Our Panel

Welcome to our second blog. As you can imagine, for the Mass Observation Project (MOP), this is an exciting collaboration. It will shed new light on our writers, some of whom have been writing since it started in 1981 and provide valuable resource tools for future researchers.

Mass Observation Panel

The Mass Observation Panel includes both male and female writers, ranging in age from 18 to their late 80’s, living across the UK, with various occupations and household statuses. However, the question of representativeness with regards to who they are, does continue to be raised. In recent years a criteria was put in place to balance the Panel, with recruitment requirement being male, aged 16-44, living outside of the South East. This has made a difference to the balance of the Panel, however, as volunteers, we cannot guarantee who will respond to each Directive.

Researchers Interests

Researchers across a wide range of academic disciplines have used MOP over the decades, both thematically and longitudinally. The in-depth narrative responses, written anonymously are often used alongside other data sources. For Professor Carol Smart, who has commissioned numerous Directives, she writes

‘You never quite know what you will find in their written responses but the depth and variety of the experiences Panellists write about are invaluable. We have explored friendship and also donor conception. On both occasions we used the MOP as part of a mixed methods approach, for example combined with in-depth interviews or focus groups with other samples of respondents. The written responses, we have found, add another dimension to research findings gleaned through other methods. I am quite convinced that the MOP gives sociological research access to ‘parts that other methods cannot reach’ and this arises largely from the commitment that Panellists have to the Project and their willingness to write in very personal ways.

Upcoming Event 24th June

Rose will be speaking about the developments of Defining Mass Observation at an event we’re hosting in London on 24th June ‘Mass Observing Today; Opportunities for new research’. The event will be a chance to hear from previous commissioners on their reasons for collaborating with the Mass Observation Project; research findings, funding and their next steps in using the data.

Keep an eye on our website http://www.massobs.org.uk for the event details coming soon or drop us an e-mail if you’re interested in finding out more moa@sussex.ac.uk.



Welcome to our first blog!

We were delighted to find out that we were successful in gaining funding from the ESRC to begin work on the ‘Defining Mass Observation’ project; and we are thrilled that that this is a collaborative project, with academics working in partnership with the Mass Observation Archive (MOA).

The project aims to find out more about the 4,000 people who have been writing for the contemporary Mass Observation Project (MOP) since it started in 1981.  We hope this will benefit a wide range of communities: schools, adult education groups, community groups, lay researchers, academics, policy makers and practitioners.

Why we are doing this

For some time there has been a debate about the ‘representativeness’ of the MOP writers. The MOA has undertaken some basic analyses of its writers, and found that at certain points in the lifetime of the MOP, writers have been over-represented by women, aged 50+, living in the South East. Using these analyses, some academics have argued that the MOP writers are not representative of the broader UK population, and thus their writing should not be used for research purposes. Other academics have argued that the depth and quality of MOP writing makes it a unique longitudinal resource that can be used by a range of different types of researchers, from all walks of life, and from any disciplinary field.  Unfortunately this debate has impacted on the trust and use of the archive.

This project aims to finally put an end to this debate by producing sophisticated analyses of MOP writers that provide clear descriptions of writers and their socio-economic characteristics, and insights into how writers perceive themselves.  This will enable all users of the archive to be confident about how and why they use this resource.

What we hope to achieve by the end of the project

At the end of this project we will have produced several outputs that will be of direct benefit to the users and potential users of the MOP:

  • An interactive, online, searchable database, enabling archive users to undertake a wide variety of searches of writer characteristics and responses to different directives.  This will be accessible through the MOA website.
  • Published accessible reports and articles describing MOP writers, that will be of interest to lay and academic audiences
  • A day conference launching the interactive database.


The project will run until 2016.  We aim to provide regular updates on our progress. So please keep visiting.

And, please leave comments!  We would love to know what you think about the project, and the website.