Civil servants need a larger sensus plebianus

5th May 2000 at 01:00
ONLY London's cab-drivers were unsurprised to discover earlier this year that "doing the knowledge" makes your brain grow - or at least the part of it which has to do with space and geography.

It is clearly only a matter of time before doing the knowledge becomes part of Curriculum 2000, and student motor bikes are as necessary as computers. But it is not only students who could do with enlarging parts of their brain, and the taxi-driver research by the Institute of Neurology may have done training and staff development managers an unintended favour.

The best preparation for managing one's own budget and making one's own plan must be "doing the knowledge" on the funding mechanisms which govern resources.

Studying the budget and how it influences the college plan must enlarge that part of the brain concerned with prioritising and making choices. All staff could do with this. Let us call the choice-making part of the brain the "selector".

It's important that we all develop the problem-solving capacity of the brain.

This is located in the "query", named like the "hippocampus" after its shape.

In colleges the query is most enlarged by studying the knowledge to be gained from official papers. Not only is this generally valuable, but those staff who gain this know-ledge and expand this part of the brain are well-placed to become senior advisers to the principal, and may look to a future at the top.

Research will soon show that staff who are still employed in colleges, despite the changes of erms, conditions and specialisms which have been necessary for survival, have already developed fully the part of the brain governing adaptability, which we may call the Vicarius Braiis. Those still at large in colleges have in common the size of their Vicarii Braiorum, named after the cleric who survived longer than most.

But is it fair that college staff and students and taxi-drivers, should be the only groups to take advantage of this new method of brain development? Oh no.

Civil servants, talented as they are, need to expand that part of the brain known as the sensus plebianus (or common sense). They can do this by "doing the knowledge" in colleges, tracking a few of the initiatives they thought would be easily implemented. With a larger area of common sense, the initiatives might be made more workable from the start.

Senior members of the Government would benefit from developing to the full the part of the brain which has to do with effective delegation. They could do this by taking a work placement on the board s of any college with a grade 1 for governance. Doing the knowledge of how the board works might develop their ability to differentiate between governance and management, and encourage them to judge by outcomes rather than to attempt to dictate methodology. They might also learn to discriminate between a vision and a plan.

Next, we need research into how to reduce the size of some parts of the brain.

But that's another story.

Anne Smith is a former college principal

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