Can smarter commissioning help encourage PIEs?

On 23rd November, 2021, from 12.30 to 2pm, as part of the PIElink community of practice lunchtime forums, Season Three (HERE), we have a discussion on the role of commissioning (and perhaps any other form of funding) in promoting PIEs.

Below we have some ideas, to spark the discussion.

To register, email :

For the full Season Three programme, topics and dates, see: HERE


Would smarter commissioning help?

Probably the biggest mistake that commissioners can make is to stipulate that the services they will commission should 'be' a PIE. This is not merely a misunderstanding; it is positively damaging.

Firstly, a PIE is simply not an 'either/or' thing. A PIE is always a matter of degree, and it is a continuous process of being informed.  To demand services must 'be' a PIE is at best to ignore the importance of the process of discussion and learning; and as worst, to invite mere lip service. 

Secondly, being a PIE is a multi-faceted thing. In PIEs 2, we identify five main themes; and these are then composed of a number of other more specific practice elements. Any working services is going to be further advanced in some areas than in others. Not all may be relevant. Again, it's not an 'either/or' thing.

Thirdly, insisting a services should 'be' a PIE might just work, if there was somewhere a list of the things you supposedly 'must do, in order to 'be' a PIE; except that that would inevitably tend to encourage tick box adherence.  Which is another reasons why there isn't such a list. Even the many examples we can give here should be seen as just a menu from which services can choose what suits them best.

But more seriously still: development as a PIE always come from the ground up, not 'from above'.  Just as tightly specified 'outcomes' simply tie the hands of services for those with complex needs, overly prescriptive contracting can often end up dis-empowering staff for creativity and responsiveness.

But also, there is a better way.


PIEs 2.0, systems and sector engagement

Until recently, much of the focus on development of PIEs lay in identifying the key features and encouraging development of PIEs. This had been focussed on the work being done within services 'at the coalface'. Wider government and local funders' efforts have been in the background. But with the publication of the expanded PIEs 2.0 framework, this is changing.

PIEs 2 encourages recognition of those services that are actively engaged with identifying and tackling gaps and barriers to their service users' progress and prospects. It looks at addressing such issues not solely in individual casework, but in wider forums where the coherence or fragmentation of the systems and pathways can be addressed.

The self assessment framework, the Pizazz, therefore explicitly makes a place for such 'sector engagement', in addition to the keyworker's brokerage of gaps and barriers with individual users. As part of the general organisational ethos of Learning and Enquiry, both here and in the on-line version (the PIE Abacus), services are encouraged to assess how far they are able to do that, and what helps and hinders.

It's for all these reasons that we have developed the Pizazz, to measure 'distance travelled', and to work with staff's own views of what they can improve. This is why we say that being a PIE is best seen as a journey, not a destination.

It is clear that funding and contracted service specification can hugely assist or can seriously distract from the on-going and continuous development of PIEs within services.  We need the commissioning process itself to be psychologically informed.  



Further background reading/listening/viewing

Library items.

Joy McKeith: Enabling Help : HERE

Johnson R: Do 'complex needs' need 'complex needs services'? Part One : HERE

Johnson R: Do 'complex needs' need 'complex needs services'? Part Two  : HERE

Lankelly Chase: Behaving like a system: HERE

Zack Ahmed on Participatory appraisal in Tower Hamlets: HERE

Paul Hoggett:  Conflict and ambivalence in public services: HERE

Lipsky (Wikipedia age) on street level bureaucrats: HERE


PIElink pages

PIEs 2.0 : HERE

The Inner Game of PIE : HERE

A single framework : HERE

Partially PIE'd? : HERE

Evaluation by outcomes : HERE

PIEs accreditation? : HERE

Service users' PIE assessments (page): HERE

The PIE Abacus - an on-line Pizazz (summary) : HERE