“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.”
– Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.), Introduction, p. liii
It is February of 1896. U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert writes down the procedures used in Congress to direct an upcoming church meeting he has been asked to chair. The Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies results.
Ten versions later, Robert’s Rules of Order remains the most widely used guide to meetings in the English-speaking world. Its popularity attests to its effectiveness: It works.
By following Robert's Rules, school boards can keep discussions on topic, silence interruptions, move the board from discussions to decisions, and create more useful minutes.
In the meeting itself, Robert’s procedures support that rule:
As a result, the rules make it easy for her to cut off any speech that does not address the business at hand. The stage is set for her to announce:
“We are now on Item 4 on the agenda. There will be an opportunity to address your topic when we get to Item 6.”
“That item is not on the agenda. You can bring it up in the last section of the meeting, designated for new topics.”
On school boards that do not include a section on the agenda for new topics, she would state instead: “That item is not on the agenda. You can use the established protocol to propose that it be addressed at the next meeting.” Robert’s Rules does not specify that protocol. In the digital age, many boards have an online sign-up form. People can access it 24 hours a day, and its high visibility makes plain that requesting time on the agenda follows a uniform process for all. Whatever the medium, a sign-up form offers an opportunity to repeat the time limit for all speakers.
With that power, the chair can simply state matter-of-factly, “Joe Smith (the speaker who was interrupted) has the floor.” She can say it even before the interloper has finished his first sentence. Louder, madder attendees are stripped of their power – which is just as Robert intended it. An objective of his Rules was to confer equal rights on everybody at the meeting, be they in the majority or the minority, tall or short, overpowering or demure.
A year later, a researcher can easily track what decisions have been made. Their task is made even more efficient if the school board stores its minutes on a board portal with an archive that supports meta-searches of all files by keyword.
Robert’s Rules of Order can make school board meetings beacons of efficiency. By applying the simple principles of “one person, one vote,” “one speaker at a time” and “one topic at a time,” the Rules cut through the drama of meetings like a knife through butter. In preparing guidelines to run his church meeting, Henry Robert bequeathed a gift to future generations. With that gift, today’s school boards can turn chaotic meetings into well-oiled machines.
Wikipedia, “Robert’s Rules of Order”