Confidentiality and the Chatham House Rule

I recently took part in an event which the organizers described as happening under the Chatham House Rule. After talking to many of the participants, I realized we were uncertain exactly what this meant. We assumed the rule implied confidentiality – but we disagreed on how much. Most of us were wrong.

Founded in 1920, Chatham House is an independent policy institute based in London whose mission is to be a leading source of independent analysis, informed debate, and influential ideas. Last year, Prospect Magazine named Chatham House as Think Tank of the Year and the University of Pennsylvania ranked Chatham House as the #2 think tank worldwide.

The Chatham House Rule was established to give anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. Meetings do not have to take place at Chatham House, or be organized by Chatham House, to be held under the Rule. The specific Rule is as follows:

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.

So, the Chatham House Rule is completely different than a Confidentiality Clause. In a confidential discussion, the content of the discussion cannot be shared with anyone who was not part of the original meeting. On the other hand, under the Chatham House Rule, the content can be shared with others but the identities of the participants cannot. By encouraging free expression without attribution, ideas are more likely to be shared.

The success of the Rule depends on all participants collectively agreeing to it. If a person breaks the Rule, the organizers typically sanctions the person in some way; usually by that person not being invited to participate in future events.

Here are some implications of the Chatham House Rule:

  • You can distribute a list of attendees to the participants but you should not publish them
  • You can publish what was said at the event on social media (such as Twitter) if you don’t identify the source of the information
  • You are free to report what you yourself said during the meeting if you want to.

In the spirit of that last point, here is a graphic of what I said during the event:

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3 Responses to Confidentiality and the Chatham House Rule

  1. Bill April 9, 2017 at 7:34 pm #

    Would I be breaking the Chatham House Rule if I disclosed content of a meeting with other teams from within my Organization?

    • Jonathan Becher April 9, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

      If the meeting was covered under Rule and not under a confidentiality agreement, you can disclose the content but not the participants.

  2. kh April 10, 2017 at 12:01 am #

    Very interesting – so the critical bit of a meeting is actually the metadata 🙂

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