Tavistock Institute for Human Relations


Juliet Scott - Principal Consultant & Artist
Meg Davies - Operations Manager

Juliet Scott, Principal Consultant & Artist and Meg Davis, Operations Manager for the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, talk about the way the Institute has used Social Science to explore contemporary issues and problems throughout the last century.

Wellcome Trust are now the custodians of the archive, both the paper material and the born digital collections, however the Tavistock Institute promotes the collection through means of festivals, exhibitions and dance performances.


Tavistock Institute for Human Relations: https://www.tavinstitute.org/

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello and welcome to the Mass Communications 2021 podcast, the CBC podcast, the we explore various archives and collections. My name is Dave Williams, and I'm joined today by David Scott, principal consultant and artist for the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, and Mark Davis, the operations manager. Hello to you, both. How are you doing? Would you like to? Did you stop and talk about what you did at Tavistock Institute? Hi, faith. Yeah, hi. Well, yeah, it's good to be talking to you. Yeah, a little bit about the Thomas Cook Institute. We're a social science organization, not for profit charity. We've been going for over 70 years now, coming off nearly 75 years. We do a number of different things, but based upon kind of really societal change. So kind of helping people with kind of problems, you know, and through research, evaluation, organizational development and change projects and also through education. We also publish we have a A Journal of the Human Relations journal. Yeah, that's me. Yeah. And hi, faith. So I am operations manager at Telstra Institute. I've been here for five years. I first got involved with the archive in my very first year and it was the first project I worked on. We did a really big 70th anniversary festival that was based around the archive and the paper archive specifically. So it's very involved with planning that. And then my role was kind of developed in times of the Toxic City Archive into the born digital collection because the festival was so popular and we had so many requests to see more up to date material. So we realized that that was a pretty big demand for the digital experience to be made available as well. And so I've been working on that since 2019, which has been really interesting to work on the cheap price, the paper, the digital the same time. So what type of material are you dealing with? You said it is paper and digital, but what kind of content there? So it's really it's a kind of record of that work over quite a long period of time, so it really is very sick in terms of kind of like physical material. The first phase of the project we started in 2012 was the phase two kind of process. Basically, thousands and thousands of boxes and those boxes were they were kept in a storage facility. It wasn't a proper kind of all kinds of facility. They weren't easy to access and we were getting more and more request requests from researchers basically who are interested in the material. And that was what kind of light really prompted us to take the project forward. So that's the kind of physical content of the kind of intellectual content or the records are really telling the story. So saying that we're a we're a social science organization that works about social science in action. So they are records that really tell stories of the kinds of projects that members of the institute were involved in from what kind of early from the 1930s onwards. And so these were psychoanalysts. They were sociologists, they were anthropologists. They were a real kind of like eclectic group of people who were addressing kind of, you know, societal problems. So kind of examples of that are things like war officer selection. So this was in the kind of war period. So understanding, you know, kind of recognizing that leadership wasn't necessarily a quality that was located in kind of the aristocracy that leaders could be selected based on their merit. And, you know, really these people bringing sort of rigorous methods to understanding those kind of processes and then bringing that into selection of army officers and that was happening with the Navy and other organizations and then moving on postwar around civil resettlement and people coming back from war, traumatized, helping and supporting them to kind of move into their communities. And, you know, and so loads and loads of records of projects like that, and you can imagine how they kind of unfold. So then it went on to kind of questions of working with Unilever selection processes and how do you sort of select people for kind of organization's seminal pieces of work around nursing and what happens within the nursing environment and hospital environments around care known as social defenses against anxiety? A woman called Isabel Menzies led. So I mean, it's rich, rich, rich. So you know, there are many, many projects aren't there. Yeah. And we also there's also a really interesting phase, which I loved when I started working on the festival around market research and starting to realize that there was you could, I don't know, psychoanalyze is the right way to put it, but you could psychoanalyze people and match advertising to them to kind of target the advertising. So there are some really interesting reports where they did some experiments around who prefers what type of fish finger and what do cats lovers and dog lovers like? How could they target pet food at the Adobe degree? And they don't surface level, and it's so, so interesting that the cat lovers. But it's really interesting as to how they characterize people that loves cats compared to people like dogs. And in terms of the more up to date digital material, we have a lot more governance. So it's a lot more about how the institute actually functions on a day to day basis throughout the nineties. And there's also a lot about professional development courses. So we run a comprehensive relations conference every single year called the Leicester Conference, and we have records from every year going right back and say with lots of modern day professional development courses, it's really interesting things like write ups of how, of course, in feedback from participants, which you know to read from the 1970 be fascinating. So that there's a lot in the photos we have now when the digital collection, which is really nice color images from print events. Just I'm very eclectic. What kind of research requests are you getting? You must get some really interesting inquiries. Well, that I suppose, because we don't the collection itself now is at the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Collection, so part of our project was, you know, our partnership with them to for them to take the material. And the reason that they weren't kind of interested in it was that it would kind of go alongside some key collections like John Bowlby, six psycho analyst of the 20th century Melanie Kline, Donald Winnicott kind of held in the collection. So the Tavistock Institute kind of work was kind of add to that. So I think that, you know, the kind of research interest the kind of would would be in relation to that. So people who are quite kind of preoccupied with that or interested in that kind of history, but also kind of interested in in in in it tells a story, I suppose, of the 20th century. It tells the story of the social kind of preoccupations, what kinds of issues of things that were being kind of like worked through by society at particular times. So I think it's both a kind of historical record and a social record. And then it's kind of also of interest to people who come from professions like psychoanalysis, but also people who were interested in organizational development and change and understanding how that happens and who doesn't. But where we don't know who's kind of where the requests are coming from, because that's more in the domain of the reading room at the library. But we've also been quite interested in other kinds of access. So kind of artists, dancers, we've had a number of and at the festival that Meg mentioned, we had an acting school who has done a number of kind of like really, really fun reenactments of it. Many of the using going, the students going into the archive, researching the archive and then kind of like putting on a kind of performance. So one we did our 70th anniversary festival just reenacting little vignettes, you know, from from those from these studies. And then more recently, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the NHS, we did a piece around nursing. We did that in the Reading Room at the Wellcome libraries to do that as well. Looking into the kind of. No routines, ways, interactions, conversations that nurses would have rewards and what those kind of perhaps told us about what it means to be a nurse and the difficulties and challenges that kind of environment. So those are the kinds of things, but we've also some we also had some. They will Viney from the goldsmiths, who was very interested in a piece of work that the institute did more recently with the London Lighthouse and where personalization of care for patients with HIV and AIDS was beginning to be sort of piloted and looked into. And Will's got a real deep interest in that and is looking in it, into it and researching it in relation to cancer care in the current day. So, you know, archival material and forming kind of current work as well as research. Yeah. So you've got a close relationship with the Wellcome Trust, but you mentioned before that obviously the the archive used to be sort of stored in boxes in a corner almost. What challenges came about through that relationship in that project development? Well, I can speak probably a little more about the digital, the challenges we have with the digital, which essentially was really challenging because there's just so much of it because I suppose with the paper archive, that was a finite amount and it could be physically sorted. So yes, this is archival material. No, it isn't. Therefore, we will store it somewhere else or we will shredders or whatever we decided to do with it. I think with the the digital content, we want a national scoping grant because we're a not-for-profit, so we need to kind of balance that cataloging process. So that was a real positive that came out of it, the National Security Archives, something that allowed us to fund students who could catalog that digital material that, you know, you say a word document 15 times, maybe, and all of them are on the south side. And the challenge was making that decision was the cut off. Do you want the original version? Do you want the finished version and which version is the finished version? So yeah, that was a big challenge in terms of the digital material and also because it's a lot easier to keep it. It's a lot easier to hold on to it. So making movies quite ruthless decisions about right. We're going to transfer this to, well, we're not going to retain it. It's a lot easier to say, well, we could do both because we've got a bit of room on the server, but not really goes against the the point of archiving, which is that you're archiving it and you're sending it to the world to be the custodians of it. If we keep it here as well, it's it's a bit of a cross purposes. So that has been a challenge with the digital. And then Julia, you probably know a lot more about the challenges of the the boxes, but billions of boxes? Yeah. And the other thing I think relation to digital is that it's something about persuading our colleagues here about their legacy so that there is some sort of value in preserving all of this material. So kind of what we were trying to do all along is bring this project into the current day. So it's not just about the old stuff, it's also about who we are as an organization right now, so that we have a kind of like dynamic kind of relationship with our past and our history. But there's also people in the present day kind of doing majorly interesting pieces of work. I mean, we're currently doing a number of projects around sort of, you know, supporting organizations at the frontline of COVID, you know, and kind of learning a lot. So I think in the future, those documents will be interesting documents of these times, you know, so so yeah, persuading people that their current work is kind of valuable. Yeah. And then going into the challenges of the paper, I mean that just, yeah, moving all of those boxes around and we very eccentrically right. At the beginning of the project, one of our trustees gave us an empty space and we were able to kind of like and move all of the boxes into this kind of old office with a kitchen and and we'd go down to Teddington on a kind of, you know, like weekly basis and sort through all of these boxes. And yeah, just moving them around was a challenge to do to do the initial sourcing. Wow. It's like you've done could go on and on about challenges, I suppose. Incredible that you've kind of taken it from paper and then the early sort of digital bondage to especially to this really strong relationship with, as you say, welcome our custodians of your archive, but you still have to curated yourself. That's a lot of work done really well and you have any do you have another dream in mind? Do you have any further that you want to or are you happy with the progress that you've made so far? I think we do. I think are met again. The festival was a wonderful event, so that was a kind of it was this thing that we that we. It was in 2017, it was four days we had these performances, we had what else did we have like we had? Well, we have the material. Alex, who said the same thing in a really glorious church called Garden of the Swiss Church, which was just a beautiful lighting. And when I joined the institute, Juliette was very clear that the whole point of our archive is not that it just sits in the well can be accessed by research, as he probably already quite familiar with. The idea is that we want people who may not be familiar with. I wanted to look into that because there are so many interesting faces. And so, yeah, the festival was really great in the fact that anyone could come in off the streets and just have a look. And we did have people coming in and saying, Oh, this is, you know, there were things about salary comparisons from the 19 through to modern day news. It's very relevant things like that. So that was, yeah, that was a big dream that we realized, I think, for the archive. Yeah. And then all of the events were taking place around the archival material. So we would have dances and people dancing and artists kind of improvising and the material being thrown all over it and running different types of events. Social grooming, which is something that we've done quite a lot of work with with the archive. But yeah, in terms of the future, we're also having conversations. So moment working with the kind of research center, a dance research center and with an interest in what dancers might, you know, kind of dancers might break into research in the archives because there's a lot of it's quite it's a bit intangible to explain, but there's a lot of experiential learning in art tradition. Meg mentioned the last conference. So these are kind of experiences that are run annually where we where we set up a temporary organization, people entering and they learn from the kind of interactions in the sort of present day. So what we're hoping, yeah, with this, with this is that is to get a kind of research project going that maybe kind of starts to sort of access the archive using more embodied methodologies. So not not, you know, not kind of accessing using traditional research, maybe using dance as a method of inquiry because it's also kind of open up questions around access to the archive, but also thinking a little bit around will archives represent? So I think we have been quite a project has been quite challenging in that respect as well as what does it mean to work with an organization's history? So I think we want to keep on with that and and on with different ways. And as an artist, I've continued being part of the project as I work, I've been working with artifacts and objects from the archive myself, so that's continued practice. But yeah, we don't know with the born digital stuff that it's a whole new thing of what that will be because of course, people will be able to. They'll be able to access it differently won't be anywhere it needs to be there physically. And what will that open up in terms of possibilities and ways of of of understanding or work? Yeah. And as the institute's operations manager, I would my my hope for the digital archive is that we can avoid being in the situation we were in 2019 where we were looking at those in one version see that we can start to kind of get. Our staff into a headspace is thinking about archiving when they're working on the project, so they're thinking about the outputs and that we're already thinking. This report is definitely something that would fit with the archive. Therefore, I'm going to say it's all ready for archive and then say in ten minutes time or however long we think should be. The confidentiality reasons we can just say, Look, here's a lot archival material from 2021. And I think it is something that organizations, not just our organizations, will help to get my head around because we are just producing so many items, online items that have to be stored on a server which uses a lot of electricity, which is not particularly good for the environment. And we can't just keep doing that. There has to be some way of sorting this material. So this is the first stage, and I'm hopeful that. It will lead to a more kind of streamlined process in terms of our work and. Do you think that that fits in quite nicely with the Tavistock Institute and own sort of foundational goals, you know, human relations and how we relate to our past and our current processes and things like that? It sounds like it slots in quite nicely to me. Yeah, absolutely, and that's that's what the whole project has tried to do, that is that we've said that we would, we wouldn't. The project would never be a kind of technical archiving, exercise and cataloging exercise. It would be about really pushing the boundaries. It would be about asking questions about the past, the present and future, our location in it, the work that we do. Also asking questions around the library. So, you know, welcome library you work with. You know what, that institution and with its focus on kind of health and health science and what it means to hold an archive, which is more about the softer human relational processes that's telling all of those stories. They also have a kind of connection in the relationship with health and wellbeing and how we, you know, how, how , how we all are as humans and how we interact. So we have all the way through. And that was what the kind of festival was about, as well as making it participatory, making it dynamic, embodying all principles in the way that we all colleagues. Yeah. Quite difficult, but we I think we've done it. We've held that integrity, haven't we, all the way through? Yeah, and it has been, you know, that there is a challenge in keeping that alongside other organization alive because it is very easy to kind of say, well, that's the archive. It's not going anywhere. It's not going anywhere. We can wait another three years until we sold check. But if we don't, we got ourselves into a panic also. Yeah, that has an advantage as well. The through all of your sifting of material to such an eclectic archive, what are your favorite items? I mean, the cat person, the dog person. So it's quite interesting to me. What other gems do you have? Yeah, but I would recommend this llama, so it's pretty interesting. I'm a cat person. Definitely. I really like the Leicester conference document because I worked on the conference and administrative role for the past couple of years, and I plan to do so again this year. Fingers crossed. And it's just really interesting because we could use similar documents in today in the modern conference. But the use of language is completely different. In the way that we would discuss participants now is completely different. So looking back at those older version, it's it's just like a timeline as human society, essentially and how people interacted with each other. And it it's just really interesting. Yeah, I think that know the Consumer Reports, the archivists love the Consumer Reports, when when, when we took the kind of cataloging and the pet foods and the fish fingers and all of those, and they were telling a story about attitudes really and changing attitudes, particularly in relation to women and housewives. And, you know, the types of products that they were, that they were they were using and and why. My favorite piece is, I think, all of that. It's not really one, but I. There are lots of handwritten, reflective notes, which is really a core principle. So, you know, it's the way that we work to create this sense of understanding that psychoanalytical understanding what's going on to yourself. And so people, when you when you research it, because that's as much part of the, you know, the situation, you know, you kind of sit and look at it from the outside and say, there are things like projects where actually research projects where the researchers went to see, you know, they got on the boats and they, you know, young women in the 1970s who would end up in port, you know, with a whole bunch of sailors who were, you know, probably jumping off the boat to do some quite unsavory things. And the notes are just full of like just visceral detail, you know, like, it was stormy. You know, I felt sick. You like right down to the, you know, every single moment everyone was behaving because of the storm, people were behaving like idiots or they were all shut up in their cabins. You know, but but just day after day of these kind of meetings as a my favorite thing. Yeah, I am definitely going to have to check out your material. Welcome. Is it is it all available online or do you have to go to the physical library to see some of it? You do have to go to the physical library to view it at the moment, I think. Welcome are going through the process at the moment with digitizing a lot of material. Probably accelerated by cavers, I imagine. And so we're hopeful, especially with some of the digital material as well, that that can be made available online. So at the moment, you have to that through the local library and I think that they reopen on May 17. So they are going to. Fantastic, thank you so much for talking to us today. It's been really interesting here, but we do at the stop. As you said, too, that it kind of really showcases how we've come forward in our society over the past century, sort of attitudes, management and psychology and our world is totally different than it was 100 years ago. Even so, it's really exciting that you have all this material that documents that. And it seems like the partnership with Welcome really has helped showcase your material has been very positive. Thank you to both do it being really likely. Thanks, Farai. Thank you. Bye. Bye bye.