Defence of the Realm
Major projects in national defence and security
Public defence contractors and private sector suppliers across a four-year period.
The clients suspected their product design, management life cycle and skills planning could be improved with substantive historical insight. As such, the clients sought fresh historical data, quantitative and qualitative, to underpin the development of new projects and enhance existing ones.
These large projects required extensive coordination over periods of many months. Moreover, they took place within a context of commercial confidentiality and national security, and as such, discretion was vital. Given that team members often worked on multiple projects simultaneously, compartmentalisation was key.
We worked with consortia of up to five personnel, researching in multiple source repositories and conducting interviews with key project participants. Archives were often physically massive, unsorted and required complex technical interpretation, including in pre-decimalised metrics and with esoteric, experimental parameters, often at high volume and speed.
These projects involved ingenuity and adaptability beyond that which some researchers are exposed to in their whole careers. Project life cycles were often so long that starting our research focusing on the 1940s became the baseline. Rolling with the punches, as it were, was a daily working skill and enabled team members to further develop resourcefulness and resilience.
Our primary finding was essentially that the client was correct: in line with extant studies of megaprojects, particularly infrastructure, rich and contextualised historical data can indeed usefully inform future decision-making for large programmes.
Outcomes and impact
Outputs included reports, presentations, policy briefings, and toolkits.
Understanding each project from the clients’ perspective was vital. Clients were technically proficient, intelligent and interested, though not used to incorporating this kind of evidence into their plans. As such, clear presentational skills – written, verbal and data visuals – were essential, as was proactively embedding our findings into broader sectoral debates and developments.
Our impact was substantial. Perhaps most gratifyingly, some years later, we are reliably informed that the investment was worthwhile: ‘These are still used’.