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How to win friends and influence people: the Wilton Park method


The best time to make a friend is before you need one. For almost 80 years Wilton Park has been a dedicated and discreet part of government, generating goodwill and influence for the UK around the world.

Often with little or no publicity for itself, Wilton Park has also been instrumental in giving visibility to the UK’s pivotal role in preventing and ending conflicts, as well as building international consensus on global challenges such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, easing global trade and preparing for future pandemics.

In the past, partly due to the confidential nature of some of our work, Wilton Park’s standing and potential as a unique UK asset has been misunderstood. However, the accelerating unravelling of international norms, relationships and past certainties has placed refreshed focus on Wilton Park’s ability to operate as an informal multilateral actor.

By utilising our global reputation for objectivity and arm’s length relationship to official UK policy, Wilton Park supports and impacts more formal international negotiations. We discreetly convene key international officials and stakeholders on a range of issues to engage in dialogue with a network of diverse voices. Participants share ideas, overcome obstacles, challenge assumptions and align around a plan of action.

The scale of our operations is not widely understood. This past year alone we hosted 70 dialogues, welcoming over 3200 influential participants from 137 countries to our secluded 16th century home in West Sussex and discreet locations around the world. This is quite apart from the hundreds of smaller, informal bilateral meetings required to inform our work and maximise our impact.

Our residential model and locations are important to our success but even more so are the skill and commitment of our team. Over many years, we have perfected techniques and practices for maximising the success of our interventions. Providing warm hospitality and accommodation, in a setting which is both welcoming and secluded, is invaluable for breaking down barriers, focusing minds and accelerating relationship building. It also provides invaluable opportunities for connection beyond the formal business of events. Curating the seating plans and allowing space for informal receptions and conversations outside the conference room are all key to our success.

This all takes considerable planning, and what appears effortless on the day is the result of our entire team working together. Before the participants arrive through our doors, we will have spent many months working with partners to understand and deliver the complex choreography between participants required to achieve an agreed objective.

Our facilities and events team then anticipate every need, from managing complex travel arrangements to providing security, accommodating dietary requirements and ensuring rooms are comfortable. The contrast between the calm of our formal rooms, enjoyed by participants, and the steady hum and hustle in our back offices and service corridors, is striking.

An example of Wilton Park in action is my recent visit to Chile, where I attended a Wilton Park event on responsible cyber behaviour supported jointly by the FCDO and the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The dialogue  brought officials together from around the world to search for international consensus on responsible behaviours in cyber space.

It’s a great example of Wilton Park acting as an informal multilateral body; identifying, testing and building areas of agreement which can then be further developed in more formal international fora. We are also supporting the UK-Chilean partnership and enhancing the UK’s global reputation and influence as a responsible international actor.

Our convening power beyond the UK shows that Wilton Park is not tied to our home at Wiston House, but is truly international, outward-looking and ambitious.  Our presence in key spaces at critical moments is designed to deliver the maximum impact on UK and global challenges.

We are proud of our history but ambitious to achieve more to address mounting global problems. Building relationships and trust has rarely seemed so urgent, nor the space and time required so rare. Wilton Park is a unique asset through which the UK can win friends and influence at this critical time – and we are up for the challenge.

Get in touch with us if you want to find out more about working with Wilton Park and how we design our events.

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