Problematic areas in the classic formulation

Here we revisit some of the areas of the 'classic' formulation that proved problematic or contentious, and the attempts made to reconcile developing practice with the more formal standard definition of a PIE.

The classic account has clearly been influential and instrumental in drawing attention to the innovative work done by some services; and in inspiring others to develop their own services in similar spirit, even in the absence of any simple blueprint, template or manualised "How to" guide.

Nevertheless there are some aspect of the original account that have needed attention and 'maintenance'. We may need to pay some closer attention to the boundary areas between the PIE concept and other. perhaps equally useful new thinking - and especially if we are to attempt, 5 years on, to incorporate or to align some of the other aras that we have itemised in the previous section.

But the trickiest part of the PIE account, and the real challenge, comes when we move from illustration and inspiration, to more rigorous assessment and specification, as suggested and explored in the Distance travelled section of this site.  At this point, we need to consider with some greater clarity required not so much what constitutes a PIE, as to what degree any one service has developed a a PIE; and in what areas.

For this, we need a more detailed focus in each area; and a greater concern for the suitability of the more abstract 'headline' themes to cover the more detailed expressions in practice..

"A Psychological model"

Whilst the classic formulation uses the same phrase, a 'psychological' model, we begin to hear

  • concerns that this phrase should not be interpreted too narrowly, to mean a model derived from academic or clinical psychology, but rather,  an 'approach" to issues. It means just as much the attempt to understand individuals and their behaviour in term of underlying psychological and emotional issues, and especially, of past traumatic experiences. There is more stress on the need for 'emotional intelligence'.
  • reservations over the suggestion that a service should for preference adopt any one particular 'model', with instead the suggestion that it is important to share perspectives within a team or service, to ensure there is no outright contradiction between the approach of different staff. There is increasing allowance for an 'eclectic' approach to meet complex needs. (This shift in emphasis is then reflected in the use of 'Psychological framework" in the Westminster City implementation guide.)

The 'built environment" and 'its social spaces'

Where the first formulation seemed to assume that the social and emotional environment of a PIE would be essentially what was created within a building, and the design and use of that building, furnishings, lighting, notices etc was the central issue. we start to hear:

  • the 'green' or 'grown' environment being given some emphasis, especially in services that include any element of horticulture, such as a garden or work project or one including animals. There is then more common ground with examples of eco-therapy, as 'healing environments'. (Claire Ritchie's suggestion of the term "Environment" as a one-word title for this element, in her 'PETER" acronym, fits quite comfortably here.)
  • the creative use and 'co-option' of other surrounding environments as providing 'social spaces, too. This re-interpretation of the boundaries of the environment begins to suggest that aspects of street outreach work, for example, may belong within the same mindset. (The core skills of engagement, as outlined in Jay Levy's writings on "pretreatment', are then seen also as common ground.)
  • the need to recognise the environment of the service as being only one part of any individual's life; and in particular to recognise and work with the pathways into and exiting from the service - a far broader meaning for the term 'environment' to mean the wider network of services; this may be an especial concern for commissioners. (Robin Johnson's phrase ' a PIE of pathways" is then suggested; but it is not clear how this broader perspective is contained within the original.

Staff training and support

As a title, "Staff Training and Support" still seems to cover this theme quite accurately - with two or three provisos:

  • The term 'staff' here is to be treated very broadly, to include all those whose contribution helps make the environment what it is, this includes cooks  cleaners and admin staff, security staff, volunteers and users who have a role, such as on a consultative committee, as 'meet and greet' helpers, or as peer mentors.
  • If - as it appears from early pilots of deliberate development of PIEs - reflective practice is one of the developments that staff have found most useful, should reflective practice been seen as part of staff support, and so be included here? Or is it as much part of the broader attempt to become a 'learning organisation"? Or is it sufficiently definitive to be a theme in its own right?

Managing Relationships.

Of all the key theme titles used by the authors of the guidance, this title was the one that was felt to be least satisfactory, even at the time of writing. The principle of treating relationship building as central is surely correct; but

  • it follows from the adoption of a psychological approach; hence as a statement of principle it seems to belongs there. It is the way this is expressed in practice that is at the core of this theme; and hence the term 'managing', however unfortunate in other ways, is actually closer to the essential intention.
  • the term ‘managing’ had been intended to refer to this embedding of a psychological approach in the day-to-day operations and operational policies, and a focus on relationship building, in the day-to-day management; but the term seems to smack of a rather mechanistic managerialism, and social engineering; or even of merely coping.
  • the central issue here is the formal and informal ways - the 'repertoire' that the organisation itself has, to respond to incidents, both positive and negative -  a repertoire of responses; or, equally, the formal relationships that are created within the structure, such as a consultative committee, keyworker roles, peer mentors, etc
  • if we wish to have a single word that begins with 'R', then 'responsiveness' might suit. But both the repertoire of responses, and the structured relationshios, are equally central

Evidence generating practice

The concept of evidence generating practice was an attempt to encourage services to go beyond the kind of performance data collection often required for basic contract compliance; and even to go beyond seeing data as the most significant of measurements.

If homelessness was to be seen as a touchstone area of social science, and if homelessness work was to be seen as a professional activity, and one as deserving of research interest as any other, other forms of evidence for effectiveness, or exploration of causes and consequences, would be valuable.


  • to talk of 'evidence' could also be seen as implying - or at least as more highly valuing - formal ( ie: journal publishable) research evidence. This might perhaps be an expectation for many psychologists, but is far less so for psychotherapists or others providing other traditions of psychological or in-put.
  • valuing research as such distances the value of the research from the immediate needs and learning of the organisation. Service organisations need feedback of what is working which is more immediate, to keep abreast of constantly changing needs and opportunities.
  • engaging in more formal research entails a commitment of time and energy which is not manageable for smaller or poorer organisations or services; and we do not wish to promote a definition of a PIE that is only achievable by a small section of the provider sector.

For the final section, with overall conclusions, now see: A new formulation