International Insider – Lost in Translation, January 2018

29 Jan, 2018

Lost in Translation
A Conversation About Global Public Affairs 

Name: Spencer Mahony
Title: Director, International
Company: FiscalNote
Tenure in position: 1.5 years
Location: Washington, D.C.

Q: You previously worked for the British Embassy in Beijing, Mumbai and Washington. What skills did you develop that aid you in your work with FiscalNote today?

One of the key things I used to do is take ministers to meet their interlocutors and business leaders to discuss how regulation or incentives could enable job growth and trade. I am not sure if this is a skill, but “briefing up” to discuss issues ranging from healthcare to energy to engineering, often all in one morning, and then managing the range of follow up actions, provided much inspiration for the global issues management system we have developed. Knowledge of political and influencing processes is valued, but it is understanding the pressures global affairs professionals face that helps inform how we deploy our technology to address their pain points.

Q: What is the main challenge you’ve faced working in global public affairs?

One of the biggest challenges has always been prioritization: what are our key issues, what impact do they have on our organization, where are these issues presenting the biggest risk, and how are we mobilizing the appropriate resources and stakeholders to respond to these issues. At a very practical level, the speed and medium in which information reached me was also a problem. I would often spend countless hours on the phone with staff in different time zones trying to get intelligence when really I should have already had intel and used those calls for decision making. It has been incredibly rewarding to develop digital tools and data to help organizations ensure issues from around the world are identified, analyzed and prioritized in the appropriate and more time efficient ways. Frankly, the ability to help other public affairs professionals solve these challenges was the reason I was attracted to FiscalNote.

Q: What is one superpower that would make your job in public affairs easier?

The ability to understand all languages and cultures. For example, understanding Chinese regulatory information was challenging not only because of the language barrier, but also because of the political system and culture around it. Interestingly, Europe was not that dissimilar, since member states, despite being bound by the same rules, implement rules differently and the starting positions in negotiations vary greatly. As a company, we are making progress translating languages and have mapped political processes, but computers can never replace understanding the culture around the rules and how people intend to interact with them. That would be a real superpower for my work.

Q: What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office in the morning?

The first thing I do is drink several cups of tea plus, if I am lucky, eat some crumpets I have smuggled back from my last European trip. The first “work thing” I do is prepare for my day using our GRM system, which means I check progress of international policy issues for companies I will meet with, look at colleagues’ background notes on individuals and, finally, see if there are any relevant press articles stored against them. Once I feel prepared enough, it is time for another cup of tea and a look through the printed edition of Financial Times, as I still love flicking through print news.

Q: What did you have for lunch today?

I am currently on a business trip in Brussels and had fabulous quiche and salad. I dread to think what calorific mix was in it, but it was a great pick me up from all the grey and rain!