The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 25 the impact of your proposal? How will it achieve our policy goals? What will it cost, and how long will it take? Put your ideas out there through meetings and discussions or through the Policy Ideas Channel or the Open Forum. Build a community of the like-minded— make your proposal our proposal. Be ready for the opportunity when it is presented. Theories of change all consider the “windows of opportunity”—be on the lookout for your window. You may not convince people during the first discussion, but if you assess it is important, find other opportunities to discuss it and keep refining your position and building allies. After you dissent and put your position up for a final decision, be willing to accept that you may not succeed. If you don’t, be prepared to implement a policy with which you disagree or choose other paths. State Department history is full of dissenters who implemented policies they fought against, as well as dissenters who found other portfolios to work on and dissenters who, when they could not implement, resigned. Enabling Dissent Each of us, no matter our rank in the State Department, will at some point lead a team or a process. Creating an environment where team members have the “courageous space” to come forward with differing perspectives and ideas results in better policy. To do this, we need to engage our team members and be curious about what they are thinking or how they are approaching an issue and, importantly, express our appreciation for their perspective when they do share. Some people will easily speak out in a meeting; you may need to approach others and ask one-on-one what they think about an issue. As the leader, ask your team’s perspective first before sharing your own when discussing an issue. Ask the team what the consequences of a policy are, what the risks are, and what will and won’t be accomplished. Ask the team how bilateral and multilateral partners will respond to the idea, what their criticisms are, and whether they are valid. Ask the team to question their assumptions: Do you still assess that our reasons for action hold? Has the context changed, or have priorities shifted? —Holly Holzer remain, at least in the first instance, in-house.” The Open Forum’s chairperson objected to these procedures because they did not require the department to act on dissents. The Open Forum asked for an action office to be designated that would distribute dissents to a small group of senior officials and respond to each dissent’s recommendations. On April 8, 1972, according to the May 1972 Department of State Newsletter, the department officially created the Dissent Channel and outlined the process for submitting a dissent message. The Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff (S/P) was the office responsible for overseeing the Dissent Channel and acting on dissent messages—a role S/P continues to hold today. In 1971 and 1972, five Dissent Channel messages were sent to S/P. Informed and Thoughtful Analysis Early, now-declassified dissents showcase the informed and thoughtful analysis that is essential to policymaking. Many of the first messages discussed U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, but dissenters also wrote about Somali influence in Ethiopia, Italian elections, the impact of assassinations on U.S. policy toward Chile under Pinochet, and U.S. arms sales to Pakistan. Many dissents were about evergreen topics such as how the U.S. should relate to authoritarian governments, how sanctions should be used, or how to engage with opposition groups abroad. Some dissents seem quite prescient in their analysis of, for instance, U.S. policy and the Mobutu regime in Zaire, the end of martial law in Poland, Soviet economic modernization, or the Rios Montt government in Guatemala. Other early dissent messages covered management issues or raised concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the years, with the establishment of the Office of Inspector General in 1986, the passage of whistleblower protection laws, and other mechanisms for reporting fraud, abuse, and management problems, the Dissent Channel evolved to serve as a mechanism solely for dissent on foreign policy and its implementation. Today, there are 404 Dissent Channel messages in the State Department’s retired holdings. Between 1972 and 2017, there The State Department established the right of foreign affairs officials to dissent in February 1971.