Professional Curiosity

What is professional curiosity?

The concept of professional curiosity has been used in Children’s safeguarding for many years.  However, recent Safeguarding Adults Reviews across the country have pointed to the relevance of this concept for safeguarding adults with care and support needs.

There is no precise agreed definition of professional curiosity. Generally, professional curiosity is thought of as a willingness to engage with a person, apply critical thinking and reasoned discernment, and integrate multiple sources of knowledge and evidence, all to promote a person’s safety and wellbeing.

Professional curiosity includes approaches such as ‘respectful uncertainty’.

What are the characteristics of curious people?

Their personality traits include:

  • Knowledge-seeking
  • Positivity
  • Flexible behaviour
  • Non-defensiveness

Their attitudes/outlooks mean they are:

  • Tenacious
  • Determined
  • Willing and able to learn/apply learning
  • Receptive to new ideas

The behaviours they frequently show are:

  • Inquisitiveness
  • Sensing when to probe further and dig deeper
  • Open to new ideas
  • Unafraid to have difficult conversations
  • Able to challenge others’ ideas

The skills needed are:

  • Good communication
  • Ability to reflect
  • Ability to analyse critically
  • Ability to connect events
  • Legal literacy
  • Evidence-based practice
    • Source: Thacker et al, & Norfolk SAB

Can professional curiosity save lives?

Analysis of Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) points to a lack of professional curiosity as being a recurring theme.  Had professionals been more inquisitive, dug deeper, questioned closer and evaluated the evidence more carefully, harm could have been prevented. (Thacker et al)

Professional curiosity, it seems, really could save a life.

The value of professional curiosity is that not only does it prevent harm, but it also aligns with person-centred working and a strengths-based approach. 

When professionals are curious, they are also more likely to make and record defensible decisions.

How can I become more professionally curious?

  • Start by simply asking more open-ended questions. 
  • Seek out other professionals who are professionally curious and model your behaviour on theirs
  • Ensure you get regular supervision with your manager and time to discuss difficult cases
  • Take advantage of the wide range of courses offered to staff – from courses such as Difficult Conversations to courses on the Mental Capacity Act.
  • Improve your legal literacy.
  • Read widely - you never know when the information could come in handy for evaluating evidence.

Because in some cultures and contexts, questions may be viewed as intrusive, remember to ask questions in a respectful tone.  Although you will need to be understanding of cultural difference and adapt to them, you should always be willing to question where a safeguarding concern is indicated.

What gets in the way of curious practice?

From remote working to case overload, there are many factors that dampen professional curiosity. 

For example, Ripfa has identified that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected professionals’ ability to carry out face-to-face assessments. This lack of face-to-face interaction curbs professional curiosity because professionals are unable to observe the person’s environment and unable to pick up on subtle body language cues.

In summary

No matter what your role in your organisation, you can adopt a professionally curious mind-set in your work with adults with care and support needs. It may require a shift in your approach, attitudes and improving your skills, but it could make all the difference for preventing harm.

Your views

In the Safeguarding Adults Unit, we are interested to know what particular obstacles practitioners in Islington face when trying to be professionally curious in their work with adults with care and support needs. 

We’ll be holding some workshops and events to explore this further so that we can help to address any organisational barriers to adopting professional curiosity.

Acknowledgements & Sources

With thanks and acknowledgements to Norfolk SAB and the findings from research done by Michael Preston-Shoot, Helen Thacker, Ann Anka and Bridget Penhale without which this guidance could not have been produced.

Sources & useful links

Thacker et al, ‘Could curiosity save lives? An exploration into the value of employing professional curiosity and partnership work in safeguarding adults under the Care Act 2014, The Journal of Adult Protection, 3 Oct 2019. Could curiosity save lives? An exploration into the value of employing professional curiosity and partnership work in safeguarding adults under the Care Act 2014 | Emerald Insight 

Ripfa  The importance of professional curiosity in safeguarding adults (