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.

Why UK-sourced evidence matters … and why it is so often ignored

By Morwen Johnson

If you follow our blog, you’ll know that we care passionately about promoting the uptake of evidence and research by policymakers and practitioners. It’s easy to be complacent and assume that when public money is at stake, decisions are made on the basis of evaluations and reviews. Unfortunately, this is still not always the case.

The current evidence-based policy agenda in the UK encompasses initiatives such as the What Works network, the Local Government Knowledge Navigators and independent organisations such as the Alliance for Useful Evidence. They are working on fostering demand for evidence, as well as linking up academics with those in the public sector to ensure that the research community is responsive to the needs of those making decisions and designing/delivering services.

A recent article in Health Information and Libraries Journal highlights another challenge in evidence-based policy however. A mapping exercise has found that literature reviews often ignore specialist databases, in favour of the large, well-known databases produced by major commercial publishers. Within the health and social care field (the focus of the article), literature reviews tend to use databases such as Medline, Embase and Cinahl – and overlook independent UK-produced databases, even when they are more relevant to the research question.

Why does it matter?

Research has shown that how (and why) databases are chosen for literature searching can “dramatically influence the research upon which reviews, and, in particular, systematic review, rely upon to create their evidence base”.

To generate useful evidence for the UK context (relating to UK policy issues or populations), researchers need to understand the most appropriate database to search – but unfortunately our own experience of looking at the detail of methodologies in evidence reviews, suggests that in many cases the only databases searched are those produced by American or international publishers.

Grey literature is a valuable source in evidence reviews – and again this is often overlooked in the major databases which tend to focus only on peer-reviewed journal content. A recent Australian report ‘Where is the evidence?‘ argued that grey literature is a key part of the evidence base and is valuable for public policy, because it addresses the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, tracks changes in policy and implementation, and supports knowledge exchange between sectors (academic, government and third sector).

Another benefit of UK-produced databases is that they will make use of UK terminology in abstracts and keywords.

Social Policy and Practice – a unique resource

At this point I should declare a vested interest – The Knowledge Exchange is a member of a UK consortium which produces the Social Policy and Practice (SPP) database. The SPP database was created in 2005 after five UK organisations, each with a library focused on sharing knowledge in community health and social care, agreed to merge their individual content in order to make it available to the widest possible audience.

The current members of the SPP consortium – the National Children’s Bureau, the Idox Knowledge Exchange, the Centre for Policy on Ageing and the Social Care Institute for Excellence – have just been joined by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Inclusion of the NSPCC’s bibliographic data greatly enhances the coverage of child protection research in the database. SPP has been identified by NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, as a key resource for those involved in research into health and social care.

We want the UK research community to understand what SPP offers, and to use it when undertaking literature reviews or evidence searches. This process of awareness raising should start with students – librarians in universities and the UK doctoral training centres have a key role in this as it ties in with the development of information literacy and critical appraisal skills. Ignoring specialist sources such as SPP risks introducing bias – at a time when initiatives are attempting to embed research and analytics in local government and the wider public sector.


Information on the coverage of Social Policy and Practice is available here and the distributor Ovid is offering a free 30-day trial.

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