What's Wrong With Robert's Rules?

Robert's Rules of Order was first published in 1870. It was based on the rules and practices of Congress, and presumed that parliamentary procedures (and majority rule) offered the most appropriate model for any and all groups. The author presumed that the Rules of Order would "assist an assembly in accomplishing the work for which it was designed" by "restraining the individual" so that the interests of the group could be met.

In the more than 125 years since Robert's Rules was first published, many other approaches to group work and organizational activity have emerged. The goal of this Guide and the full Handbook is to codify the "best possible advice" to groups and organizations that prefer to operate with broad support, by consensus, rather than simply by majority rule. When we say consensus, we do not mean unanimity (although seeking unanimity is often a good idea). We believe that something greater than a bare majority achieved through voting is almost always more desirable than majority rule. Moreover, the formalism of parliamentary procedure is particularly unsatisfying and often counterproductive, getting in the way of common sense solutions. It relies on insider knowledge of the rules of the game. It does not tap the full range of facilitative skills of group leaders. And, it typically leaves many stakeholders (often something just short of a majority) angry and disappointed, with little or nothing to show for their efforts.

Even with these weaknesses, many social groups and organizations, especially in community settings, adhere to Robert's Rules (by referencing them in their by-laws or articles of incorporation) because they have no other option. The Short Guide to Consensus Building (and the Handbook on which it is based) offers an alternative that builds on several decades of experience with effective consensus building techniques and strategies. No longer must groups and organizations settle for Robert's Rules of Order or parliamentary procedure when they would be better off with an alternative that puts the emphasis on cooperation and consensus.