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Chatham House Rule (Full Explanation + Guide)

If you’ve ever been in a meeting where people are discussing sensitive topics, you may have heard of the Chatham House Rule. But what is it exactly? Keep on reading to find out.

Here is what we will cover:

    What is the Chatham House Rule?

    The Chatham House Rule is an agreement between meeting participants that allows people to use the information from a discussion, but they can’t say who the speaker was, or what organization they’re from.

    Word for word, the Chatham House Rule says:

    “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.” (Source)

    Once the Chatham House Rule is invoked, it’s binding to all participants. That makes it different from a simple meeting ground rule, which often is used more like a recommendation than a strict rule.

    What are the benefits of the Chatham House Rule?

    Once the Chatham House Rule is invoked, it encourages meeting participants to speak freely and openly without fearing that what they say will be negatively attributed to them.

    This has a couple of benefits:

    • Makes participants more comfortable
    • Allows for more candid and deep conversations
    • Promotes greater understanding of different perspectives
    • Helps build trust and mutual respect between participants
    • Levels the playing field between people with different power and influence

    On the flip side, the Chatham House Rule makes it difficult to hold participants accountable for their statements and might lead to a lack of transparency. Therefore it’s important to use the Chatham House Rule in the right context.

    How do you use the Chatham House Rule?

    The Chatham House Rule is typically used, when a meeting, seminar or event involves a discussion of sensitive information and when the rule would help to make the discussion flow better.

    To use the Chatham House Rule, you don’t need to be in the Chatham House (Headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs), where the rule originated from.

    When you are the host of a meeting, you can invoke the rule yourself by taking the time to introduce it and explain it to the participants. You generally want to do this at the very beginning of the meeting, to set the right expectations from the start.

    Here is a template, that helps you to introduce the rule properly:

    [.box-highlight]As you all know, we are here to discuss [insert topics]. To discuss these topics effectively, it might be necessary for us to touch upon sensitive information and speak openly. To support this, I would like to invoke the Chatham House Rule, which a widely used around the world. The Chatham House Rule says and I quote: [read out the rule]. Once we agree on using the rule, it would be in place for the rest of the meeting. Is anyone against using this rule? Or, does any have questions about the implications of this rule?[.box-highlight]

    If you want to introduce the rule all by yourself, keep these important points in mind:

    • Highlight the benefit of the rule to the participants
    • Quote the Chatham House Rule in full, then explain it in your own words
    • Double check, that everyone understood the implications of the rule
    • Optionally: Ask for consensus (everyone agrees) or consent (no one disagrees). We recommend the latter!

    The Chatham House Rule operates primarily on trust, without any legal ground to it. Therefore make sure participants understand the seriousness of it, to reduce the chance that the rule is breached. If it's breached once, it loses all its value.

    Chatham House Rule Alternatives

    There are a couple of alternatives to the Chatham House Rule that are good to know. Often these are also mixed up and lead to confusion.

    Chatham House Rule vs Vegas Rule

    The Vegas Rule states that everything that will be said in the meeting stays in the meeting. As you may guess, this comes from the original saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.

    The Chatham House Rule is different in the way, that it allows content to be shared outside the meeting, but without revealing the original speaker. While the Vegas Rule, basically prohibits everything from going outside.

    Chatham House Rule vs “Off the Record”

    Off the record” comes from the world of journalism and is used to indicate that whatever is said, neither is allowed to be published nor attributed to the speaker.

    So if you ask me, I would say it essentially means the same thing as the Vegas Rule. The only difference is that the Vegas Rule might not be the right word to use in a serious, or political setting. As it's associated with gambling, party and basically everything that the Hangover movie portraits.

    The Chatham House also recommends using “Off the record” in cases where information is so sensitive, that something more strict is needed.

    Chatham House Rule Translations

    The Chatham House Rule has been translated into multiple languages by the Chatham House. Below, you find a list of the available translations:

    Chatham House Rule German / Deutsch

    Bei Veranstaltungen (oder Teilen von Veranstaltungen), die unter die Chatham-House-Regel fallen, ist den Teilnehmern die freie Verwendung der erhaltenen Informationen unter der Bedingung gestattet, dass weder die Identität noch die Zugehörigkeit von Rednern oder anderen Teilnehmern preisgegeben werden dürfen.

    Chatham House Rule Portuguese / Portugal

    Quando uma reunião (ou uma parte da reunião), é governada pela a regra da Chatham House, os participantes são livres de usar a informação recebida, mas não podem divulgar a identidade e a afiliação dos oradores e dos participantes.

    Chatham House Rule Russian / русский

    Люди, принимающие участие во встречах, проводимых по Правилу «Четем Хауса», могут свободно использовать полученную ими информацию, но не имеют права разглашать ни имена ни место работы выступающих.

    Chatham House Rule Spanish / Español

    Cuando una reunión, o una parte de una reunión, se convoca bajo la Regla de Chatham House (the “Chatham House Rule”), los participantes tienen el derecho de utilizar la información que reciben, pero no se puede revelar ni la identidad ni la afiliación del orador, ni de ningún otro participante.

    Chatham House Rule French / français

    Quand une réunion, ou l’une de ses parties, se déroule sous la règle de Chatham House, les participants sont libres d’utiliser les informations collectées à cette occasion, mais ils ne doivent révéler ni l’identité, ni l’affiliation des personnes à l’origine de ces informations, de même qu’ils ne doivent pas révéler l’identité des autres participants.

    Chatham House Rule Arabic / اَلْعَرَبِيَّةُ

    حينما يعقد اجتماع او جزء منه في اطار قاعدة تشاتام هاوس، فان المشاركين يكونوا احراراً في استخد" المعلومات التي يحصلون عليها، لكن لا يجب كشف هوية او انتماء المتحدثين او اي شخص آخر من المشاركين

    Chatham House Rule Chinese / 汉语

    如果一个会议,或会议的一部分,是按照Chatham House规则进行的,则与会者可自由使用在会议中获得的信息,但不得透露演讲者及其他与会者的身份与所属机构。