This is a second article triggered by a quote shared to me on Facebook. The first article, Law and Liberty, directly addressed the quote. This one will focus on why Robert’s Rules of Order (RRO) persist, and why they may not be the best procedural rules for all groups.
RRO were developed by Brigadier General Henry Robert in order to facilitate parliamentary meetings in social groups. These procedures were based on the procedure in the U.S. Congress but were meant for non-legislating bodies.
On their face they are meant to formalize procedure to facilitate better meetings. Further, Robert intended them to standardize the different procedures used by groups throughout the nation.
But nowhere is the effectiveness of RRO actually demonstrated. There are no studies in sociology showing that groups better achieve their goals by adopting RRO as opposed to any other procedural rules.
Why do they persist?
RRO persist for a number of reasons. First, they are not altogether “bad”. They somewhat ensure that decisions get made and that member’s outlooks and concerns are heard. But they seem to do this in a cumbersome way, where it takes an expert to know the ins-and-outs of the particulars of the procedures and those without this knowledge are prone to lose their voice.
But there’s also other factors, like the prominence of Henry Robert himself. He was a ranked General and a member of many civilian societies. He was the first to the scene with a manageable system that could be implemented in nearly any organization. Thus even today the RRO persists due to the influence of a privileged man injecting them into many groups and through his efforts to try to normalize procedures for all organizations.
Many groups do not use RRO. Businesses and more informal social groups don’t adopt them in favor of procedures, whether formal or informal, are more prone to promote quick resolutions and profitable results.
There are also many other formal procedures that can be found on the internet. But these are not as widely adopted among organizations, for whatever reason.
RRO have always struck me as unruly and top heavy. As stated above, they seem to favor the individuals who are well versed in the rules, regardless of the merits of their proposals or assertions. They also seem to favor the “leaders” in the group, for as long as they are hesitant to acknowledge dissent, they can use the rules to move the meeting onto new topics with a heavy fist.
In this light I’d propose a route of further study to those in sociology and the study of institutions. Take any number of procedural rules, and maybe even a control group that has no formal rules, and give them to disparate groups. Give each group the task of achieving certain goals, measurable and controllable, and see which procedure-set best achieves.
In this way a real set of procedures could claim to be “efficient” (as RRO proponents claim, but do not prove).
To Each Group, It’s Own Rules
But even if a set of procedures is found to be most efficient in reaching certain goals, this by no means proves that they are “best” for reaching any subjective goals any group may have. Each person and each group should be free to choose the rules to which they are subjecting themselves. Only in this way will competing groups be able to evolve new procedures to adequately handle the problems in running group meetings.
Lastly, Robert’s concerns about standard rules for all groups is misguided. Each group has a particular characteristic of members, goals, competitors and environment. While standardizing their rules may make someone like Robert happy (because he was in multiple groups and wanted one procedure for all of them) – it ultimately will hurt the development of rationally chosen procedures that best promote the interests of the groups they serve.