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'Streamlined institute shouldfocus on policy action'


A Policy Studies Unit working to set architectural and public agendas would form the centrepiece of a streamlined riba, under proposals being tabled at a meeting of the institute's Council next week. The proposals come in four papers, from the president, director-general Alex Reid, honorary treasurer Colin James, and council member Roger Zogolovitch. The Reid discussion paper sums up the aims of the interlocking proposals: 'to get away from bureaucracy, administration and inter-departmental rivalry, and to create instead a structure which is focused upon outputs, project timetables and quality'.

Under his proposals, some 50 committees would be scrapped, to be replaced by 'advisers' who could communicate via ribanet. And the core structure of the institute could be transformed to reflect the institute's focus on two main areas, policy studies and services. A policy studies board would take over policy responsibility from the existing education, practice and public affairs board; another new board would oversee service provision in respect of education, practice, public affairs, library and membership and international affairs. In all there would be four boards rather than five departments, which would be responsible to the policy management board and then to Council. Vice-presidents would be retained in respect of education, practice and public affairs.

The new policy studies unit would have two or three staff and a £100,000 budget to pursue proactive as well as responsive policies. 'Instead of working out what staffing levels should be and then thinking about what each department should do, we are turning it on its head,' Alex Reid told aj. 'What matters are the outputs.'

'We want to concentrate on high-impact activities,' says David Rock. 'At the moment we are spreading ourselves too thin . . . important issues are being dealt with between the gaps of existing activities.' Examples were the response to brownfield development or demographics, each of which could have been major policy initiatives at an earlier stage.

Treasurer Colin James sees the institute spending too much money on routine activity, and not enough on important projects. He wants to see far more 'self-funding' activities, closer control of spending ('some of it bears no relation to budget'), although the overall financial picture is healthy, and greater investment in staff training.

There is certain to be a great debate about the proposals, but the overall thrust looks like a welcome recognition of what members always say in the surveys: that they want the institute to concentrate on the big issues.

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