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What is the Chatham House Rule?

29 January, 2020

All Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership programs are held under the Chatham House Rule, to encourage open conversation and genuine debate.  It’s a commonly used term, but do you know what it actually means and where it comes from?

The Chatham House Rule is:

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.

There is only one Rule.

Why use the Rule?

It was created in 1927 to encourage uninhibited discussion and facilitate the sharing of information. When people can trust that they won’t be publicly quoted they feel more able to express their own views, which may not be those of their organisations.

It is now widely used by a range of organisations to allow speakers to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation.

Does it apply to social media?

Yes, the Rule does apply to social media. It’s OK to report what was said at an event as long as it doesn’t identify – directly or indirectly – the speaker or another participant.

Participants can, however, under the Chatham House Rule report what they themselves said at an event.

Why is it called the Chatham House Rule?

The Rule originated at London’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Founded in 1919, it is a world-leading independent policy institute. Its mission is to help governments and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

Both Chatham House and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York evolved from British diplomat Lionel Curtis’ idea for an organisation dedicated to fostering mutual understanding of and between nations through debate, dialogue and independ­ent analysis.

The rapidly growing organisation became known as Chatham House after moving in 1923 to Chatham House, at 10 St James’s Square, previously home to three prime ministers including William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.

Eminent politicians such as Nancy AstorMahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill,  Middle East expert Gertrude Bell, suffragist Milli­cent Fawcett, economist John Maynard Keynes, leading thinkers of the day, private sector leaders, academics and journalists have used the Institute’s resources to develop their ideas and discuss the issues of the time.

Has the Rule changed at all?

There have been some grammatical amendments to it over time, and a new amendment will bring the rule up to date for 2020 while pre­serving the core idea: repeat what is said but not who said it.

However over the last 100 years of enormous change politically, technologically and socially, the spirit of the Rule has remained the same – to foster open and inclusive dialogue on the most important issues of the day. Which is why at Cranlana Centre all our programs are conducted under the Chatham House Rule.  It’s part of what makes the conversations held here so extraordinary.

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