Who’s who in the UK’s evidence landscape

a4ue ecosytem pic

Last week the Alliance for Useful Evidence and The Social Innovation Partnership published an evidence ecosystem map, designed to give a picture of the diversity of organisations involved in supporting evidence use in the government and public sector.

We were proud that two key Idox products were recognised for making research relevant and accessible to practitioners – not just researchers. The Idox Information Service holds over 200,000 summarised research resources and covers over thirty areas of public policy, including planning, economic development and housing. Idox also contributes data to the Social Policy and Practice database, which focuses on health and social care evidence.

Our research team work every day on creating relevant content for our public policy databases. And for the last forty years our mission has been to improve access to research and evidence for local authorities, government agencies and consultancies.

You might be surprised to hear though that UK-produced databases are now a rarity, despite the desire for evidence-based policy being stronger than ever.

Evolving information needs

Over the last four decades, information services have rapidly evolved, responding to both technology developments and to changes in user expectations. The UK used to be a strong competitor in the provision of databases however there are now very few remaining British social science databases.

One of the problems is that many people are unaware that UK databases exist or why they are important. We wrote earlier this year about why using UK-sourced evidence is part of a good literature searching technique and also means that UK policymakers and practitioners draw on relevant research, case studies and commentary.

UK-produced databases

In the last ten years many UK-produced databases have ceased – funding has stopped, publishers have closed or databases have been taken over by international publishers (which reduces the balance of UK content). Some key databases which every social policy researcher should know about and use are:

  • The Idox Information Service

The Idox Information Service (formerly The Planning Exchange) has been providing information services on public policy and practice to central government, public agencies, councils and universities since its inception in the late 1970’s. Its central aim is to support evidence-based policy, by providing UK-relevant resources and research support. Today it holds over 200,000 resources, increasing by up to 1,000 abstracts every month, across 30 public policy areas. These include planning, regeneration, housing, social policy and economic development. Every item is abstracted specially, rather than re-using publisher abstracts.

  • Ageinfo

Ageinfo is the only UK database covering all aspects of ageing and older age, including research and practice in the social and health issues of older age. It is a bibliographic database of over 55,000 books, articles and reports from the specialist collection held by the Centre for Policy on Ageing, who also undertake commissioned research. Created mainly by volunteers now, the database covers policy, support and services on ageing – including health and social services; residential and community care; living arrangements; financial inclusion; independent living; citizenship; rights and risks.

  • NSPCC Inform

A free resource for those working in the childcare and protection sector, the NSPCC library catalogue, known as NSPCC Inform, is dedicated to child protection, child abuse and child neglect. It includes case reviews,  training resources and practice toolkits, international journals and grey literature.

  • Social Care Online

Previously known as Caredata, Social Care Online is a database produced by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, with over 150,000 abstracts covering all aspects of social care, social welfare and social policy. It is currently free to access. It covers information on people with social care needs; those receiving care services; key issues such as integrated services, safeguarding or legislation; and the social care workforce.

  • ChildData

From the National Children’s Bureau charity, ChildData is a bibliographic database covering all aspects of research and practice in young people’s social care. It is now only available through Social Policy and Practice. Content includes reports, research and resources on early childhood; education and learning; health and wellbeing; involving young people; play; sector improvement; SEN and disability; and vulnerable children.

  • Social Policy and Practice

A one-stop-shop for research, analysis and discussion of health and social care, the Social Policy and Practice database holds over 350,000 abstracts on social policy, and 30% of content is grey literature. The database made up from selected content from the major UK database providers: Idox Information Service, Social Care Institute for Excellence, National Children’s Bureau, the Centre for Policy on Ageing and the NSPCC. It is sold and distributed by Ovid Technologies, primarily to universities and the NHS.

  • Health and medical databases

There are some other specialist UK libraries and database producers in the field of health policy. The Kings Fund produces an online database in the area of health management and policy (not clinical information). The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal Society of Medicine have their library catalogues online.

Why use UK databases

A scoping review in 2005 suggested that people searching for social science evidence tend to neglect the question of geographical and coverage bias within research sources. By using these UK services described above, users know they have taken the quickest path to reviewing relevant evidence, confident that they are up to date,  and focused on best practice within the UK.

The rise of the internet makes it increasingly difficult to assess the quality of evidence and all these databases are produced by teams who specialise in the subejct area.

Sourcing and selection of resources is based on the knowledge, experience and expertise of real people and organisations operating within the policy fields. Keywords  and indexing is also UK-focused, which makes searching easier.

Finally, you can get a fuller picture of a subject area, by looking at valuable grey literature rather than relying on peer reviewed journals. Grey literature is produced directly by organisations, including government departments and agencies, academic research centres, NGOs and think tanks, and commercial consultants, and has been found to be especialy useful for the complex information needs of policy makers.

Disappointing lack of awareness

There are many students and academics who remain unaware of UK databases, and it is disappointing how many commisisoned literature reviews will rely on one or two commercial (American-produced) databases.

To change this, and ensure that the next generation of policymakers and practitioners know the valuable resources that are available to them, we would love to see academic librarians advocate for specialist databases, rather than relying on what the major publishers will bundle in discovery systems.

And we hope the new evidence ecosystem map will raise awareness of the wide variety of organisations and groups who produce and use evidence in the UK.


We are currently offering a free trial of our database to librarians or academics who run courses in social policy, public policy or planning and the built enviornment. Contact us for more information.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

4 thoughts on “Who’s who in the UK’s evidence landscape

  1. Pingback: Why a holistic approach to public health and social care needs a wider evidence base … and how Social Policy and Practice can help | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: Implementation science: why using evidence doesn’t guarantee success | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  3. Pingback: Evidence use in health and social care – introducing Social Policy and Practice | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  4. Pingback: Q&A with Mark Evans: “To make evidence effective you have to win the war of ideas” | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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