Learning through enquiry

Please note; we are in the midst of a thorough re-construction of these pages. For the moment, there may be some duplication of material from elsewhere; and probably some broken links. Bear with us. Its a lot to cover......

Let's also consider the learning organisation itself

In the PIEs 2.0 account, "Learning and Enquiry' describes an attitude of mind within an organisation or service, which can be expressed in many ways. There is an extensive description of the characteristics of a ‘learning organisation’, and there is much overlap here between these characteristics and the 'culture of inquiry', the term developed in the therapeutic community movement.

As they are effectively different sides of the same coin, for organisations, we might reasonable say that a 'culture of inquiry' is what pervades and characterises a learning organisation, and we can use the hybrid term “Learning and Inquiry’ to cover both.

Reflective practice

Adopting this broader term also means that we can now accommodate reflective practice more easily within the main body of the framework; and can also extend the concept from frontline services, to run throughout all levels in the organisation or network.

A culture of enquiry

Some staff in services where senior management have wanted to introduce or develop a PIE approach via reflective practice imposed on the staff team have been wary of talking frankly of challenges, fearing a ‘culture of blame’ in the organisation. Meanwhile, in other situations the opposite may occur: many commentators have stressed the need for ‘senior management buy in’ to the PIE concept – and also for commissioners to have a better understanding of what it is they want from services, in asking that they should ‘be a PIE’.

NB: Middle and senior managers may have one view on how effectively they promote, and whether they themselves work in, a culture of inquiry. Frontline staff – and arguably users – will have their own views on whether they experience instead a culture of blame. This kind of difference in perspective is one of the things that in particular the new assessment framework - the Pizazz - aims to address.

Whole systems work

A culture of blame is nevertheless just one opposite to a culture of learning and enquiry. Another is a culture of adherence - strictly following the rules or sticking to the script. The stress on reflective practice as something that runs through the whole of a service promotes the idea of a learning organisation as one where action learning permeates the whole of the service, and not just the frontline.

But this has implications not just for senior managers, but also for commissioners. A culture of learning and enquiry, rather than adherence and blame, can operate at the level of whole systems, local partnerships and pathways. The systems change and system brokerage efforts we have seen in many areas are examples of system-level learning and enquiry.

Putting all these issues together under one umbrella heading means that the new assessment framework can look at what helps and what constraints the development of a PIE, at all levels; and it allows us to develop an assessment framework that includes commissioning as well as service delivery.

Evidence-generating and evaluation

In the PIEs 2.0 formulation, the term "Learning and Enquiry" replaces various earlier versions such as ‘measuring outcomes’, evidence-generating practice’, or ‘evaluation’ as top tier concepts.

From the constant changing of names for this element in the 'classic' framework it’s clear that we have been trying for some time to pin down some essence of this particular element, but without landing on the right issue.

‘Measuring outcomes’ comes more naturally to some professions (such as psychology) than to others. It may be part of a research culture, and even be required by commissioners; but even defining relevant outcomes is problematic, with complex and entrenched problems and especially when working with users’ strengths. Measuring pre-prescribed and narrow outcomes can even be at odds with person-centred practice, and assessing tiny but significant changes in complex long term problems.

Being involved in formal research is fairly rare, and so ‘evidence generating’ in the strict sense of producing publishable research cannot really be set as a hallmark for all PIEs. Stretching the term ‘evidence’ to cover all forms of self-assessment, action learning etc in order to make ‘evidence’ seem less alien a concept was well-intentioned, but not entirely convincing.

More formal research projects and agencies therefore do still have a clear place in the new framework as a focus for their efforts. Outcomes measurement and research still has a place here; but the overall focus of research can and often should be broader, as need be, than simply quantifying the outcomes of interventions.


Further background reading/listening/viewing


PIElink pages on the Big Five themes

Psychological awareness ; HERE

  • Empathy and emotional intelligence : HERE
  • Approaches and techniques : HERE
  • Psychological models : HERE

Training and support : HERE

Learning and enquiry : HERE

  • Reflective practice : HERE
  • A culture of Enquiry : HERE
  • Sector engagement : HERE
  • Evidence- generating practice : HERE

Spaces of opportunity : HERE

  • The built environment : HERE
  • Networks and surroundings : HERE
  • Pathways, systems and system coherence : HERE

The Three Rs : HERE

  • Rules and procedures : HERE
  • Roles and relationships : HERE
  • Responsiveness : HERE


Where are relationships in PIEs 2.0? : HERE

A lived experience view of PIEs : HERE

What's the Big Idea?  : HERE

From PIEs 1 to PIEs 2.0 : HERE

Will there be a PIEs 3? : HERE


see: PIEs 2.o - the development process HERE

Also: Pizazz: A new and more customisable working framework for PIEs HERE


Further useful reading/viewing

Implementing a Psychologically Informed Environment in a service for homeless young people HERE

Introducing PIEs through reflective practice in Bristol mental health services HERE

Creating a culture of Inquiry; changing methods – and minds – on the use of evaluation in non-profit organisations HERE

A Whole New World - funding and commissioning in complexitHERE