Robert’s Rules of Order-Boring or Helpful?

Many people view Robert’s Rules of Order as a boring exercise in being obtuse and rule-driven. I was asked by the stated clerk of Palmetto Presbytery to be a sort of Stated Clerk in Training. Part of that training was to be, according to his recommendation, studying Robert’s Rules of Order so as to become a good parliamentarian. I agreed to that suggestion, and just recently passed my test to become a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. I found all the caricatures of Robert’s Rules of Order (and the people who seek to know these things) to be woefully wrong.

The first caricature I wish to eradicate is that Robert’s Rules of Order is all about using rules for one’s own advantage, and being able to use tricks to get one’s way in an assembly. Actually, Robert’s Rules has as its agenda the protection of the rights of every member of an assembly, both of the majority and of the minority. Everything I have been learning has been related to this question: how do we treat everyone fairly, and how do we treat everyone’s ideas fairly in a deliberative body?

The second caricature that is wrong is that Robert’s Rules of Order is boring. My hunch is that many people who say this believe that since they cannot understand it, it must be boring. With a little application, and some help understanding these matters (the training for becoming parliamentarian is extremely helpful!), one actually becomes much more confident in one’s participation in a deliberative body. A person can understand the nature of the motions, and how they rank, and what is in order, and what is not. I have found the study to be fascinating. The logic of the ranking of motions, in particular, is a beautiful thing. It is a very useful tool to help a person become productive and useful in a deliberative body.

The third incorrect caricature that I have found is that people who are interested in Robert’s Rules of Order are only interested in rules, not in substance. Now, there is some basis for this accusation, since there definitely are some people out there who study Robert’s Rules in order to be able to manipulate the system, as it were. However, as I have pointed out, that is not the purpose of Robert’s Rules. The purpose of Robert’s Rules is fairness. Furthermore, there is a level of informality allowed by Robert’s Rules in certain areas. There are shortcuts that are allowed. Robert’s Rules actually helps streamline the process: it does not hinder it. It is actually the ignorance of Robert’s Rules that creates enormous difficulties and time wasting, in my experience. I have seen meetings where, because no one knew Robert’s Rules, the result was an absolute mess, when a knowledge of Robert’s Rules would have streamlined the process amazingly quickly. I highly recommend the study of Robert’s Rules or Order to my readers who are involved in a deliberative body. It will save time and embarrassment (since you will no longer make a motion that is out of order). It will streamline the process. It greases the wheels rather than grinding them to a halt. On occasion in the future, I may point out some things that often happen in deliberative assemblies that are incorrect. I will point out why they are incorrect, and what the solution is.