IPSGA II – A new paradigm for the use of information in ‘The System’

ipsga II jpeg

For those of you not familiar with I.P.S.G.A or “The System” as it is popularly known it’s the favourite acronym of the advanced riding industry and stands for Information Position Speed Gear Accelerate. It was first devised at the Police College at Hendon over 60 years ago and has formed the core of the Police Rider’s Handbook or Roadcraft since then.

Taking the description of IPSGA straight from Wikipedia;
1. Information received from the outside world by observation, and given by use of signals such as direction indicators, headlamp flashes, and horn; is a general theme running continuously throughout the application of the system by taking, using and giving information;
2. Position on the road optimised for safety, visibility and correct routing, followed by best progress;
3. Speed appropriate to the hazard being approached, attained via explicit braking or throttle control (engine braking), always being able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road;
4. Gear appropriate for maximum vehicle control through the hazard, selected in one shift; and
5. Acceleration for clearing the hazard safely.
The taking, using and giving of Information is, arguably, most important and surrounds (and drives) the five phases IPSGA. It may, and often should, be re-applied at any phase in the System.
The System is used whenever a hazard requires a manoeuvre. A hazard is something which requires a change in speed, direction or both. The benefit of applying a systematic approach to driving is to reduce the simultaneous demands on the vehicle, the driver mentally and the driver physically. That is, the System seeks to separate out the phases of a manoeuvre into a logical sequence so that the vehicle and the driver avoid being overwhelmed by having to do too much at the same time. For example, braking and steering at the same time place greater demands on the vehicle’s available grip and in the worst case can lead to a skid.

IPSGA is what is known as an output model which is essentially a list of the results that you might expect from underlying processes. In much the same way that the specification of a motorcycle conceals the complex manufacturing process that is needed to produce it, output models tend to conceal underlying processes in the same way. In the case of IPSGA the developers of it simply looked at what expert riders did in response to the variations in the road-space environment. They noted that the riders clearly took in Information (I) (which is actually an input, more of which anon) then they changed their Position (P)(output) as appropriate, they set the right Speed (S)(output) and the right Gear (G)(output) and finally Accelerated (A)(output) away ready for the next hazard. Every expert rider clearly conformed to this model and so it was adopted as being the de-facto standard and one that we have used ever since.

The Information Phase

As noted the Information phase of IPSGA is actually an input phase rather than being an output, but it is understandable as information is clearly the raw material that all the outputs are made from. In the description of the Information phase Roadcraft adds the sub-acronym T.U.G or Take-Use-Give as an indication that we have to do something with all that information. Taking and giving makes sense, but what about using? How we use information must be of the utmost importance otherwise we would not be able to achieve the correct outputs that The System demands.

Back when IPSGA was first devised people had scant understanding of the human brain and its functions and limitations. To overcome this gap in their knowledge they treated the brain as a kind of ‘black-box’ that took in information and output actions. This is probably why the term ‘Use’ is so poorly defined in The System, not because of any intention to conceal, but because they simply didn’t know how we actually used information to perform the riding task.

Today of course we know a vast amount more about the human brain than we ever did when IPSGA was first devised so it makes some sense to re-evaluate it in the light of all this new knowledge.

In a report from the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the Medical Research Council they state “The human brain, it is being increasingly argued in the scientific literature, is best viewed as an advanced prediction machine. By this view, the sophistication with which brains perceive and act upon the world has evolved to minimise the amount of surprise, or unpredictability experienced in a particular situation. Recent advances in neuroscience have generated new theoretical understanding about this intuitive notion, and there is a growing consensus that predictions about the future are realised in the brain by a hierarchy of successively complex neural processes that continually exchange information. Working together, this hierarchy maintains a constantly updated set of beliefs about the causes of events in the external world”.

Now we know that rather than being a Black Box the brain is actually an advanced prediction machine we can begin to put some structure onto how we actually use information. Rather than dreaming up some new acronym for this structure that would take people ages to learn, we thought that it would be much simpler and easier to re-use the IPSGA acronym we have already got.

IPSGA II as we shall call it neatly explains how we ‘Use’ the information that we have taken in through our senses.

I – Information
The information that it is possible to gain from the world around us is absolutely vast and coming at us in a rapidly changing stream of patterns that are being picked up by our various senses. It would be practically impossible for any of us to take on board and process all of this information and so our brain sifts through it to pick out what is relevant to the task in hand.

Knowing what is relevant and what is irrelevant is the result of a large amount of experience in dealing with regularly experienced situations which is typically why experts are better than learners in any particular field. Irrespective of whether a rider is learner or expert, the using process starts with the filtering of that information for clues that will be needed for the next part of the process.

P – Prediction
These clues are used as the basis of the prediction that the brain will make to answer the question which it is always trying to answer which is ‘what happens next?’ Predictions are also made in the light of experience with better predictions about the immediate future usually coming from greater experience. Performed in the order of IF –THEN, all the predictions are made by referencing previously experienced sequences and their associated clues. The brain then predicts that the next sequence and its associated clues will turn out in a similar way to how they turned out the last time.

S/G Stop-Go
Once a prediction is made about the future state of the world some sort of decision needs to be made in order to take advantage/avoid disadvantage from that future state. Considering the rapidity of information inflow and the number of predictions these decisions are not the ones where you could take a considerable amount of time weighing up the options, but decisions that need to be made in a considerable hurry. Typically these are simple Stop/Go, Do It/Don’t Do It decisions where just one of a number of appropriate action sequences will be enacted.

A – Anticipation
Once the information has been sifted for clues and these clues used for the basis of a prediction and a decision on that prediction has been made there is a final stage in the process. The brain checks on whether the preceding prediction and decision ensured that the anticipated sequence of sensory inputs actually matched the prediction. If the anticipated sequence matches the predicted sequence then the process goes back to the beginning and starts all over again. If however the predicted and the actual sequence do not match, then the brain has to alert us that it has made a ‘prediction error’.

The device used to signal a prediction error is not a buzzing sound or a flashing light, but instead is something we have come to know as a surprise! All of the functions that have just been described are happening very much in the subconscious and we usually are completely unaware of exactly how much is going on in there. If it were not for us being warned by a surprise that we had made a prediction error then we would not be in any position to alter what could be a very disadvantageous situation. Without surprise we would blunder from one prediction error to another because it is the surprise that makes sure we pay attention to error so that we can learn from it.

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