PIEs 10 years on: where are we now?

Wednesday, 27 June 2018 - 2:00pm

It’s been 10 years since the National Social Inclusion Programme was wound up, but one of its more enduring by-products seems to show no signs of slowing down. 

X-ray of a brain

The idea of a psychologically informed environment – a PIE – seems to go from strength-to-strength, endlessly renewing itself. Like Arthurian legend or the Bond franchise, the PIE approach seems to be able to constantly reinvent itself for a new generation.

You can read the story of how the PIE idea emerged and evolved over its first few years in several presentations and videos. It’s available – along with a wealth of other material – on the PIElink, the practice share website that I set up a few years ago, and still run today.

Eighteen months ago, at the first national research and evidence conference, jointly hosted by Homeless Link and the Mental Health Foundation, I proposed a working party to look at where and how the PIE approach (in both practice and thinking) has evolved. Over two dozen individuals volunteered their time - thanks to you all!

Over several years, a fairly familiar formula had come together:

  • a ‘psychological’ approach that stressed trying to recognise and understand complex-needs and the challenges they brought;
  • training and support for staff to meet these needs;
  • attention to the built environment, to help create an atmosphere and the spaces where growth can happen;
  • a growing respect for evidence and assessing outcomes that needed to go beyond simple contract compliance monitoring;
  • and all this underpinned by a culture of reflective practice, in services which saw human relationships as being as, or more, important than any particular task they perform. 

So far, so good.

By and large, this early outline of the key issues held good. On the whole, it still does, especially for services that are new to the idea and are just starting out on their ‘journey’. But from a string of discussions, presentations and correspondence, it was also becoming increasingly clear that there were many issues in practice that this version did not really address.

Some services felt they were doing good work, but there was little understanding at ‘Head Office’ level of what they did, let alone what they did well. Worse still perhaps, some services were being told that you have to now be a PIE because that’s what the managers or the commissioners say they want. It was being imposed from outside, producing a tick box adherence that just doesn’t bring out the best in staff. Nor does it encourage finding solutions that are customised to the here and now, the particular context and the needs of the users.

Meanwhile, in this talk of developing the built environment - where were outreach services that don’t have a building? Where did Housing First come in? How best to inform commissioners and managers of the need for flexibility – and how to plug glaring systemic gaps that limit or frustrate what services can achieve?

Last December, the first fruits of that PIEs update working party appeared in the form of a revised version that aimed to take into account all the developments since the idea of a PIE first popped up.

Immediately dubbed PIEs 2.0 by one participant, this new framework aimed to be ‘backwards-compatible’. Like all software upgrades, it had to resolve some bugs and confusions in the previous version, but all progress made using the earlier version had to still work with the new. More important still, it had to allow us to do new things.

PIEs Self-Assessment and Service Specification framework

With our trademark impish humour, it’s called the PIEs Self-Assessment and Service Specification framework – which spells Pizazz. It’s all about recognising creativity and flair – the kind of places that bring the best out of their staff, as well as their users.

I’ll not try to spell it all out here – as it’s all available on the PIElink. But I would like to highlight one thing: this new framework provides the basis for a whole new initiative – an assessment process that allows services to ask themselves just how far they have come in developing as a PIE.

Because being a PIE is clearly not a simple matter of either/or – that you are or you aren’t a PIE – but always a matter of degree. Services can make progress in some areas, but not in others. Or in some areas, are actually held back by lack of resources and lack of support from other services - even from senior management or commissioners.

So far a handful of services, their managers and/or consultants have been testing it out and based on their early feedback, we are now ready to go public. You can follow the progress on the PIElink – www.pielink.net.

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Robin Johnson

Editor/Curator of The PIElink

The PIElink is an on-line community of practice for all those interested in developing the practice and theory of 'psychologically informed environments' - PIEs - through dialogue.