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Chatham House Rule explained

A 90 year old rule aimed at promoting openness in meetings is frequently misunderstood.

Chatham House is a building at Number 10 St. James’s Square, London, UK. It’s home to an independent policy think tank known as Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

The building gave its name to a rule created by the Institute in 1927, aimed at promoting openness in meetings.

The rule’s purpose is to provide anonymity to speakers and encourage openness and information sharing.

The Chatham House Rule states that comments made during a conference or meeting cannot be attributed to an individual, either directly or through implication. Likewise an individual’s affiliation may not be identified.

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

The Rule has become a global standard and is often invoked at meetings to enable commercial or political information to be shared, promoting free discussion.

It allows participants to share information and express views that may not be aligned with their organisation, while maintaining anonymity.

People are generally more relaxed in a public meeting if they don’t have to worry about their reputation or the implication of being quoted on the record.

In the last six months I’ve attended meetings under the Chatham House Rule where mental health, Brexit, and salaries in the digital industry have all been discussed.

In each instance participants have spoken candidly, comfortable in the knowledge that their comments won’t be attributed.

But the Rule, and there is only one rule, is often incorrectly interpreted to mean that content from an event cannot be reported.

This is wrong. The Chatham House Rule does not mean a meeting is private.

Content can be reported and shared on social media such as Twitter, as long as the source is not identifiable.

There’s one exception to the Rule. You can identify yourself as the source of your own comments.

The penalty for violation of the Chatham House Rule is down to the organiser of the event. However you’re unlike to be invited to future events if you break the Rule.

Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs takes disciplinary action against guests that breach the Rule at its events.

Image via Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

One Comment

  1. When I do some training courses I actually have a slide to explain the rule and now I’ve started doing a handout with link to the rule on the Chatham House website. I was once berated for breaking the Chatham House Rules (I knew when they referred to rules that the conversation wasn’t going to go smoothly). I hadn’t because when I shared the information I hadn’t attributed it, either directly or by implication. The irony was that when I searched I found a reference to the same person saying the same thing so it was was already on public record elsewhere.

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