The PIEs approach is scrupulously non-aligned, politically.

NB: this page first appeared as the monthly essay for December 2017

The PIEs approach has been studiously neutral, in party political terms; and here at the PIElink, we do try to report on all issues that affect the development of the work, including the debates on the ethics of homelessness provision, for example, that have lately raged in some quarters.

Though non-partisan, we cannot simply rise above such debates; and so we make a space for them here (eg: Barnett, 2016; Broomfield, 2017;  Lenard, 2016; Watts, 2017; Watts, Fitzpatrick & Johnsen, 2017; Pleace, 2014; Public Health England, 2018 )


It is particularly interesting that, in these contemporary discussions, ethical and political concerns do often seem to draw on much earlier moral and theological debates, and struggles in the history of post-colonial empowerment (McKeith, 2012; Ahmed, 2016; Bowpitt et al, 2014). In values-based practice, and exclusion issues, it seems, an awareness of power relations in society can never be far away (Johnson, 2017).

It may be worth recalling here that the 'enabling environments' programme, which was one of the forerunners of the PIE approach, was founded on ten values statements - although we had also quipped (Haigh et al, 2012) that 'we hold these values to be well-evidenced'.

Plus there are other examples of services - such as, for example, the Ann Arbor hospice (Johnson, 2018a) - that see their values, and the seriousness with which they address ethics issues, as a central plank of their psycho-social care, and/or their approach to person-centred outcomes.


Also, one crucial aspect of the PIEs approach is genuinely, if subtly, politically committed. That is the insistence on creativity and innovation as coming from practice and practice-based learning (Johnson, 2018b) .

The politics of this is neither conventionally Left, Right, nor Centre. But it is in direct contradiction to much of the prevailing public services funding philosophy of the past 2-3 decades, often called loosely ‘neo-liberalism’, or ‘the commissioning culture’, ’the audit culture’ or ‘the purchaser provider split’.

More technically known in social policy circles as the New Public Management, or NPM, this has been described (quoted in Mason, 2018) as 'the disenchantment of politics by economics". Here funding mechanisms aim to re-impose centralised and hierarchical accounts of what is needed, and what to be done, over the sense of mission and purpose that otherwise needs-led services struggle to live by.

Some senior managers, typically in larger, more 'business-minded' organisations, have espoused this, in a new and very contemporary twist to the Stockholm syndrome.  But it is the frontline service provider - once described as the 'street level bureaucrats' - and their immediate line managers that must reconcile these political and moral contradictions and negotiate the conflicts in principle - often at some personal cost (Hoggett,2007;  Needham et al, 2017).

NB: this NPM approach, with its insistence that ‘what counts is what can be counted’ has also begun to pervade research, where a narrow positivism struggles to recognise complex and systemic issues and their complex and systemic solutions; and so, too often, simply ignores them (Johnson, 2014). But here too, new models of person-centred, 'exclusion-informed' research (Rice and Hough,2017; Westaway and Nolte, 2017) are emerging.


Old-style 20th Century Marxists would have no difficulty arguing that it is always those in the most acute part of 'the struggle' who find the new and revolutionary ways to act. The rest of us can see, in any case, that the commitment, creativity and innovation in the homelessness sector, which the PIE approach has attempted to describe, promote and chronicle, is giving rise to new ways to square the circles of systemic disempowerment.

In "A whole new world" (2017) Toby Lowe and colleagues at Collaborate give both a detailed analysis of the new thinking that is emerging here and elsewhere (Lankelly Chase, 2015: Billiard and Mc-Allister-Jones, 2016; Enlivening Edge, n.d), and also many very useful examples of benchmark measures of the new, and the old, model. The PIES Self Assessment and Service Specification framework - the 'Pizazz' - builds on these new models, and so allies itself firmly, as a usable tool, within this culture change (Johnson, 2018b, forthcoming).

It is important - even urgent - that we do develop an evidence base around what works in PIEs, when where and why. Developing an evidence paradigm for complex, systemic, 'ecological' interventions is itself a challenge to the currently dominant model of 'good evidence'. It is for this reason that we also aspire to see, within the new assessment framework for PIES (the'Pizazz'), a framework for psychologically informed research, as another mode of 'speaking truth to power'. Watch this space.


Finally we have here several of the  items from Rachel Brown's Spring 2018 guest edited Newsletter special issue, which make the point that psychology is not a politics-free zone.

Two papers - by MacIntyre and colleagues, and by The Psychologist for Social Change group - each argue that to create resilience and promote wellbeing, we need to look at the entirety of the social and economic conditions in which people live.

Emma Williamsons' chapter challenges the notion that dependency is a thing to be done away with; and finally, we have The Power Threat Meaning Framework a new document with Johnstone and Boyle, co-ordinating authors for the British Psychology Society's Clinical Psychology group, arguing a case for an entirely new way to look at vulnerability, located squarely within relationships of power and inequality.

Items cited here

Barnett (2016):  Is begging just a scam, or a lifeline for those most in need? HERE

Broomfield (2017):  Why you should give money directly and unconditionally to homeless people. HERE

Lenard, (2017):  Loving beggars: how to escape from stereotypes about street people. HERE

Watts(2017): 'How can we ethically respond to rough sleeping? A four point framework.' HERE

Pleace (quoted in the Guardian, in "Housing First: the counterintuitive method for solving urban homelessness"): HERE

Public Health England (2018): Adults with complex needs (with a particular focus on street begging and street sleeping)  HERE

Lenard, (2017):  Loving beggars: how to escape from stereotypes about street people. HERE

McKeith, (2012): The development of the Outcomes Star. HERE

Ahmed (2016): Participatory appraisal as a service user consultation approach. (PIElink video) HERE

Bowpitt, Dwyer, Sundin, & Weinstein (2014): Places of sanctuary for ‘the undeserving’? Homeless people’s day centres and the problem of conditionality. HERE

Johnson (2017): 'From Sartre to Sen; on choices, responsibility and ‘adaptive preferences’ (PIElink video) HERE

Haigh et al (2012): Psychologically Informed Environments and the Enabling environments initiative  HERE

Johnson, (2018a): Ethics as psychologically informed - the work of Ann arbor hospice (currently in preparation)

Hoggett (20017) :Conflict, ambivalence and contested purpose in public organisations   HERE

Needham, Mastracci & Mangan (2017): The emotional labour of boundary spanning HERE

Lowe (2017):  A whole new world (full report), HERE

Lowe (2017) A whole new world (excerpt): HERE

Lankelly Chase (2016) Theory of change; a summary HERE

Billiard & McAllister-Jones (2017): Behaving like a system  HERE 

Enlivening Edge (webpage; n.d.): Movements vs organisations can be found HERE

Rice & Hough (2017): Conducting research and evaluation with people with complex needs in a person-centred way  HERE

Westaway & Nolte (2017): Exclusion-informed psychology HERE

Psychologists for Social Change (2018):  The Psychological Impact of Austerity  HERE

Macintyre, Ferris, Goncalves & Quinn (2018): What's economics got to do with it?  HERE

Williamson (2018): The dependency paradox HERE

Johnstone, Boyle et al (2018): The Power Threat Meaning Framework: a summary   HERE


Finally, the Pizazz pages on this website are: HERE