Pizazz and the PIE Abacus (summary)

Of all the PIE project's developments over the past 10 years, the Pizazz process and especially the software version, PIE Abacus, between them represent probably the most ambitious of all.

The Pizazz 'on paper' was published some five years ago, and is now in widespread use. At this stage we can only suggest the quite exciting potential in the software version, the PIE Abacus. Four years in development, and still exploratory, here we outline the key features, starting with those that are 'tried and tested'.

But with further exploration and evolution yet to come, we can at least begin to outline the range of areas where this may prove valuable; and even radical, in four (so far) main areas:

  • An overview of progress, in medium- to large agencies
  • Needs and strengths audit, in local practice networks
  • Providing scale and context, in research and other communities of practice
  • Allowing further scope for customisability

Plus details on costs for the software, terms and conditions, and available training and support.


An overview of progress, in medium- to large agencies

Since its publication in 2018, the Pizazz in the pen-and-paper format ('the Pizazz on paper') has proved to be a flexible yet powerful self-assessment and forward planning process. It seems well suited to encouraging development in 'frontline' services and especially in smaller organisations, and/or to those at the beginning of exploring the PIEs 2.0 formula, to see what it has to offer.

But any larger organisations are likely to find the pen-and-paper version has some limitations. A constructive discussion in a wide range of local services may be the sign of a healthy organisation; but in any larger agency, it is not so helpful to be presented with a great mass of written up paper forms to collate and interpret, in getting the broader overview you need.

The Pizazz in its on-line format - the PIE Abacus - now offers a much more effective means to get a picture of progress and of any obstacles in services' provision, whether in any one locality, with any particular client group or type of service,  or more broadly, across the whole of your services.

NB: The PIE Abacus is best suited to larger agencies or extended networks. But smaller, independent or 'stand alone' services need not be excluded. We are keen to encourage the development of consortia (like a consumer co-op) to give isolated local service the opportunity to move forward together.

  • The PIE Abacus - in medium to large agencies: HERE
  • The PIE Abacus - in smaller, 'stand-alone' services: HERE


Needs and strengths audit, in local practice networks

Service commissioners and planners in a locality may wish to get an overview of local provision, needs and gaps; and of any constructive proposals and future plans, from services, and community groups.

Just as a large provider can create an all-agency PIE Abacus to get an overview of progress in its services, likewise local commissioners and planners, with an Abacus of their own, can invite services and groups (1) in their locality to send in their views to a central, whole system Abacus. They can then analyse and use that information to identify strengths and weakness - of what is working and what is hindering - in their area.

With the extra reach and extra engagement that the PIE Abacus offers, early soundings suggest that this may be particularly useful where we wish to see a more systemic approach, and systems change 'from the bottom up' .

  • The PIE Abacus - in local practice networks (for needs and strengths audit): HERE


Providing scale and context, in research and other communities of practice

The PIE Abacus can also be used to support action learning in communities of practice. Working with like-minded services anywhere to share and develop their more innovative or exploratory practice, and without limitations of distance or travelling time, the structured nature and (relative) precision of PIE assessments and plans can usefully complement the greater fluidity of webinars, Team or Zoom discussions,

Researchers likewise will be able to create active information networks, and recruit frontline services specifically for particular research purposes, with greater sensitivity to context. The option to work at scale with individual views (2) as well as teams' views of lived experience can then help take research on effective practice beyond the dichotomy of quantitative verses qualitative studies.

  • The PIE Abacus - in researchHERE
  • The PIE Abacus - in communities of practice HERE


Customising the PIE Abacus

The Abacus software on which the PIE Abacus is built is also highly adaptable, with many more features and options than we show here. These include the options

  • to grow and adapt the range of forums, as your service grows;
  • to include the views and plans of individuals as well as whole teams;
  • to adapt the baseline themes in your analysis to suit your more immediate or more specialist concerns;
  • comparing the views of service users alongside teams' views; and
  • reverting to the classic 'PIEs 1' model, for that that invested time and resources there..

For more on these options, see:

  • Customising the PIE Abacus: HERE
  • The PIE Abacus – in service user-led assessments : HERE
  • The PIE Abacus – with services using PIEs1 : HER


Costs and terms

The costs of a PIE Abacus are very simple at £80 per annum (plus VAT); with a minimum of 10 Abacuses for an account. For the ways this may work out, in any particular situation, see : The PIE Abacus costs summary – with the implications for services.

For the principles behind these costings, and the plans to re-invest the income in development, see: Costs and sustainability. But do also be sure to see the terms and conditions, and the co-production principle, see PIE Abacus use and terms of use.

And then, to get started, or to sign up for a free trial, see: Getting started with the PIE Abacus.

  • The PIE Abacus costs (summary) : HERE
  • Costs and sustainability: HERE
  • PIE Abacus use and terms of use : HERE
  • Getting started with the PIE Abacus : HERE


Available training in the PIEs assessment and the PIE Abacus

All new contracting for the PIE Abacus comes with an 'on-boarding' session with the software developers, Opeus, to help you familiarise with the scope of the software itself, and ask any more technical questions over its use. Plus there is a staffed help desk to answer any further technical queries that may arise.

The PIEs assessment training from Fertile Imagination Inc, intended for PIE leads, psychologists and others In comparable roles, has an in-depth exploration of the principles and practice of PIEs and PIE self assessment, and includes an hour of 1-1 mentoring to support customisation for specific agencies.

Also on-line, and geared for frontline service teams. the PIEs training from Ladder4Life is a very useful brief introduction to PIEs and the PIE Abacus.  Other trainings and trainers will also be available in time (not yet HERE)


(1) One of the attractive features of the PIE Abacus is the capacity to have enhanced user involvement. It is possible to have a fully independent parallel account of any service, produced by a service user group. The ‘scribe’ feature means that service users do not even need to be computer literate (or literate at all) to be able to have their views heard.

For this to be most effective, however, we may need to develop a more 'user-friendly', less technical vocabulary. There is preliminary working beginning on this currently; but we are unlike to begin in earnest until 2021.   See: PIEs 1, 2 - and 3? HERE


(2) The commonest use of the PIE Abacus is to gather the collective view of whole teams, as the Pizazz on paper does.  But there is also the option to have individuals contributing their views, as 'users' in their own right.   For times where this may be useful, see: FAQ: Why have individuals as 'contributors' at all?: HERE



Further background reading/listening/viewing

The legendary Swiss Army knife is also a tool that does very many useful things.


Essential background for PIE leads

PIE leads' Special Interest Group on PIE 'embedding' : HERE

The PIE Abacus - essential briefing for PIE leads : HERE

Weighing the costs and the 'value added' of the PIE Abacus : HERE

PIEs assessment - what is the point? : HERE

Why is it called 'Pizazz'? : HERE

Ambition and modesty : HERE

A single framework : HERE

PIElink pages

The Pizazz on paper


The Pizazz - what is it NOT? : HERE

The paperwork (for the Pizazz on paper) : HERE

'Useful questions' (the Pizazz Handbook) : HERE

How come it's free? : HERE

The coffee break Pizazz : HERE

A Pizazz for tenancy support ? : HERE


The PIE Abacus

The simplest, most effective way to evaluate and improve your PIE from Daniel O'Brien on Vimeo.


PIElink pages

What are people saying about the PIE Abacus? : HERE

Getting started with an Abacus 'customer account' : HERE

Use and terms of use : HERE

Costs and sustainability : HERE

Customising the PIE Abacus : HERE


For applications in particular settings, see:

The PIE Abacus – in medium to large agencies HERE

The PIE Abacus – in local practice networks : HERE

The PIE Abacus – in smaller 'stand alone' services HERE

The PIE Abacus – as a research tool : HERE

The PIE Abacus – in communities of practice : HERE

The PIE Abacus – in service user-led assessments : HERE

The PIE Abacus – with services using PIEs1 : HER


All PIE Abacus FAQs : HERE