Interview with Antonio Rodrigues
Above: António Rodrigues photogrpahed at the EACD coaching day in Lisbon on competitive intelligence for business communications / Photo: Rui Martins

We all have to make tough decisions at some point in our lives: but what kind of intelligence-gathering should inform those decisions in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (and not to mention fake news)?

At an EACD event on ‘Competitive Intelligence for Business Communications’ held in Lisbon earlier this year, António Rodrigues, lawyer and former member of the Portuguese parliament, spoke on ‘Choosing intelligence for intelligent choices’, drawing on his own experience as a Portuguese  member of parliament during one of the most difficult chapters in his country’s recent history.

In your career, what has been one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make?

When I was a member of parliament I had to support the government when it had very difficult measures to take, in the period 2011to 2015. Worse than being a member of parliament, I was vice president of my parliamentary group, so we had a political obligation to the government. Portugal was dealing with a very difficult situation then, and we had a lot of public demonstrations against the government and against our decisions. That was probably the worse period, because many times we did not want to support the measures taken by the government, but we had to, because Portugal was in a very difficult position. That was probably the worst time in my public career.

At the EACD event you said that “the decision-making process requires a human touch”. Can you explain that?

I’m a very emotional person, but I understand that you have to marry emotions with rationalisation. It’s impossible for someone like me to think about a decision you have to make and not worry about the impact of the decision. For example, when you are dealing with a law you know will change people’s lives, but you don’t know what its true impact will be. When you are in the public eye, typically politics for instance, you have to understand that that when you decide on something, not only is the rational part important, your personal commitment to the participation in a process that will have impact on somebody else is vital.

You also mentioned how the hysteria generated by fake news is a problem for intelligent information management. Do you think this is something that corporate communicators understand sufficiently?

It is a challenge, because we live in world where there is information all around us, but we don’t know what is true. You try and find the sources in which you believe in, but often there are so many sources with different versions of the truth. And there are strategies by companies, institutions or governments that manipulate information towards their aims. It has nothing to do with truth. How do you deal with this? How do you select the information which is true? What is important is try to understand strategy, but more than that to know how to ensure the veracity of the sources in which you believe.

But doesn’t the internet represent a democratisation of information?

What worries me more is seeing the disappearance of newspapers. You can see it across the world, in each country newspapers are disappearing. Nobody buys newspapers, because it’s easier to get information from other sources – Google, television – and people don’t understand that journalists have a code, that they have the obligations, that they have the structure. But on the internet there are no rules, no principles and no values that make people feel sure of what they’re transmitting.

So you don’t agree with the idea that media outlets represented gatekeepers to information and that it’s a good thing these self-appointed gatekeepers are losing their grip?

I don’t agree, because of the reasons I’ve mentioned. Anybody can write in social media saying whatever they wish, there’s no confirmation of sources, no codes, and in general what you are seeing over the past years is the disappearance  of journalistic principles: how to select the correct information, how to make a clear opinion. You can write something in social media nowadays and where is the confirmation that is has anything near to the truth?

What guidelines are there for making decisions that are unpopular?

First of all, a clear strategy to communicate the measures which need to be taken. You have to prepare the general population and the media for the decisions you have to transmit. If you have a clear strategy that you know how to deal with it in each moment.  External circumstances can always change, but when you have a strategy it means you have an aim to see you through the storm. That’s why it is so important that you have communicators who know in each moment how to release the news, to reassure people that these measures are temporary and in aim of a wider strategy designed to improve the situation. The other important step is to measure the impact in each moment of what you are doing, to seek to understand how people are reacting to your decision-making, and what impact your decisions are having on their lives. Of course you can tactically change your messages at any moment, but always keep the objectives aligned with the initial purpose with which began your decision-making process.

A member of the Oversight Committee of Portuguese Intelligence System, António Rodrigues has been a lawyer and legal consultant since 1985. He was professor of European Law and Constitutional Law at Lisbon University and a World Bank and UE expert on missions in Angola and Cabo Verde from 1999 to 2009. He was also member of the Portuguese Parliament from 1995-1999 and again from 2011-2015, vice president of the parliamentary group PSD, a member of the European Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, president of the  parliamentary group Portugal UK and member of the parliamentary assembly Union for the Mediterranean. António is also a columnist at the Jornal Económico, and has collaborated with Diário Económico, Económico on-line, Económico TV, Sol and RTP as well as publishing several books.