Local sources of information can be immensely valuable when assessing the threat level at a location. These local sources may include host country national employees, expatriate employees or expatriates affiliated with another organization, employees of vendors or others. They are often able to provide excellent insight as they are there on the ground in the location in question, can see what is going on and assess its impact and generally are familiar with the country and its culture. They can often provide information not found in media sources or through the typical subscriber sources discussed in an earlier post. In certain cases they can be tasked to resolve information which may be unclear or disputed. However, it is very important when using local sources to take their information in context.
There are a number of factors that may color the information a local source reports so it should not be taken at face value. Things that may be perceived as normal or non-threatening to a local national source may be very alarming to a visiting businessperson from the US or Europe. A person that has grown up in a country with frequent political unrest, a high rate of violent crime or similar issues frequently develops a level of acceptance of these problems and may not see them in the same light as a visitor from abroad.
There is also sometimes a concern that the local source will deliberately understate the extent of a problem in his reporting if he feels that the repercussions of being too forthright may affect him adversely. An example would be a local country manager that downplays the degree of political instability in his country out of fear that being truthful might cause the company to withdraw, therefore costing him his livelihood. This may be reflected the opposite way as well as in the case of a local security provider hyping the threat situation to make it appear worse that it is to ensure continued business. Even long-term expatriates may provide information that is colored by living for years in another country. During a recent assessment at a location in sub-SaharanAfrica, the author met with several expatriates that had been victims of crime and that knew other expatriates that had been the victim of more violent incidents. While admitting these types of crimes occurred with some frequency the expatriates also dismissed the problem as “not very bad” or “not as bad as reported”. This reflects the different level of tolerance that a long-term resident may have in comparison with a short-term visitor traveling on company business.
Whether it is done for deliberate and selfish reasons or simply as a result of a different frame of reference or tolerance for risk, local source reporting may not always be as accurate or complete as the company needs. Recognizing that these biases or predispositions exist is very important when working with local sources. They can be some of the best resources available when assessing risk to company operations overseas but it is essential to keep their reporting in perspective and look at it as a piece of the threat and risk assessment and not the definitive final word.