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Spaces of opportunity 101

It will come as no real surprise that when we think of services as ‘psychologically informed environments’, the actual physical environment(s) of the service is one of the main features to consider.

But still, 'environment' is a very broad, very flexible term. It will mean different things in different contexts. So what exactly do we mean by that here? What aspects of the environment do we mean to include here?

The ‘spaces of opportunity’ theme is essentially about how users move through your service; and they are clustered together, to cover all the possible 'pathways' that service users move through; and the ways these pathways are designed. .


For the PIEs 2.0 framework, therefore, in response to developments in this area of work we have expanded considerably the range we need to consider under this heading. We now recognise that we must go beyond simply considering the buildings we manage: the layout, furnishings, signage, etc.  In fact, we now suggest it’s most useful to distinguish three main areas or aspects of the whole service environment:

  • The built environment itself, and what we call its ‘social spaces’ *.
  • The local surroundings and networks that any service works with, or within; the location, local facilities, and how you may use them.
  • The referral routes and move-on options in which it operates, and the overall coherence (or lack of it) in this ‘services eco-system’: the systems and pathways.


Putting these three - really rather different - kinds or aspects of the environment all together in the same cluster then meant identifying the common thread. This, we suggest, is the opportunities that the service can find, or can create, to engage their users and assist them in whatever progress they may make, or path they may take. Hence the general title - to treat all these as 'spaces of opportunity'.

(Conversely, all these elements, if not well thought through, can limit or constrain the potential for users – and ‘put them in their place’. )

Note also that here, even when talking of the built environment and the physical surroundings of a service, it is the ‘social spaces’ that can be created that give them their key meaning.


Working in other people's environments

It's worth mentioning here that even in street outreach work, you are working within a built environment. It's just not one over which you have any control. But still you must approach the spaces around those you approach with thoughtful respect. Even a square of cardboard is someone's space.

In a Housing First service, the key environment is the individual's own home; and how you may enter there, or not, is on their terms. You might also want to give thought to other places and ways to meet, such as a local park or coffee bar; or any sports or recreational space.

Here the ‘social spaces’ are those that arise in the interaction between people; but personal space is no less important, just because it has little or no physical boundaries..


The wider services environment

But it’s probably only when we look more closely at each of these three that we can fully see the value of widening the frame in this way, with three areas to consider.

This is true especially of the systems and pathways, because it is the inclusion of this element that now allows services and their users to give and to share their views on the wider eco-system of service, and any gaps and barriers.

This becomes particularly significant when we come to look at the possibilities for developing local audits (HERE); and even service users' own Abacuses (HERE).



A further note on this clustering of practice issues

NB:  The ‘spaces of opportunity’ theme is essentially about how users move through your service; and they are clustered together, to cover all the 'pathways' that service users move through.

But this is still only one cluster out of the five major themes – the 'Big Five' – that between them make up and sum up a PIE; and we now recognise the importance of all these parts to make a whole, for a well-integrated and responsive service.

There is one other whole cluster of features that are equally central to the opportunities that a services creates; and these are the opportunities that are created by or within the rules and procedures of the services. There is a lot of overlap; referral procedures, for example, sit at the boundary between them.

Yet these are areas of a services' work that are principally within the scope of the agency to adjust; and they are so important – and sufficiently distinct – that in the end we concluded that had to give them a cluster of their own: the rules, roles and responsiveness of the service; which means, handily, 'The Three R’s'.

For more on the thinking behind creating this cluster of issues as a central theme for PIEs, see: 'Making space', in the Discussions section : HERE.

For some advice on where the boundaries might lie between themes, and how much that matters, do see : 'My cat is a built environment?' : HERE




Further background reading/listening/viewing


Other PIElink pages and materials

The built environment, adaptations and networks : HERE

Trauma-informed design & working with the built environment : HERE

Outreach, pathways, and environments without buildings : HERE

PIEs, scattered site and networked housing: HERE


Digging Deeper

Making (creating and using) space : HERE

What is 'an environment'? : HERE

Proxemics : 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


Library items

Car, Bus, Tram or Unicorn; why my car is a psychologically informed environmenHERE

A checklist of trauma-informed care principles in built environment design : HERE

Well-being by design - the questions you might ask : HERE

The Director of First Impressions`: (excerpt)

The characteristics of successful supported housing programmes: ‘Single site’ Housing First in Finland:  HERE

Autism and safety in the environment of homelessness (excerpt)

PIEs at the Wallich - rethinking the building : HERE

Simon Community - Glasgow Access Hub (short video) : HERE




The other key features of the PIEs 2.0  version are :

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



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