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Creating and using 'spaces of opportunity'

Whether you commission for it, manage it, or just drop in to use it, the challenge – and the point – is to see the whole environment from the point of view of the users.

Education has schools; psychiatric care has hospitals and clinics; criminal justice has prisons, courts, probation hostels. Many but by no means all homelessness services will similarly have a building - a hostel (or 'shelter"), a refuge, even just a gazebo.   

The original formulation of the ‘built environment and its social spaces’ in the classic account was intended to refer to care in the design of the environment within such a building that the service managed (such as a hostel or day centre). But a more systemic approach to the dynamics of exclusion would suggest that the gaps between services are also a major concern, for planners and commissioners as well as for frontline staff.

Even for those services that primarily operate from a building will find that some highly significant constructive interaction opportunities may also arise outside the service’s own building – in a coffee bar, a park, a bus or a car.  In some services, such as outreach, these are the principal places, almost the only places, where initial and subsequent engagement interactions occur. 

The term ‘built environment’ did not really convey well an attention to the ‘environment’ of services and the idea of a ’PIE of pathways’. There seem to be three fairly distinct meanings for the term environment, as applied to a field such as homelessness, for example. Each refers to rather different aspects of the services' field – the built environment of buildings, the dispersed even chaotic environment of the world outside and the networks of services that constitute a services environment or system.

The terminology for constructive engagement needs to allow for such a broader range of working places. Each is of particular concern to different agencies or services, yet many services do cover all these areas, so separate treatment for each was undesirable. The problem was: how to find a word or phrase that could cover such a range?


The proposed solution:

In PIEs 2.0, 'spaces of opportunity' replaces ‘built environment’, or ‘physical environment’ as top tier concepts. At least, the physical environment is not the only kind of environment in which services operate, and in which staff must try to find ways to engage more effectively with service users. The services we create in any one locality are also an environment of sorts - a services environment.

But what they have in common is that they all aim to provide spaces, opportunities for constructive interaction and engagement; and the term ‘spaces’ – as against simply ‘places’ – aims to convey the openings that can be created in an environment of any kind.   

Creating - and using - ‘spaces of opportunity' is a made up term, intending to express and to draw attention to what it is about both the physical and the service environment that is most significant in developing as a PIE - that is, what it is in the environment that creates or inhibits opportunities for constructive interactions.

It aims to highlight the importance of the interaction with an individual as they move from one service to another. Where commissioning aims to develop services to fill gaps, in a PIE of pathways, it is the spaces of opportunity between services, as well as within services, that they aim to create.


Problematic language?

But this term 'spaces of opportunity' may nevertheless still not fully or clearly convey all aspects of the environment that the earlier term ‘built environment’ had conveyed.

For example, the lighting and furnishings in a room may set out to create an atmosphere that is conducive of the quality of interactions we might like to see there; but it may be stretching a point to say that a notice or a poster on a wall is 'an opportunity' or 'an interaction'.

This is a intangible area, and a more unusual, more abstract use of the term 'environment' . Yet negotiating the pathways between services, and working in the gaps between, is an essential feature of work with the marginalised and excluded.


And now, on to 'the Three Rs'

Finally, there is the environment that is created within services themselves - not just in the way we use the buildings, but in the ways the service itself work - the social life or social structure of the service.

Services have far more control over these aspects than any other; and therefore these areas seem so significant, as 'spaces of opportunity', that in PIEs 2.0  they are given their own heading. So for more on this aspect, see 'The Three R's'.

(NB: Dividing up these 'spaces of opportunity' into two in this way may seem odd - illogical or awkward. But  its convenient; it makes the whole tangle of issues more manageable. Still, the reasons for doing so may hopefully become clearer when we consider the assessment framework for PIEs - the Pizazz.)

Useful reading/viewing

The other key features of the revised version are :

  • Psychological awareness HERE
  • Staff Training and Support HERE
  • Learning and Enquiry HERE
  • The Three Rs HERE

So: where is 'relationships' in the PIEs 2.0 framework? HERE

For more on the development of these areas,

see: PIEs 2.o - the development process HERE

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

Other useful reading 

A checklist of trauma-informed care principles in built environment desigHERE

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

Principles and practice in psychology and homelessness; core skills in Pre-treatment, Trauma-Informed Care and PIEs  HERE

Autism and safety in the environment of homelessness ( excerpt) 

The Director of First Impressions (excerpt)

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

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


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