What is a compassionate environment?

Applying research

The aim of our work is to build more supportive, compassionate environments around the child, young person or vulnerable adult so they can be healthy and happy.  So we need a theory of what such environments look like.  For that we draw on the a five year action research project led by NHS Lothian and Edinburgh Napier University which examined care settings identified as ‘centres of excellence’.

The research team wanted to find out what these settings had in common (in terms of attitude and behaviour of staff) that made them stand out and they came up with six themes that were the essential ingredients of a ‘compassionate environment:’

  • Caring Conversations
  • Knowing Me, Knowing You
  • Creating Spaces that Work
  • Involving, Valuing and Transparency
  • Feedback
  • Flexible Person-Centred Risk Taking

Our task is to apply this knowledge in a way that helps others understand what they need to do differently to build compassionate environments.

Behaviour Cards

Our knowledge, drawn from the research, of what ‘compassionate environments’ look like, is then woven through our fictionalised stories.  We use Behaviour Cards to show the link between behaviour (what I do) environment (what’s happening around me) and outcomes (the consequences).  On one side (see below) there is a behaviour linked to one of the ‘compassionate themes’.

While on the other side, we show an example from the storyworld (in this case Scene 1 from Connor Goes Swimming) of what that behaviour looks like in a situation.

These cards are used in many different ways.  What they’re really useful for is helping people see how their own behaviour may impact on others and, if that impact is not what they want, then they know what they can do to change it.

Model of Behaviour Change

The diagram below shows our model of behaviour change and how these ‘compassionate themes’ are integrated.  The model works backwards from the most important element which is the outcome we’re looking for – a healthier and happier child, young person or vulnerable adult:

  1. (result) child, young person or vulnerable adult benefits
  2. (because there’s a more) supportive environment
  3. (because) the people around them think and behave differently
  4. (because) they understand better
  5. (because) they see the role they play in creating compassionate environments
  6. (because) they engage with our Storyworlds (and the Tools for Change)

Find out more

You can learn more about the Leadership in Compassionate Care project here – Edinburgh Napier University and NHS Lothian (2012) Leadership in Compassionate Care Programme final report. 


I’d like to show that scene to my husband because that’s exactly how he behaves and it really affects our son but we can’t talk about it.  If he saw it, maybe he would listen.

Parent response to watching Scene 1 Connor Goes Swimming