Top research resources for social care and social services

The news in June that the Government’s Green Paper on social care will now be delayed until the autumn (having already been deferred since 2017) brought sighs of weariness rather than real surprise from the sector.

The recent focus on NHS funding, and the NHS’s 70th birthday, has also highlighted ongoing concerns that the funding crisis in other areas, including social care, mental health services and public health is being pushed to the sidelines.

What is clear, is that the need for evidence-based interventions, and proven value for money, is only getting stronger as budgets continue to be stretched.

The value of research

So, what’s the role of research knowledge within social work and social care? The Social Care Institute for Excellence has suggested that research can help practitioners and decision-makers to understand:

  • the social world in which those who use services live
  • why positive and negative events occur in the lives of some and not others
  • the relative success of interventions and their impact on these events
  • the role of the social care practitioner in relationships and interventions with service users
  • how social policies impact on the lives of people using services.

Studies such as cost-benefit analyses or randomised controlled trials are also part of the evidence base although they are less common in social care/social services than in health contexts.

Research takes place in different ways, with different aims. And the outcomes of research can be communicated in different ways. Blogs such as our own at the Knowledge Exchange aim to signpost readers to recent research on particular topics. Other good sources of accessible discussion of research findings include The Conversation blog and Community Care.

Meanwhile, database services such as the Idox Information Service or Social Policy and Practice will provide more comprehensive coverage of issues, bringing together research studies from other parts of the world which are transferable.

Social Policy and Practice

Many NHS Trusts and councils subscribe to the Social Policy and Practice database as part of their package of support for learning and development.

Recent feedback from users has highlighted its strong coverage of many current priority issues in public health, such as:

  • dementia care
  • delayed discharge
  • funding of long term care
  • safeguarding of both children and adults
  • supporting resilience and well-being
  • tackling obesity
  • asset-based approaches

As a UK-produced database, Social Policy and Practice also includes information on topical policy issues such as minimum alcohol pricing, sugar taxes, and the possible impact on the health and social care workforce of Brexit.

The database is produced by a consortium of four organisations: Social Care Institute for Excellence, Centre for Policy on Ageing, Idox Information Service and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Idox Information Service

With a wider range of topics covered, the Idox Information Service has been identified as a key database by the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Cross-cutting issues which impact on health and social services, such as poverty, housing, and social exclusion are covered in depth. It also covers management and performance topics.

The Idox Information Service also offers a range of current awareness services and access to a team of expert researchers, in addition to the database. The aim is to support the continuing professional development of hard-pressed frontline staff while also supporting the sharing of research and evidence across the sector.

Meeting the needs of the social care sector

Both Social Policy and Practice, and the Idox Information Service aim to increase the social care sector’s capacity for evidence-informed practice.

As battle lines are drawn over government funding, it’s clear that these will continue to be financially challenging times for public services and that demand for services will carry on growing. Investing in learning and development is one way to ensure that staff are equipped with the skills and tools to be the best that they can be. This in turn will ultimately improve performance and outcomes for the most vulnerable in our society.


To find out more about the history of the Social Policy and Practice database and the consortium of publishers behind it, read this article from 2016 which we have been given permission to share. Trials of the database can be requested here.

Read more about the unique support offered by the Idox Information Service. More information on subscriptions can be requested via the online contact form.

Introducing the Idox Information Service … supporting evidence use for over 40 years

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office in Glasgow

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office in Glasgow

As a team who work every day to supply evidence and good practice to our clients in the public sector and consultancies, it would be easy to feel a bit down about the ease with which the idea of a post-truth world has taken grip.

In fact however, it’s heartening that so many organisations continue to recognise the value that our service brings. Not only does it offer a continuing professional development resource for staff, it also acts as a channel for knowledge sharing between organisations – helping them when they have to review services, look for efficiencies, or transform what they do in light of changing government policy or priorities.

We know that much of what we do can remain hidden, even to our own members. So let’s go under the bonnet of our unique service …

Who we are

The Idox Information Service is a membership library service, which was established over forty years ago – originally under the name of the Planning Exchange. At the outset, the emphasis was on the provision of resources to support professionals working in planning and the built environment in Scotland, but over the years we’ve expanded our subject coverage to cover the whole spectrum of public sector information, and across the UK.

Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Our work

Our team is made up of a mix of researchers, public policy specialists and qualified librarians, along with support staff. They have professional memberships, including chartered membership of CILIP and the Social Research Association. This picture shows the typical range of activities in a year:

2014 statsPublic policy is an ever-evolving subject and so current awareness services are a big part of what we do. Members can set up their own subject alerts on anything that interests them, and we also have a set of weekly and fortnightly updates on common topics. Last year we added three new current awareness updates on Devolution, Smart Cities and of course, Brexit!

UK grey literature is a particular strength of our collection. We spend a lot of time sourcing documents such as technical reports from government agencies, and research reports produced by think tanks, university departments, charities and consultancies which are often overlooked by other databases. Recent research has highlighted the value of grey literature for public policy and practice.

We also write our own research briefings for members on different topics, with more detailed analysis of research and policy developments, and including case studies and good practice. Some of these briefings are publicly available on our publications page.

The interest from members in using our Ask a Researcher service has been increasing, due to the time pressures and other challenges that people face in sourcing and reviewing information. An example looking at the links between employee wellbeing and productivity is on our website. Members regularly comment on the usefulness of the results, and it’s satisfying to be able to make a direct contribution to their work in this way.

Keeping it personal

While our online database allows our members to search for and access resources themselves, there is a strong personal element to our work.

Our members know that we’re always available at the end of the phone or via email to provide them with dedicated support when they need it. It’s important to us that we provide a quality service which keeps pace with the changing needs and expectations of a varied membership base.

Hopefully, this article has provided some insight into the way that the Knowledge Exchange supports staff and organisations across a variety of fields. More information about the service can be found here.


In 2015, the Idox Information Service was recognised as a key organisation supporting evidence use in government and the public sector. It was named by NESTA / Alliance for Useful Evidence / Social Innovation Partnership in their mapping of the UK evidence ecosystem.

We also contribute data to the Social Policy and Practice database, which focuses on health and social care evidence, and is a resource recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

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

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.

Celebrating a different kind of library: the Idox Information Service

Number 95

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office, an art deco building in Glasgow

by Laura Dobie

It’s National Libraries Day this Saturday, and events are being held up and down the country to celebrate libraries and their contribution to communities. When people think of libraries, it tends to be public libraries which spring to mind and rows of bookshelves. However, the library sector is diverse.  Many librarians and information professionals work in different types of organisations, with different kinds of service users.

With libraries taking centre stage over the course of this weekend, we wanted to showcase our own specialist library service and the skills of our library staff.

Who we are

The Idox Information Service is a membership library service, which was established over thirty years ago under its earlier name of the Planning Exchange. At the outset the emphasis was on the provision of resources to support professionals working in planning and the built environment, but we’ve expanded our subject coverage over the years to cover the whole spectrum of public sector information.

Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Our work

Our research officers are all qualified librarians, and many are chartered members of CILIP. This picture shows the range of activities last year:

2014 statsGrey literature is a particular strength of our collection. We spend a lot of time sourcing documents such as technical reports from government agencies, and research reports produced by think tanks, university departments, charities and consultancies which are often overlooked by other databases. Recent research has highlighted the value of grey literature for public policy and practice.

Although we may work in a specialist sector, many of our activities will be familiar from other libraries. We do our own abstracting and cataloguing, and current awareness services are a big part of what we do.

We also write our own research briefings for members on different topics, with more detailed analysis of research and policy developments, and including case studies and good practice. Some of these briefings are publicly available on our publications page.

The interest from members in using our Ask a Researcher service has been increasing, due to the time pressures and other challenges that people face in sourcing and reviewing information. A recent example looking at the links between employee wellbeing and productivity is on our website. Members regularly comment on the usefulness of the results, and it’s satisfying to be able to make a direct contribution to their work in this way.

Keeping it personal

While there has been an increasing trend towards self-service in libraries, and our online database allows our members to search for and access resources themselves, there is a strong personal element to our work.

Our members know that we’re always available at the end of the phone or via email to provide them with dedicated support when they need it. It’s important to us that we provide a quality service which keeps pace with the changing needs and expectations of a varied membership base.

Hopefully this article has provided some insight into a different kind of library, and library and information work, and the way in which we support professionals across a variety of fields. More information about the service can be found here.


Laura Dobie is a Research Officer at the Idox Information Service and a chartered librarian. She writes regular blog articles and research briefings for the service, and tweets for @IdoxInfoService