Whoever is chairman will soon come tip against a significant fact of life related to gatherings of this kind. In them, ‘is virtually impossible for any human being to perform the function of chairman fairly under all the situations that may arise, without a considerable body of established rules to go by No one can do it just out of his or her own head. Parliamentary procedure is the name given to the tradition of rules and customs that has grown up in the civilized world for dealing with these problems. A bit of it goes back as far as the ancient Greeks. But its basic content was mainly formed by centuries of trial and error in the English Parliament, from which the name “parliamentary procedure” comes.
Not everyone may realize that the organizations most of us get involved in at some time or other are essentially similar to great legislative assemblies in an important way. They all meet to decide on actions to be taken. For this reason, they are all known as deliberative assemblies.
Major law-making bodies usually develop their own particular rules. This is largely impractical, however, in ordinary organizations as far as rules of meeting procedure are concerned. Each group of this kind obviously must work out its own structure. But things work best if most of the rules for making decisions in meetings are the same from group to group. Obviously, it would be worse than burdensome if one had to use different rules for deciding matters every time he or she took part in a different organization. By general understanding in our culture, parliamentary procedure fills the role of supplying this needed common body of rules.
Although originally derived from practices in the English Parliament, parliamentary procedure as it exists in America today has gradually evolved somewhat differently. Henry Martyn Robert (1837—1923), a distinguished engineer who retired from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general, had considerable influence on this development. A self-taught, in-depth student of the subject who was active in many organizations, he first published his Robert Rules of Order while a major in 1876. It rapidly became accepted as the standard authoritative work on meeting rules—so much so that when people talk about using correct procedure in a meeting, they often speak of doing it “according to Robert’s Rules”
As Henry Robert first conceived his book, he wanted it to be brief and simple enough to serve as a guide in the hands of every meeting-goer. He thought it might run to about 50 pages. By the time the first edition was published, he found he needed 176. Following its publication, lefters asking questions about parliamentary situations not clearly answered In the book began to pour in—by the hundreds through the years.
Consequently, over time, he was obliged to add more and more pages to answer the most common of these questions. Robed himself repeatedly revised his 1876 book. In accordance with his expressed wishes, his son, his widow, and his daughter-in-law all carried on the work after his death. And now his grandson, Henry M. Robert III, is among the team of parliamentarians (as experts in these rules are called in this country) chosen by his descendants to continue the updating and revision of the book. The manual is now in its tenth edition under the title of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised—commonly abbreviated RONR.*
RONR, the complete rulebook, now contains 643 pages of text, plus tables and index. All of its content has to be there because it may be needed, and has at some time come up as a question of procedure somewhere. RONR is designed as a reference book providing, as nearly as possible, an answer to any question of parliamentary procedure that may be met with.
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