Parliamentary procedure refers to the rules of democracy—that is, the commonly accepted way in which a group of people come together, present and discuss possible courses of action, and make decisions.
Parliamentary procedure is used by all types of decision-making bodies on a daily basis: school boards, homeowners' associations, city councils, and non-profit boards of directors, for example.
Fundamentally, parliamentary procedure defines how groups of people, no matter how formal or informal, can most effectively meet and make decisions in a fair, consistent manner—and make good use of everyone's time. Even a basic background in parliamentary principles can help you and your organization hold more efficient meetings.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised
Most organizations base its opinions and instruction upon Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised. The most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States, this book (often abbreviated RONR) was first published as the Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies in 1876. Since then, the book has been expanded and updated several times, incorporating solutions for countless meeting situations and acknowledging both societal and technological changes that affect the way business is conducted. The current edition of this book is Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition (2000).
Why use it?
A knowledge of basic parliamentary procedure prepares a member of any organization to be more effective when participating in business meetings, and allows the member to understand and support the fundamental principles of parliamentary law.
Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised provides perhaps the best summary of the broad benefit of parliamentary law to organizations:
"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 time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion." (RONR, 10th ed., p. xlviii)
In other words, while parliamentary procedure cannot guarantee that every member of an organization is pleased with the outcome of a decision, it aims to ensure that every member is satisfied by the manner in which the decision was made, and that the organization makes decisions efficiently but with consideration for every member's opinion.