Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 2020 13:57:30 -0800 (PST)
For the first time I have been reading the full text of Robert’s Rules of Order 
Newly Revised. I have usually read a shortened Cliff Notes version that 
stressed more than anything else the tedious process of ruling on which motion 
supersedes the other and causes discussion to stop, or when deliberations can 
resume, or how votes can be taken in what order and time frame. Who has to 
stand and who doesn’t. All the tricks legislative bodies use to fake out a 
newcomer. Or declare an objection to be out of order because the maker didn’t 
wait to be recognized by the chair.

The newly revised version just came out and we are in the middle of revising 
our Bylaws. I needed to read certain sections to clarify them but found the 
discussion so helpful that I’ve ended up reading most of it. 

The Rules are very clear on the following points:

1. The process of decision making is one of deliberation. Participating in the 
deliberative process is the important part of the process and one that makes it 
better than other processes that only require a vote.

2. The use of preference ranking/voting is more representative of the will of 
the body than majority voting. But since many constitutions and bylaws still 
specify majority vote it usually can’t be used officially.

3. They make distinctions between large assemblies and small groups. Many 
formalities are not generally used in smaller groups like boards, committees, 
etc. Others are dropped altogether.

4. There are large sections of discussion about what a rule means and why it is 
important, and often what it does not mean. This includes discussion of how it 
can be used inaccurately to unfairly to limit discussion or participation. Or 
even to rescind otherwise valid decisions.

5. I find this very helpful in groups like cohousing which have a governance 
organization organized on a wing and prayer based on the abilities and 
interests of those in residence at the time. Robert's defines the roles of the 
officers and the board in terms of function, address alternatives, suggest 
other combinations of tasks, and give examples of additional officers and 
assistants in large organizations. The result is a clear sense of what records 
and functions an organization needs to maintain in order to meet its 
responsibilities of facilitating the objectives of the organization, 
representing its members, and protecting its fiscal and legal responsibilities. 
And also protecting the rights of the individuals in the organization's 
work—not just controlling them.

In the end I’m finding that we have unfairly thrown the baby out with the 
bathwater in rejecting the whole body of advice because we reject majority 
vote. Robert’s is often said to be designed to protect and promote the 
dominance of the majority. If you read the whole text, its real emphasis is on 
ensuring equal and orderly deliberation and responsible record keeping.

Long way around to enticing everyone interested in governance to read it. It’s 
a Bestseller on Amazon with a 5-star ranking. What better recommendation could 
you have?

Sharon Villines
affordablecohousing [at]
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