November 18, 2022

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat!

Tammie Burroughs
Effective Practice Lead
HMI Probation

In this Insights guest blog, Tammie Burroughs from HMI Probation informs how professional curiosity can be used practically and effectively to enhance case management.

Being curious sometimes gets a bad reputation; people can be labelled as nosey, accused of asking “too many questions” and be reminded that “curiosity killed the cat!” However, if you apply curiosity to that phrase itself and ask where it originates and what the phrase actually means you will find that it is often misquoted. Whilst there does not appear to be one succinct explanation of its origin and meaning, historical records suggest it was in fact care which killed the cat, in terms of sorrow or worry. Other explanations, and my preferred one, is that it should read “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction bought it back.” Suggesting the real meaning encourages people to be curious instead of killing your curiosity, especially when learning something new.

And for me that sums up professional curiosity, its about learning something new about ourselves and thus how our practice is impacted by our own identities. It’s about those with whom we work, about the type of service we are delivering and the impact this is having, and about the evidence our work is based on. Reflecting on professional curiosity in this manner means it would be a useful skill for anyone working within the Criminal Justice Service from people delivering front line services (whether that be in probation, prison, Voluntary, Charity and Social Enterprises) right though to senior leadership. This is because it means asking the right questions and using the responses to critically evaluate how we achieve improvements.

Despite the importance of curiosity, it is often an overlooked approach. This can be for many reasons including a lack of a true understanding of the concept, workload and skill set, amongst other factors. Inspections of probation services have cited a lack of professional curiosity in their reports and this is one of the top themes highlighted within Serious Further Offence reports. Conversely, where practitioners and leaders employ curiosity, and have generative discussions about what is driving specific behaviours, both positive and negative, on an individual and service level, we see a positive impact on delivery.

Consequently, HM Inspectorate of Probation were keen to find a way to harness the learning from inspections and from effective practice and share across the Criminal Justice System. As a result, we have developed two guides, one for practitioners and one for managers, to translate our findings into learning. Mindful of how busy people are in operations, we have designed these as a modular resource which people can dip in and out of. We have used multiple methods to illustrate the learning including quotes, videos, interviews, practical exercises, reflective questions and links to academic articles, to appeal to the different learning styles and allow the reader to jump into the sections which feel the most relevant to them.

You can access these guides via the links below:

Practitioners – professional curiosity insights  guide explores what professional curiosity is, why it is important, errors, bias and barriers that impede its use and how you can mitigate these. It highlights themes where a lack of professional curiosity has impacted on the quality of case supervision, and we share case illustrations where professional curiosity has improved the quality of supervision. Finally, we talk about its importance in continuous professional development and share some theories around identity and blending risk and desistance.

Middle managers – professional curiosity insights guide is designed to help middle managers consider how they can create a culture that enables and promotes professional curiosity. It also covers how it links to the Inspectorate’s standards, errors, bias and barriers to professional curiosity and how managers can support mitigate against these and finally, we focus on the importance for continuous professional development, sharing some leadership theories to promote reflection and discussions. It is designed as a supplement to the practitioner insights guide

I would encourage you to access these during any protected learning time, or maybe discuss in team briefings/meetings or within action learning sets. Maybe share examples of things which have got in the way of your curiosity and how you have addressed this, or if you haven’t ask your colleagues for any tips on have they have mitigated against these.

I am also curious to understand how helpful you believe these are for your practice so please do feel free to reach out to me with any feedback at  This will allow us to improve future guides.

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