Quantitative network analysis of appointment diaries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Social & Political Sciences


Research on diaries, while well-established across the social sciences and humanities, has either focussed on the narrative content of unsolicited personal diaries, or on their solicited use as a research tool. Appointment diaries have received little attention to date. Using quantitative methods provides a means of exploiting the mass of data available in such sources in a systematic way for the first time. This will create a novel form of individual biography, or collective biography when the individual diaries are linked together.

This approach will be applied to three illustrative cases: the appointment diaries of Margaret Thatcher (covering 1962-90), those of Harold Wilson (covering 1958-60 and 1966-88) and the private office diaries of ministers and permanent secretaries in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) 1986-93. The first two cases provide long series of diaries which allow a clear understanding of career development on their paths to being Prime Minister and thereafter. The third case, which includes Lord Young, Francis Maude, John Redwood, Neil Hamilton and Alan Clark, provides a consistent set of diaries for a group of individuals allowing a more collective form of biography of the department. This can also be linked to the records of Margaret Thatcher and will illustrate the nature of political relationships within the government and with wider society, in particular, with business. In addition to creating a novel form of biography, the research will inform a range of debates about the Thatcher governments, the role of Prime Minister, the everyday life of ministers and the networks in which they operate from a unique perspective.

From the experience of working with these individual cases it will be possible to draw up a template for other social scientists interested in exploiting this previously unused source. The project is timely because with the now widespread use of electronic diaries analysis of this type of information has become much more straightforward. The third case, that of the DTI ministers has been selected in part because these records were created as an early form of electronic diary system. This will provide insights into 'born-digital' records (those created from origin in digital form). The preservation and use of such born digital records is a key issue facing archivists and historians at the moment and so analysis of these records can inform and engage with this subject and the community addressing it. It will also provide timely insights into the analysis of such records given the spread of electronic diaries in the workplace and for the individual. To this end, links have been established with archivists, notably at the National Archives.

Indeed, one of the wider impacts envisaged by the project is to explore the potential for the use of electronic appointment diaries as a resource for understanding career development and networks of relationships relevant to individual and organisational performance. In consultation with the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development the project team will address the possible development of a research tool which could be applied by individuals and organisations to their appointment diaries.

This project, bringing together an historian who is a recognised expert in the use of contemporary archival sources with a similarly recognised quantitative social network analysis expert, will transform a source of information presently largely ignored into a key research tool for understanding individuals' career development and the networks within organisations. It will open up a new research field with potential applications across the social sciences and humanities. It will inform the current discussions on working with digital records and provide an evaluation of the potential for its application more widely across society.

Planned Impact

Building on the application of quantitative social science methods to illustrative cases of appointment diaries, this project plans to have three forms of impact. It will inform current debates about the preservation and use of 'born-digital' records (those created in a digital format); it will explore the potential for the use of electronic appointment diaries as a tool for individual and organisational performance development; and it will engage with the public and media about our findings. To deliver this, we will engage with organisations like the National Archives, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) and media outlets. A key element in the delivery of these plans will be the guidance and assistance offered by the Project Advisory Board. This will consist of a mix of academics and practitioners selected to maximise the societal impact of the research (six have already agreed to participate). It will meet face-to-face every six months and virtually the other quarters.

Our mid- and long-term impact will come from the use of born-digital records, that is, those created in a digital form at origin, in this case the appointment diaries of Department of Trade and Industry ministers 1986-93, which were created by an early electronic diary system. Born-digital records raise novel and challenging issues for archivists and for organisations. It is widely recognised that all archives are facing the problem of developing strategies for the preservation and accessing of these records. Systematically using such records as part of this project will allow us to inform the development of effective policies in this area. This role will build on, and support, existing expertise at the University of Glasgow where colleagues in the Centre for Business History in Scotland and the University Archives are engaged in discussions with companies about the preservation and use of such born digital records. Links to expertise in this field in the National Archives, which has taken a lead in this area, have also been established. We will collaborate with colleagues in the Centre for Business History in Scotland to organise an academic-practitioner workshop on born-digital records.

A second aspect also relates to born-digital records. An objective of the project is to explore and evaluate how our research on appointment diaries might be developed into a tool for wider use in society. With the advent of electronic diaries, a huge amount of data has become available which provides insights into everyday life, especially at the workplace. These diaries, if examined systematically will reveal patterns of time use and work as well as provide knowledge of network relationships. This knowledge could then be used to assist individual career development and performance in a novel and cost-effective way. There will be regular discussions with the CIPD to evaluate the viability of developing such a tool such that by the end of the project it should be clear if this should be taken further.

Turning to short-term impact, the decision to use Margaret Thatcher's and Harold Wilson's appointment diaries as illustrative cases was deliberate. Given the ongoing public and media interest in Margaret Thatcher, in particular, this seemed an excellent way to raise public awareness of the project and the new form of biography that will be created. A range of pathways will be used to maximise media engagement. First, existing pathways in the University of Glasgow will be exploited, including the University's Policy Scotland initiative, its Communication and Public Affairs Office and the Festival of Social Sciences. Social media like Twitter and a project Facebook page will supplement a project webpage. Other pathways for media impact will be created specifically for the project. In particular, these will use the networks of members of the academic-practitioner Project Advisory Board.


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