robert’s in this essay by Rachel Donadio. Robert’s was embraced and later abandoned by the radical movements of the 1960s. “(Robert’s) institutionalizes a win-lose mentality, when often there are close decisions in which both sides need representation” said Tom Hayden, former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society, in the article. That certainly doesn’t sound good.
But, Robert’s does get things done. It can harness the chaos, at least for a while. Personally, I have a new appreciation after attending the League of Women Voters national convention in June. Locked in plenary sessions for four days, nearly 700 delegates debated and deliberated on a whole, whole lot of issues. By using the Rules, all of us got out alive and tons of stuff was decided.
Thanks for the time limits, Major Robert.
I, like you, was a little perplexed and dismayed by what I saw as the over-formality and ridiculousness of Robert’s Rules. That is, until I was sitting in a meeting that was already taking too long to decide an issue I wasn’t very interested in discussing. The sheer genius of Robert’s Rules became clear to me in a shining moment: this man knew how to keep people on task and to make them get to the freaking point already. Also, when I finally paid enough attention to the flow of the process, I realized that it all made sense in a sinister political kind of way. I appreciate the ease with which one can manipulate the Rules to get air time, and I really dig the intricacies of the whole process. We’re lucky to have a national Robert’s Rules champ here in Cincinnati. It’s a dying art, but I think it’s still very relevant. And it’s the best way I know to keep hundreds of people on task and bring things to a decision.
Of course, you and I are probably the only ones with such a high esteem for Robert’s Rules.