Special Section : Where are the solutions?

23may99: College Lecturer: Managerialism has ousted professionalism

(Full version It really isn't that simple in "A pity about the NVQs)

Everybody looks for somebody to blame for the situation they find themselves in, including me. The general matrix within which this all occurs is a political one and revolves around the four main items on the average voter's wish-list, which are:
  • a better education system
  • a better health care through the NHS with equality of access
  • a better deal for senior citizens
  • lower income taxes, VAT and council taxes
Unfortunately the electorate is not prepared to allow the first three items to compromise the last and so we are stuck. No political party that seriously wants to form a government dares raise taxes and the result is insufficient money in the public purse to satisfy everyone's specific needs.

The emphasis in the public sector has moved from professionalism to managerialism. Once upon a time professionally qualified people in the public sector had a certain amount of autonomy, worked long and hard hours at a high level of probity and were rewarded with security of tenure, society's gratitude and respect, and annual increments. Now nothing exists unless it can be measured and setting targets, devising performance tools by which achievement can be measured and evaluating the results prior to setting new targets and laying new plans is all that matters.

23may99: Robert Garvey: Beyond training

I read the items on this website and feel a sense of depression. We seem to have arrived at a state where those who were once committed professionals are "watching their backs", (See Decline in patient care - Nurse B) filling out forms and generally being managed by systems and process. These systems and processes have little to do with the once core purpose of the nursing profession - patient care and everything to do managerial efficiency. The irony being that often these so-called efficiencies are counter productive.

The following are some thoughts which take us, I hope, into a new world where managerialism is replaced by a different order.

The western world (and other worlds) is rapidly moving towards a knowledge economy - an economy in which the development and application of knowledge replaces capital, raw materials and labour as the means of production. Knowledge management - the explicit and systematic management of knowledge and the associated processes of creating, gathering, organising, diffusion, use and commercial exploitation - forms the basis of organisations in the knowledge economy. It requires, for example, transforming personal knowledge into corporate knowledge that can be widely shared throughout an organisation and appropriately applied.

It is possible to identify some key themes in knowledge management:

  • the importance of knowing what we know, and of releasing the existing (hidden) knowledge in an organisation;
  • enhancing tacit knowledge via strategies for improving interaction and (often but not always) converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge;
  • making knowledge management an explicit function of the organisation and encouraging employees to be confident managers of knowledge, in addition to their other tasks.
Organisations which take knowledge management seriously will share many of the characteristics of the 'learning organisation' familiar in the literature and practice. The link between knowledge management and the learning organisation emphasises the contribution that personnel/personal development can make in the knowledge economy.

A crucial question is what kind of staff development is appropriate here. For a number of reasons the notion of training (or of training alone) shows its limitations in this context above all. In brief, training tends to presuppose that:
  • there is an answer - a problem that can be solved - rather than a difficulty that may have to be worked with.;
  • it is typically short-term;
  • it pre-determines outcome since the purpose of training can be specified in advance;
  • its is skills oriented - to doing rather than being - and thus marginalises the affective and other dimensions of the personal;
  • it is individualistic and does little justice to the organisational, social or political;
Characteristic strategies of an organisation in the knowledge economy include:
  • appointment of a knowledge leader;
  • development of knowledge bases - best practices, expert directories, market intelligence etc;
  • collaborative technologies - intranets or groupware for rapid information access;
  • development of knowledge webs - networks of experts who collaborate across divisions.
There is a danger of pre-determining the kinds of knowledge that are taken to be relevant to the knowledge economy: thinking largely or solely in terms of instrumental/technical knowledge or rationality, as in the examples above. This is the province of training. But organisations in the knowledge economy also emphasise openness (knowledge needs to be seen as public property), the development of new knowledge and new concepts, the importance of awareness (consciousness-raising) of knowledge as a product and process. Its is this that takes us beyond training.

To replace training, then, in the narrower sense, with a wider conception of personnel/personal development, more responsive (to conditions of a knowledge economy, that is), might involve paying closer attention to some of the following: openness, uncertainty, complexity, relationships, reflection, reframing, restoration.

Openness means recognising barriers and personal, organisational and political boundaries, as a step towards removing them when appropriate. To be open is to refuse to decide in advance what might be relevant to personal or organisational development. It involves personal vulnerability. The open organisation seeks feed-back in all kinds of ways; it likes to have a mirror held up to it, accepting that it is not possible to move on until you see where you are. Openness is not facilitated by mission-statements, glossy brochures and other image-management. Intranets and Websites may be a substitute for it rather than a means towards it. There are issues of gender and power (as well as other cultural ones) in openness, and the open organisation and individual acknowledges them.

Uncertainty is the most marked feature of the knowledge economy. The future grows less predictable, the foundations of knowledge less secure. Forms of knowledge are seen to be permeable and such knowledge as we achieve is provisional, our 'best truth'. We learn, in the knowledge economy, to live with doubt and uncertainty instead of supposing that every problem must have a solution. Risk becomes a constant reality. The individual or organisation that can manage (not manage away) uncertainty is at an advantage.

Complexity - That which is complex is densely woven. In the knowledge economy items of knowledge do not sit in discrete boxes but connect with one another and hold implications for each other in ways that are hard to predetermine. The need to share ideas and work together from different disciplinary backgrounds becomes paramount. The model of knowledge becomes perhaps a 'rich landscape' rather than a list of separate and sequential points. The linearity of the list (whether of competencies, action-points, outcomes...) is itself suspect. The landscape lends itself to 'dwelling in' rather than 'mastery'.

Relationships - Knowledge becomes seen basically as a function of the relationships between persons rather than something held as the 'possession' of the individual. We may know truths together that we cannot know apart. Just as the collective intelligence of an organisation may fluctuate with circumstance and according to its capacity for collaboration, living with complexity etc., so may its capacity for sharing and generating knowledge. This will involve particular relationships between particular people and not just the 'relational tone' of the organisation as a whole.

Reflection - The successful organisation in the knowledge economy welcomes all opportunities to look at itself, since this is a source of vital knowledge. Processes of 'mirroring' are consciously put into place. They may occur through celebration, festivity, shared mourning (e.g. for a defunct project) as well as in more familiar ways such as appraisal and review. Reflection is sometimes non-verbal (the foyer display, the cover of the in-house magazine.) Such processes are kept distinct from image-management.

Reframing occurs where the organisation questions and moves its established boundaries. The move to thinking in terms of the knowledge economy is itself a major piece of reframing. The organisation welcomes 'liminality', the experience of moving through a frame, and does not seek to hasten the process unduly since it is one richly productive of new knowledge and insights. 'Training', in the sense described above, can be particularly destructive for reframing since it demands that a frame be fixed in advance.

Paradoxically perhaps the knowledge economy takes us beyond knowledge. It takes us beyond technical/rational knowledge to what some have called 'life-world understanding' (Habermas): beyond knowledge to reflective knowing, beyond practical 'effectiveness' to practical wisdom, to concern for dialogue rather than specification of outcomes, to sophisticated understanding of the process of learning rather than faith in the easy transferability of skills.

Written collaboratively and in the spirit of teamwork by members of The HRD Research Centre, Durham University Business School, Durham, UK.