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Exklusiv: Keith Burnet über die Kommunikationsstrategie des Chatham House

Exklusiv: Keith Burnet über die Kommunikationsstrategie des Chatham House

Im Oktober 2008 hat mir Keith Burnet, Communications Director des Chatham House, Rede und Antwort zu der Arbeit des vielleicht wichtigsten außenpolitischen Think Tanks der Welt gegeben. Das Chatham House wurde 1920 in London gegründet und hat heute etwa 1.750 Mitglieder aus aller Welt. Weltweit bekannt ist auch die Chatham House Rule, die oft für vertrauliche Gespräche genutzt wird. Der Think Tank ist zudem Vorbild für Institute wie das amerikanische Council on Foreign Relations oder die Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik.

Im Interview erläuterte Burnet, wie das Chatham House auf die immer stärkere Internationalisierung außenpolitischer Entscheidungsprozesse reagiert und seine Marke weltweit aufbaut. Außerdem sprach ich mit Burnet über die Chancen der neuen Medien und sozialer Netzwerke für außenpolitische Denkfabriken.

Dieses Interview ist das erste einer Reihe von Interviews mit Think-Tank-Managern aus aller Welt. Deswegen interessiert mich Ihre Meinung. Schreiben Sie mir, wenn Ihnen das Interview gefallen hat oder wenn Sie Anregungen für weitere Themen und Interviews haben. Ich freue mich auf Ihr Feedback!

Eingang des Chatham House, London. Foto: Mark Hillary, via
Eingang des Chatham House, London. Foto: Mark Hillary, via

Daniel Florian: Usually, Think tanks primarily address a national audience: national policy makers, journalists and academics. But increasingly, international organisations shape foreign policy and transnational problems are becoming ever more important. How do you see these developments and how do they affect your work at Chatham House as a British institution?

Keith Burnet: We would say that most of the developments, most of the problems in international politics cannot be tackled by nations on their own. We have just seen during the economic downturn that so many countries are reliant on the global economy – every country is really. So it becomes clear that if climate change, the economy and other issues become more important, no country can act alone. And therefore the role of the international or regional community becomes ever more important. For a think tank like Chatham Hoouse, that is what we have always been about: bringing together international voices and representatives from the international community to try and resolve a problem. So in that sense it is not a new development for Chatham House. We have always looked internationally, whilst at the same time realising that in many instances, our first call is our own government. That is were we have to start to influence and shape policy. But certainly for a significant number of issues we have to reach out to an international audience.

Daniel Florian: The EU is eventually becoming more active in foreign policy and is an increasingly relevant player. How do you reach out to policy makers in Brussels?

Keith Burnet: We reach out in many different ways. We reach out through one-on-one contacts, we reach out through our membership, we might be speaking to a government department like the foreign office for example, we reach out via the press, we host events, we are reaching out to our members – it depends. There is not one specific way for us to get our message out. The one thing that makes Chatham House unique is that we reach out to a number of different audiences at the same time – this is one of our unique selling points if you like that we bring together people from completely different walks of life in a way that other organisations or think tanks do not do. So there will be UK government officials, there will be people from embassies, there will be people from business, there will be people from the media as well as academics. And I think that is the key strength of this organisation.

Daniel Florian: Some think tanks like the European Council on Foreign Relations have recently opened offices abroad. Is that something that you consider as well – that is to expand you brand to other countries?

Keith Burnet: We are London-based and in many ways, London is a globalised capital of the world, leaders pass through here all the time. We feel that we are in the centre at this particular location. And that is not meant to be complacent or arrogant – it is just that in today’s globalised world, London is a major capital. So the centre is here, but for example our expert on Afghanistan has just spent six months in the tribal areas – she is originally from Afghanistan. So it is not just about the location of the city that you are in because then you would need to be in every city in the world. We can operate from London as London is the heart of our operations. And obviously we can reach out now by the internet or by e-mail – we do not need to be all at the same place.

Daniel Florian: Do you also advise foreign governments when your research staff is abroad?

Keith Burnet: In every case, in every country, the example would be slightly different in the way that Chatham House operates. But whatever we do has to be underpinned by our mission to try and see a fairer and more just world for everyone. That was a radical innovation when we were set up in 1920. It was a revolution that people got round a table and tried to talk about bringing peace and democracy and trying to extend these values across the world as far as possible. And in each country on each continent there is a different case.

Daniel Florian: When an expert is shown on television, his or her affiliation is not always mentioned – which can sometimes be annoying for PR people at a think tank. How do you make sure that there is a reference to Chatham House when an expert is quoted in the media? Or is that not very important to you?

Keith Burnet: It used to be very important to me. But then I realised that actually getting the correct message out is more important. And most of our experts are politically neutral and we try to just make sure that whenever we do a piece, there is a voice of reason. So it is important of course, but to 99.9 per cent of the people watching a big news programme it does not matter at all whether its an expert from the Chatham House or the International Institute for Strategic Studies or anywhere else. But also, I think that in our case, it adds weight or credibility to the piece to refer to Chatham House because when people know about Chatham House than they know that the person shown should be coming from a solid research background.

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Daniel Florian: Which role do new media services like online videos or online conferences play for you?

Keith Burnet: It is important. But because many of our events are held under the Chatham House rule, it is not appropriate to put them online. However, for the events that are on the record, we always provide a transcript. We used to provide audio recordings, but they seem to be less popular. We are about to start webcasting some of our events. But again, maybe we are slightly different and the fact that many of our events are under Chatham House rules prevents us from doing that with everything we do. In broader terms, we are working on a number of initiatives that again are gonna be appropriate to our ouput. We have an international membership and we found in the last couple of years that when people are not in London, they are missing out and we can now reach out to them.

As a membership organisation, it is important to us to provide something unique to people who are members and to not widely disseminate is just part of the way we work. There might be a time when that clashes with new media and the way that our competitors work – I do not think we are there yet. So that is why we are keeping things for our members because they are members of Chatham House and there needs to be an advantage to that.

Daniel Florian: Which role do social networks play for your work? This may be quite different from your membership-based business model, but the more other think tanks do this kind of things, the more difficult it may become for you to not do it.

Keith Burnet: I think that is absolutely right and again this is something that we have looked at. But I would not rush into setting up something unless we know its gonna be a value to our members. And at present what we are offering appears to be of value and in many ways more relevant because as everybody else does Facebook and everything else, it might be becoming more unique. But we are not inflexible at all and we are watching this very, very closely. We are despite our brand quite a small organisation – about 80 peoples plus round about 100 associate fellows who are affiliated internationally. So we have these options but I have not seen anything yet that convinced me that Facebook or equivalents really changes policy and decision making in this field. I can see it in politics itself, I can see how it is working for Barack Obama as a politician, but not necessarily yet in this field.

Dieses Interview ist zuerst auf erschienen.

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