Civics 101: What is Robert's Rules of Order?

J. H. Osborne • Oct 14, 2019 at 3:30 PM

There’s debate among Sullivan County commissioners as to whether or not they understand their own rules of conducting business. And some have argued they don’t believe the Sullivan County Commission actually follows Roberts Rules of Order, perhaps the most-used set of guidelines on parliamentary procedure in use at ever level of government, as well as private and public boards of directors for businesses, non-profits, civic clubs and other organizations of all sizes.

When a group adopts Robert’s Rules of Order as its go-to source for the running of meetings, the group also may adopt its own set of guidelines for addressing specific points of order that might arise particularly within its realm of conducting business. In that case, everything else defaults to Robert’s Rules of Order.

Here’s a bit more about Robert’s Rules of Order, from the Official Robert’s Rules of Order website:

• Parliamentary procedure “is based on the consideration of the rights: of the majority, of the minority (especially a large minority greater than one-third), of individual members, of absentee members, of all of these groups taken together.”

• "The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion."

• “The book on parliamentary procedure for parliamentarians and novice club presidents alike, Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised is this country's recognized guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings. It is the only book to have been maintained since 1876 under the continuing program established by General Henry M. Robert himself in cooperation with the official publishers of Robert's Rules.”

• “Henry Martyn Robert was an engineering officer in the regular Army. Without warning he was asked to preside over a public meeting being held in a church in his community and realized that he did not know how. He tried anyway and his embarrassment was supreme. This event, which may seem familiar to many readers, left him determined never to attend another meeting until he knew something of parliamentary law.”

• “Ultimately, he discovered and studied the few books then available on the subject. From time to time, due to his military duties, he was transferred to various parts of the United States, where he found virtual parliamentary anarchy, since each member from a different part of the country had differing ideas of correct procedure. To bring order out of chaos, he decided to write Robert's Rules of Order, as it came to be called (see chart of editions below).”

• “The eleventh, current, edition has been brought about through a process of keeping the book up to date with the growth of parliamentary procedure. All editions of the work issued after the death of the original author have been prepared by persons who either knew and worked with the original author or are connected to such persons in a direct continuity of professional association.”