Part Two: The results and conclusions

"In the age of information man the foodgatherer returns as manthefactfinder" M. McLuan Counterblast.

Introduction to Part Two

Constraints on the Project

Project INISS has focused on the communication of work-related information within social services departments by looking at the information behaviour of headquarters staff, fieldwork teams, at the relationship between them and at the information roles of certain specialist, advisory and administrative support staff. Large numbers of social services staff, from hospital social workers and community workers to day and residential staff were excluded from the study because of limitations of time and resources. Although Project INISS was funded by a department of the British Library and was based in a School of Librarianship and Information Science, great strength was drawn from the multi-disciplinary background of the research team and deliberate efforts were made to exploit the work already carried out in a number of adjacent fields of knowledge.

The fact that the project was inspired, planned and financed from outside social services departments provided both advantages and limitations. Intervention in departments was achieved through negotiation with senior management leading to sane modification of proposed procedures but we are satisfied that this process did not compromise the project's aims. A further danger was that the team would be identified by the staff of departments with the interests of senior management. Efforts were made to publicize our intentions within the departments and as far as we were able to judge staff appeared to view us as well-informed outsiders. Our 'outsider' status enabled us to observe and ask about issues which could not have been dealt with directly by other staff of the department, on the other hand detailed examination of a number of issues underlying information communication in departments was precluded. Two of these issues deserve brief mention here:

  • whether departments provide appropriate responses to the problems they exist to meet, or whether they should be regarded as perpetuating bad social conditions by ameliorating their very worst effects and diffusing possible reaction to those effects (see, for example, Bailey & Brake, 1975)
  • whether the adoption of different organizational structures (for example, by centralizing fieldwork teams) or management approaches (by reducing the number of internal meetings or other means) would result in more effective communication.

A project with the base, resources and objectives of Project INISS clearly could not do more than bear in mind problems of these kinds.


Apart from the difficulties of compressing nine 'man-years' of work into comprehensible reports suitable for different audiences one reporting constraint presents special difficulties, that imposed by the need to maintain confidentiality.

A necessary component in any programme aimed at acquiring data under 'natural' conditions is the assurance that replies to questions or behaviour observed will be treated as confidential. This does present problems in reporting the findings. In presenting a picture of the activities of staff we were torn between describing events in such a guarded manner that their interest was submerged and presenting a true to life account which would present the possibility of individual identification. Observation subjects proved to be particularly understanding about this problem and all but two subjects have unconditionally agreed to the publication of the accounts presented to them. The scope for criticism of individual information transactions or patterns of information behaviour was inevitably limited by this approach, particularly when the information behaviour of an individual is related to the organization and management of his department. It is difficult both to give sufficient information to make any such comments comprehensible and to preserve anonymity. Our responses to this problem are described in the remainder of this report.


  • Bailey, R. & Brake, M. (1975) Radical social work. London: Arnold

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