Part One: The structured observation method

"Have ye not known? Hath ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning?" Isaiah: 40:21

Introduction to Part One

This account of the work of Project INISS concentrates on the first phase of the project, which involved observation of staff at work in five social services departments. Much of this publication is based directly on the final report of Project INISS, stages 1 and 2. (Wilson et al., 1978).

We decided to publish this account because of growing interest in observation as a method of studying information use and because social services staff are showing increasing concern about their own information practices and requirements.

The project team consisted of:

Dr T D Wilson Project Head
David R Streatfield Principal Investigator
Christine Mullings Senior Research Worker
Vivienne Lcwndes-Smith Research Worker
Barbara Pendleton Research Worker

This account draws heavily upon the work of all members of the team and the editors gratefully acknowledge their debt to their colleagues in the team as well as to a large number of people in other organizations, including the social services departments in which they worked.


Considerable variation was noted in the nomenclature employed by social services departments to describe geographical and administrative subdivisions of the localities which they served. Project INISS adopted 'neutral' terms not regularly employed within social services departments, when confusion might otherwise be caused. For the purposes of this report the following terms have been used:

AUTHORITY The local authority departments in general and the geographical localities they serve.
DEPARTMENT The social services department as a whole.
HEADQUARTERS The headquarters building(s) of the department and the services provided by headquarters staff.
ZONE Primary division of the authority for the administrative purposes of a department. Ihe term is employed when a non-metropolitan county using a three tier geographical/ administrative system is described. (See figure 2).
SECTOR Secondary division of the authority and a sub-division of the zone or primary division of a metropolitan district or London Borough when a two tier geographical/administrative system is described. (See figures 1 and 2).
SECTION Tertiary division of the authority and a sub-division of the sector or secondary division of an authority and sub-division of the sector when a two tier system is described, for example a fieldwork team or a headquarters training section. (See figure 1).
DIVISION Vertical grouping of a range of services covering one or more administrative tiers e.g., field services division; finance division.
Two tier department
Three tier department


  • Wilson, T.D., Streatfield, D.S., Mullings, C., Lowndes-Smith, V., and Pendleton, B. (1978) Information needs and information services in local authority social services departments (Project INISS). Final report... on stages 1 and 2. October 1975-December, 1977. London: British Library. (British Library R & D Report Series No. 5453. 2 vols.)

Home Page | Contents Page | Next Chapter