Recently I was asked to describe the theory I use most within my practice. My immediate answer was Jigsaw Theory. The student asked me to explain this as they had not heard about it.
As with a jigsaw social work is about individual pieces, situations and events coming together to formulate a picture. You have the four cornerstones of practice, value, ethics, beliefs and the law. Whilst the application of these varies with each situation they are the foundation of everything we do. You then have the edges, the parameters we work with, these could be the current codes of practice, organisational requirements, professional regulation and the economic climate we work within. Whilst the corners and frame of the puzzle are solid albeit constantly changeable it’s the changing landscape of detail which makes each case so unique.
Have you ever had a case where it’s felt there is a piece of information missing?
Information which doesn’t quite fit in with the bigger picture? Or,
Feeling you are working with multiple pieces which don’t make a whole picture?
The purpose of a Theory is to help describe and explain what is happening and then with that knowledge predict what will happen next what actions we need to take.. Applying jigsaw theory to a critical reflection allows me to identify within what rules and boundaries I am working. It helps me identify how all the individual pieces of information fit together to create a picture. As with all jigsaws it helps me see what pieces of information are correct, in the right order they actually fit the situation, some information is just simply wrong which is why you can’t build the connection. Sometimes it feels as though you are working without knowing the full picture and this theory allows you to explore those connections. At the end sometimes you realise you have a piece of a different puzzle within the framework you are using, and this helps reshape the picture and direction you go in.
At the beginning when everything feels so confusing and you have so many pieces of information to fit together it feels like a blank jigsaw. But slowly and carefully the information fits in, there may still be gaps of detail or knowledge but the framework is there as a guide.
The student then spent some time going through a recent case pieces individual snippets of information together to build their knowledge of the case history.
We then reached a point where the student wanted to reference this work and the dilemma began. In my head I have been using this theory for over a decade, I’ve discussed it with multiple students and colleagues within that time but neither book or internet searches have come up with an author. Have I made it up? Is it based on prior reading? Or have I just pieces together multiple learnings to complete a picture which makes sense to me and therefore made up a new theory? Who knows.