What’s the big idea?

What’s the Big Idea?

The idea of a PIE is itself already a pretty big idea.

The suggestion that there might be one underlying theme behind the disparate responses we had seen to homelessness and other complex needs; that was a bold suggestion.

The idea that there was a holistic model somewhere in here, to be teased out in discussion, ran counter to much contemporary thinking on identifying effective practice in ever more granular, but researchable, form, to be then imposed as ‘evidence-based' or  'best practice’.

But the idea that something new, exciting and significant, was developing in a field such as homelessness - where some of the most under-paid and under-trained staff were working with some of the most complex, chaotic, marginalised -  this was revolutionary.

The central significance of building and working with relationships emerged only in the course of the discussions that followed. In this, the PIEs development was not alone; in various areas we see ‘relationship-focussed’  working being recognised as more useful – especially for some uses – than simple ‘task-focused’ work

The PIEs 1 formulation of a PIE was quite revolutionary, and quite inspirational. But the PIEs 2 version presented a still bigger picture – more practical, more flexible yet potentially researchable; relationships central to all of it; and at the same time, a far more systemic vision, in bringing into the question the pathways and the coherence of the local services system – this was a big step*.


So is there an even bigger idea?  Yes.

But for this, we need a more personal statement from the founder of this website, and the original author of the idea of a PIE, Robin Johnson.

‘This site, and all my work on PIEs, is predicated on the belief that we learn best, fastest and deepest, when we learn together; and that real change comes from that shared learning.

This is an alternative, even an implied challenge, to the ‘top down’, ‘command and control’ approach that has governed much of social welfare and similar services provision for much of my career – and far beyond.

Of course, no-one need feel obliged to adopt this Big Idea, just to work in or run services, and use the PIEs approach, the Pizazz and the PIE Abacus. We’ve have tried hard, over several years, to present the whole thing as a box of tools to use, for whatever purpose.

We’ve tried hard to counter the view that the PIEs approach should, or even can, be imposed on services, staff and service users. We’ve hoped to be as humble as we are ambitious. As we’ve said, in several places, these ideas are to be our servants, not our masters. ‘


Robin is stepping back, from Xmas 2022, as the editor or ‘curator’ of this website, and the principal theorist in the development of PIEs.  Now in his mid-70s, and with some health problems that force him to change priorities. Whether or not this site will continue – and whether there will be a new PIElink team to advise -  is, at the time of writing, still uncertain.

But Robin is not gone for ever. Following his ‘Cheshire Cat’s Grin approach to retirement, he hopes to become just one more member of the advisory or editorial group that has been forming, over this year, to advise whoever may take up the reins now.

For more on this proposal, in video form, see the PIElink Forum discussion HERE




  • NB: it is even suggested that there might be a PIEs 3 – to tackle the more systemic issues head on  (HERE)



A single framework : HERE

Where did it all come from? : COMING SOON

A lived experience view of PIEs : HERE

Some general advice : HERE

Digging Deeper : HERE

The ethics and politics of PIE : HERE