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Mass Observation - Recording everyday life in Britain

The Mass Observation Project

MO Directives

The Mass Observation Project (MOP) is a unique UK based national life writing project about everyday life in Britain. It is a valuable resource, for research, teaching and learning. With its link to the original Mass Observation, it captures the experiences, thoughts and opinions of everyday people in the 21st century.

The MOP was revived in 1981 and currently has a national Panel of 500 volunteer participants who respond to “Directives” or open-ended questions sent to them by post or email three times a year. The Directives contain two or three broad themes which cover both very personal issues and wider political and social issues and events. Participants retain anonymity and therefore write openly and candidly.

The Project collaborates with academics nationally, across disciplines to commission Directives . For further information on how to collaborate visit here.

The material

The rich and unique material solicited comprises in-depth accounts (both opinion and experience) of everyday life: stories, memoirs, lists, letters, diagrams, drawings, maps, diaries, photographs, press cuttings, confessions, reports on people, places and events, across a wide variety of topics.

Over 4,500 people have taken part to date, many of them corresponding over several years. It is therefore rich in qualitative longitudinal material. For more information about becoming a Mass Observer, visit our page about writing for us.

The MOP differs from other similar social investigations because of its historical link to the original Mass Observation and because of its focus is on voluntary, self-motivated participation. It revives the early Mass Observation notion that everyone can participate in creating their own history or social science. The Mass Observers do not constitute a statistically representative sample of the population but can be seen as reporters or “citizen journalists” who provide a window on their worlds.

Accessing material online

Selected Directive responses collected as part of the Mass Observation Project in the 1980s are available for research online. In 2012 the University of Sussex received JISC funding for a project called Observing the 1980s. This project brings together ‘voices’ from the Mass Observation Project and the British Library’s Oral History collections alongside 1980s documents and ephemera from the University of Sussex Library.  For more information visit the Observing the 1980s webpage.