Evaluations Online: evaluating economic development activity in Scotland

by Stacey Dingwall

Recently we profiled Research Online, one of the two research portals managed by the Knowledge Exchange team. In this blog, we focus on Evaluations Online.

Economic development activity in Scotland

Evaluations Online is a public portal providing access to a collection of evaluation and economic development research reports commissioned by Scottish Enterprise. Scottish Enterprise is Scotland’s main economic development agency and a non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government.

Idox won the contract to deliver Evaluations Online in 2007. The team developed a site which utilises a publishing platform designed specifically to deal with research material. Users can easily navigate to and assess the relevance of material thanks to specially-written abstracts and structured search functions based on a bespoke classification and record structure.

The site now contains over 500 evaluation and research reports commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, dealing with different aspects of economic development activity such as business support, investment, sector growth and improving skills. All of the reports are publicly accessible and free to access.

In 2011, the team won a further contract to refresh and improve the site, focusing on how the site could be refined to better meet the needs of key user groups including economic development policy-makers and practitioners across Scotland. In the last quarter of 2016, the reports hosted on the site were accessed over 30,000 times.

The importance of evaluation

One of the key reports hosted on Evaluation Online is the annual review of the risk capital market in Scotland. Scottish Enterprise commissions the report annually in order to consider the scale of new investment flows. The findings are also used to inform the nature of Scottish Enterprise interventions in the Scottish early stage risk capital market, such as the Scottish Co-Investment Fund and Scottish Venture Fund.

Scottish Enterprise commissions evaluations of projects and programmes each year in order to identify their contribution towards economic growth in Scotland, and particularly in terms of their impact on gross value added (GVA) and employment. As the findings of the evaluations inform decisions about public spending, it’s important that all of the appraisal and evaluation work is of a high technical standard.

We’ve highlighted the importance of evidence and evaluation on the blog several times before. It’s worth repeating that repositories of evidence can help bring about better policy in a number of ways:

  • improve accountability by making it easier for people to scrutinise the activities and spending of public sector organisations – this helps organisations meet Freedom of Information responsibilities;
  • improve the visibility and therefore the impact of evidence;
  • help identify gaps in evidence by making it easier to compare research findings; and
  • increase our understanding of what works (‘good practice’), not only in the activities covered, but also in evaluation and research methods.

We’re proud to support Scottish Enterprise in the dissemination of their evaluation and research output, through a portal which they believe increases the return on these activities.

You can find out more about the projects The Knowledge Exchange team has been involved in, and the consultancy services we offer, here.

 

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.

Research Online: Scotland’s labour market hub

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by Stacey Dingwall

As well as the Idox Information Service, the Knowledge Exchange Team manages two other research portals – Research Online and Evaluations Online.

This blog focuses on Research Online, which we developed over 13 years ago and have worked with Skills Development Scotland to maintain and update ever since.

Scottish labour market intelligence

Research Online is Scotland’s labour market hub. The portal provides an authoritative source of labour market research and analysis relevant to Scotland and supports evidence-based policy making in the Scottish labour market.

Before Research Online was created, research suggested that although useful labour market research and analysis was undertaken within Scotland by a large range of organisations, there was no single dissemination source.

Therefore, a requirement existed for a portal that clearly identified current labour market intelligence (LMI), provided a common understanding of current gaps and provision in areas including labour supply and skills, and focused action to ensure LMI met Scottish user needs.

Research Online was conceived to improve access to this wealth of intelligence.

The most comprehensive collection of labour market intelligence

The portal now contains thousands of documents on a range of labour market topics including:

  • Employment;
  • Skills and training;
  • Unemployment;
  • Entrepreneurship;
  • Vocational education and training;
  • Workforce development; and
  • Equal opportunities.

The material available on the portal includes research, policy, analysis, discussion and sectoral and geographic profiles. Our team sources the latest research and policy documents from a wide range of sources, including academic journals, government departments and agencies, labour market research centres and material sent in directly by key organisations in Scotland and the wider UK. The available material includes grey literature, government policy and up-to-date academic research.

Research Online also incorporates a current awareness service that alerts registered users to new material on a fortnightly basis. It also has integrated reading list functionality.

Free to access

Research Online can be accessed by anyone, free of charge. You can browse the material here without registering, as well as create reading lists to be accessed at a later date or shared with colleagues.

If you would like to sign-up for a range of current awareness alerts that keep you up to date on a variety of labour market topics, covering both Scotland and the wider UK, you can do so here.

Our shared vision is for Research Online to be recognised as a key dissemination mechanism by Scotland’s producers of labour market intelligence and to be at the centre of a community of practice for labour market researchers, practitioners and policy-makers.

You can find out more about the projects The Knowledge Exchange team has been involved in, and the consultancy services we offer, here.

 

Another year draws to a close …

xmas-card-2016

 

Thanks for following our blog in 2016. It’s been quite a year and we’re sure that there will be plenty of policy and practice issues for us to explore in 2017!

We are The Knowledge Exchange … the research and intelligence arm of Idox, a supplier of specialist information management solutions within the UK and the wider world.

And we’ll be back in January!

Christine, Donna, Elizabeth, Heather, James, Laura, Mhari, Morwen, Rebecca, Stacey, Steven

Rounding up our best blogs of 2016

Throughout 2016, The Knowledge Exchange’s team of Researchers has been reporting on developments in a wide range of subjects. As this selection of our blog posts from the past year illustrates, we’ve been covering everything from health and social care to digital transformation.

January

Stacey Dingwall reported on the decision by Brighton College, a co-educational independent college, to stop making a distinction between boys’ and girls’ uniforms. While the announcement was applauded by parents and other schools, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee highlighted more needs to be done to ensure schools are compliant with their legal obligations towards pupils across all protected characteristics.

“The Committee recommended that the government should consider the inclusion of training on these protected characteristics in its review of initial teacher training, and that trans issues (and gender issues generally) should be taught as part of PSHE.”

February

Heather Cameron reported on the pressures facing social workers in England:

“The Social Lives Survey revealed that while the majority of social workers enjoy their job, two-thirds say they can’t focus on what really matters and only a quarter feel their workload is manageable. Almost 80% work overtime every day, and 86% don’t get paid for doing so.”

March

Reablement, or enablement is the process of rehabilitating people to allow them to regain some or all of their independence. In March, Rebecca Jackson blogged about the successful application of this form of care:

“A 2007 study for the Department of Health’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery Network found that up to 68% of people no longer needed a home care package after a period of reablement, and up to 48% continued not to need home care two years later.”

April

James Carson introduced Reading Room, which joined the Idox Group in 2015. Reading Room is an award-winning digital consultancy with an international reputation for innovative strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery.

“The company was especially proud to have won the British Educational Training and Technology Award for Free Digital Content/Open Educational Resources for its development of the Magna Carta educational resource for the National Archives.”

May

In May, Morwen Johnson reminded readers that the Idox Information Service has its own library of 60,000 books and reports, and highlighted some recent additions, including Inside the Nudge Unit: how small changes can make a big difference.

“Behavioural insights, and how these can be used within policymaking in order to shape and improve outcomes, has always been popular as a search topic on our database. Now this book, written by David Halpern, who headed up Number 10’s ‘Nudge Unit’ or Behavioural Insights Team (now spun out as an independent company jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta and its employees) sheds light on how it works.”

June

As the UK prepared to vote on its membership of the European Union, our blog looked to Switzerland, where referendums are far more commonplace than here.

Of all the national referendums held in Western democracies since World War II, more than two-thirds have been held in Switzerland. Swiss voters go to the polls three or four times a year, deciding on issues as varied as immigration, complementary medicine, and financing of local sports facilities.”

July

Steven McGinty looked at public-private collaboration as a means of helping government to achieve digital transformation, and highlighted a new approach taken by the Scottish Government’s Civtech project, which encourages entrepreneurs, start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to develop innovative solutions to public sector problems.

“Unconventionally, the tender does not include pre-determined solutions, instead opting to pose six open questions, known as ‘challenges’, and inviting participants to provide answers.”

August

As London Underground’s Night Tube was launched, Heather Cameron outlined the benefits and concerns about night-time public transport:

It is of course too early to tell whether the night tube will bring the economic and social benefits to the city as predicted. What is clear is that the night tube supports London in its drive to becoming a truly 24-hour city.”

September

Steven McGinty reported on Norway’s pioneering role as a leader in digital government.

“In 1973 Norway became the first country to connect to the US’ ARPANET, which was the military predecessor to the Internet. And more recently, maritime and off-shore technology developments in Norway have become of global importance. In particular, the use of Big Data modelling plays a significant role in finding new oil fields.”

October

In October, Stacey Dingwall reported from the annual CILIPS autumn gathering in Glasgow, where Martin Goodfellow described his role as Coder in Residence at Glasgow Life.
“For the uninitiated, Martin explained that coding=programming. It’s a form of computational thinking: something we all use in everyday life, e.g. in deciding when to stop looking for something, be it when shopping or looking for information. Martin’s remit is to support the creation of coding clubs in Glasgow’s public libraries.

November

In her November blog post, Donna Gardiner explained that, while coaching was becoming more prevalent in organisations, there is very little research evidence about what makes a ‘good’ coach.

“The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are among those working to address this.  In August, they published a report which explored the factors leading to coaching success, from both the coach and the coachee perspective.  They also examined the nature of an effective coaching relationship and set out practical advice for organisations on how to improve coaching elements of everyday work.”

December

Steven McGinty highlighted the challenge of digital transformation in local government. While there are significant barriers to digital adoption, Steven reported that many councils are involved in pilot projects and introducing new services.

“For example, Cambridge City Council have launched Cambridgeshire Insight, a shared research knowledge base which allows over 20 public and third sector organisations to publish their data and make it freely available. We have also seen 18 councils coming together to collaborate on a project which aims to keep electoral registers up-to-date, potentially saving £20 million a year.”

 

Why a holistic approach to public health and social care needs a wider evidence base … and how Social Policy and Practice can help

SPP screenshot2016 has been described as “make or break time for the NHS”, and with pressures on finances increasing, social care and public health are in the spotlight. Around £1 in every £5 of NHS spending is estimated to be the result of ill health attributable to the big five risk factors of smoking, alcohol, poor diet, obesity and inactivity. Investing in prevention, and understanding the complex wider community and social factors that lead to poor health, is therefore important. In cash-strapped local authorities however, investment in preventative projects can be sidelined in the face of tackling acute issues.

Prevention and behaviour change are linked

Recent health policy has included an expectation that individuals should take greater responsibility for their own health. But where we are talking about behaviour change, there is no quick fix. Glib use of the term ‘nudge’ to promote change can suggest that laziness is the only issue. However, research such as that by the King’s Fund has highlighted that motivation and confidence are essential if people are to successfully modify their health behaviours.

Practitioners within the field of both public health and social care need help understanding what works – but as two great recent blogs from the Alliance for Useful Evidence noted, change can be achieved in multiple ways and evidence shouldn’t be used to prove a service works but as part of a journey of improvement and learning.

We talk about the “caring professions”, but it seems that it can be difficult to maintain a focus on the ‘person not the patient’ when budgets are being cut. Well-reported issues such as the rise in the use of 15-minute home care appointments are just one symptom of this. More generally, making time to consider alternative approaches or learn from good practice elsewhere can be hard. That is where having access to a trusted database can help.

Trusted source of research and ideas

The Alliance for Useful Evidence, most recently in its practice guide to using research evidence, has highlighted the importance of using trusted sources rather than “haphazard online searches”. One of these resources is Social Policy and Practice, a database which we have contributed to for twelve years.

“SPP is useful for any professional working in the field of social care or social work who can’t get easy access to a university library.” Alliance for Useful Evidence, 2016

The partners who contribute to the database – Centre for Policy on Ageing, Idox Information Service, National Children’s Bureau, the NSPCC and the Social Care Institute for Excellence – are all committed to sharing their focused collections with the wider world of researchers and to influence policy and practice.

Social Policy and Practice is the UK’s only national social science database embracing social care, social policy, social services, and public policy. It boasts over 400,000 references to papers, books and reports and about 30% of the total content is grey literature.

Social Policy and Practice has been identified by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a key resource for those involved in research into health and social care. And importantly, it supports the ability to take a holistic approach to improving outcomes, by covering social issues such as poor housing, regeneration, active ageing, resilience and capacity building.


Find out more about the development of the Social Policy and Practice database in this article from CILIP Update. Update is the leading publication for the library, information and knowledge management community and they’ve given us permission to share this article.

If you are interested in using the Social Policy and Practice (SPP) database for evidence and research in health and social care, please visit www.spandp.net for more information and to request a free trial.

Read some of our other blogs on evidence use in public policy:

Are you a managerial fox or a smart citizen? The books creating a buzz amongst our members

Number 95

Entrance to our Glasgow office – 95 Bothwell Street

One of the things that many people are surprised to find out is that we have a real library here in our Glasgow office. Created over forty years, there are more than 60,000 books and reports in the library collection, as well as a wide range of journals.

Our members can borrow any book from our collection via a postal loan service – offered free as part of the membership subscription to our Idox Information Service.

While the quick read – such as the briefings written by our own team – will always be popular given the pressures on people’s time, there’s still a place for real books. Many organisations use membership of our service as a way to support their staff’s CPD – whether that’s informal personal development or supplementary support for staff doing formal courses or degrees.

What’s hot at the moment

Some of our most popular books recently have been these ones:

  • Inside the Nudge Unit: how small changes can make a big difference

Behavioural insights, and how these can be used within policymaking in order to shape and improve outcomes, has always been popular as a search topic on our database. Now this book, written by David Halpern, who headed up Number 10’s ‘Nudge Unit’ or Behavioural Insights Team (now spun out as an independent company jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta and it’s employees) sheds light on how it works. The book explores how simple changes to language and communications have been shown to promote ‘desired behaviours’ – examples include reducing missed NHS appointments, increasing charitable giving or encouraging job seekers into work.

  • Smart citizens, smarter state: the technologies of expertise and the future of governing

We wrote on our blog about this book, by Beth Simone Noveck, which argues that government (at all scales) makes too little use of the skills and practical expertise of its employees and citizens. It sets out a vision for a new form of participatory democracy, which isn’t based on consultation exercises or occasional voting, but in harnessing the power of people’s knowledge and ‘know-how’.

  • The public sector fox

What are the twelve skills that managers need to thrive in the public sector? This book reveals all! From strategy, planning, finance, communication and people management to the skills of resilience, perspective and commitment – working (and succeeding) in the public sector requires an acceptance of the constraints and an understanding of the opportunities. This book offers something for managers at every level, which probably explains why it has been so popular with our members.

  • The urban section: an analytical tool for cities and streets

Our collection has a strong focus on the built environment and this book, aimed at architects and planners, looks at how well-designed streets are crucial for successful places. Although it was published in 2014, it continues to appeal to our users thanks to its mix of practical case studies and thought-provoking discussion. You can hear the author Robert Mantho, who teaches at Glasgow’s Mackintosh School of Architecture, discuss his ideas in this video.

  • The new rules of marketing and PR / Marketing for dummies

Finally, it’s clear that many of our users are having to get to grips with social media as part of their jobs, if the popularity of these two books from our library is anything to go by. Whether it’s marketing yourself via personal networks, or promoting the work of your organisation to a wider audience, many marketing approaches are becoming embedded into our daily working lives.

These two introductory texts give a good overview as well as practical advice for those who want to learn more about how things like blogs, online video, and good content can help you target your communications and understand your customers (or service users) – something that’s relevant for the public sector as well as for voluntary organisations and businesses.


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.

Get more information on membership here or contact us to arrange a free trial of our service for your organisation.

Celebrating 1,000 issues of the Idox Information Service Weekly Bulletin

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by Stacey Dingwall

After turning 40 last year, the Idox Information Service today reaches another milestone: the 1,000th edition of our Weekly Bulletin.

The Bulletin is circulated to our members every week, as part of their subscription to our service. It contains a selection of abstracts of some of the 100+ articles and documents added to our database each week. The Bulletin highlights the publications that our team of Research Officers think will be of the most interest or importance to our members, across our core subject areas:

  • Government, politics and public administration.
  • Business and economy.
  • Management and organisational development.
  • Equalities and diversity.
  • Employment, jobs and careers.
  • Education and skills.
  • Planning and development.
  • Transport, infrastructure and communications.
  • Regeneration and community development.
  • Arts, culture and leisure.
  • Health and social care
  • Crime, justice and rights.

Also included is a section of new government publications, which features any consultations, guidance and announcements the UK government and the devolved administrations have published that week.

The Bulletin was first published in 1975, back when the Information Service was known as the Planning Exchange. In his book on the early days of the Planning Exchange, Barry Cullingworth notes that at the time, “neither central nor local government [was] adequately organised to provide information”. According to founder Tony Burton, the Planning Exchange had therefore found itself dealing with an unexpected volume of requests for information, “not only from the general public, voluntary organisations and elected members, but also from academics, professionals and officers of local and central government”.

This resulted in the Planning Exchange gaining funding from the Leverhulme Trust to provide a weekly roundup of abstracts of articles and research on planning and housing-related matters to elected members in a couple of local authorities in Scotland. While this was intended to be a limited service, at the end of its trial period several local planning officers asked the Planning Exchange to continue sending the Bulletin, as they found it so useful.

Today, the Bulletin is sent to our members in local authorities across the country, central government, planning consultancies, universities and commercial organisations, among others. It forms part of the key current awareness service provided by the Idox Information Service for our members, alongside separate subject specific updates, personalised alerts and our recently launched election updates.

You can read more about the many benefits our customers enjoy from their membership of the Idox Information Service in our previous blog post here. We have also been recognised by the Alliance for Useful Evidence for our work in making research relevant and accessible to practitioners – not just researchers.


Organisations that join the Idox Information Service are committed to using a sound evidence base for decision-making and policy formulation. They also support the professional development of their staff. Being part of our community gives them the knowledge and tools to improve both frontline services and forward planning and strategy.

Membership packages can cover an entire organisation or a specific department or team. We also offer subscriptions to our current awareness services to individuals who are not affiliated with a suitable organisation.

To find out more please contact our team on 0870 333 7101 or contact us online.

Idox: enabling transformation, collaboration and improvement

Idox_logo 800 x 800 jpeg

If you follow this blog regularly then you’ll know that we write on all areas of public and social policy. What you might not realise though is that our Knowledge Exchange team is just one part of a much wider business – Idox – providing specialist information and data solutions and services.

I’ve been working with Idox for about four years, but I’m still topping-up my knowledge about the organisation. Last week, at the company’s end-of-year get-together, my brain was like an overworked sponge as it tried to absorb a multitude of facts, figures and achievements during two days of workshops and presentations (to say nothing of the informal chats in between the working sessions).

From this wealth of information, I’ve compiled a selection that I think conveys a flavour of the depth and diversity of Idox today.

Ten things you might not know about Idox…

  1. The Reading Room, which is the newest addition to the Idox family of companies, has developed digital solutions for a wide range of customers, including Porsche and Clarence House, and this year developed a virtual reality test drive app for Skoda.
  2. Idox’s recently-launched iApply service enables planning applications and building control consent to be applied for via a single source, streamlining the application process.
  3. The Idox GRANTFinder policy and grants database contains details of over 8000 funding opportunities.
  4. Real-time information delivered by Idox’s Cloud Amber keeps the travelling public up-to-date about transport services and helps manage traffic congestion.
  5. The Idox group currently employs almost 600 people in over 10 countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, India and Australia.
  6. The Idox Elections service not only ensured the smooth management of postal voting for the 2015 UK general election, but has also supported delivery of local authority and community council elections in the UK, as well as this year’s local elections in Norway.
  7. Idox has a strong presence in the compliance sector, raising awareness among managers and employees of the importance of complying with regulations, from corruption prevention and data privacy to occupational safety and cybersecurity.
  8. Idox Engineering Information Management, provides critical engineering document management and control applications to the oil and gas, mining, pharmaceutical and transport industries in 50 countries.
  9. CAFM Explorer, Idox’s computer aided facilities management software, supports building maintenance and property management for organisations in 45 countries, and recently partnered with the Hippodrome to help maintain one of London’s most popular attractions.
  10. From food safety monitoring to licensing taxis, Idox’s regulatory services help local authorities enforce the rules that keep us safe.

One more thing…

Finally, the meeting reminded me of one thing I already knew, and it’s to do with the part of Idox where I work – the Knowledge Exchange.

Over breakfast on the second morning, a colleague from McLaren talked about the difficulties in finding the right information on the web. Search engines only go so far, he said, providing too little or too much. This is where skilled intermediaries, such as Idox’s team of Research Officers, can make a difference, identifying, sorting and presenting information that people can use to make decisions, support arguments and advance their businesses.

The Idox event was an enjoyable, if exhausting, couple of days, and it demonstrated the many ways in which the company is supporting public, private and third sector work.

Clearly, there’s much more to learn about Idox.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

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

Budget cuts hit research in councils’ adult social care departments

 

By Morwen Johnson

The news that budget pressures have affected councils’ ability to carry out research in adult social care won’t come as any surprise to those working in the sector. Councils have cut £4.6bn from adult social care budgets since 2009-10, equivalent to almost a third of net real terms spend, according to Adass. And with research seen as non-essential, it will always lose out in favour of frontline services and care packages.

A recent survey carried out by the Social Services Research Group (SSRG) and commissioned by the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU), highlighted the scale of the problem though, finding that there were fewer staff to do research, and those who were left had fewer resources and less support.

Dr Chris Rainey, one of the report authors commented: “In-house research is critical to finding out what, how and why services are delivered and what difference they make. The survey points to the need to reinvest in local research capacity to ensure sound evidence is used”.

Barriers to the use of research

As well as low capacity to undertake their own research on local needs, the survey also identified restrictions on training and professional development.

Like other professions, those working in public health and social services face barriers to keeping up with the latest evidence and commentary. This includes lack of time but also the accessibility of much research (both in terms of knowing it is out there and being able to understand how research relates to practice).

The report highlighted the risk that “reliance on internet-based training and information … may result in a lack of exposure to critical debate and an over-reliance on ‘received wisdom’”.

What our members say

The findings reflect our own experience in meeting the information needs of council staff. We’ve a number of adult social care departments who use our Information Service and once staff realise the time savings we offer, they become champions of the service to colleagues. As our team is made up of information professionals and researchers, we offer experience that can be lacking internally. Resources include peer-reviewed journals, grey literature, books and practice-based case studies and evaluations – which won’t be found by searching Google.

Staff also use us for CPD purposes – nowadays spending on event and conference attendance is unlikely to be approved, but our briefings and current awareness services can help keep them up-to-date with essential topics. We also have a lot of resources on general management issues, such as managing teams, benchmarking, performance, equalities and communication.

“From time to time, we review this service and our last review showed that those who use it regularly either in a corporate capacity or in our major strategic services value it highly, describing it as quick, easy, and comprehensive. It gives staff access to a wide range of information and keeps them up-to-date across many areas that are of direct relevance.”

“I recently completed a Post Graduate course and used it as my first reference point at the beginning of each module. The service saved me a lot of time in searching for articles and books and the staff were extremely helpful. The library is well stocked and I didn’t need to purchase any books for the course.”

“Having access to the on-demand research service is a real plus, and most of our staff see real advantage to that. It saves them time in the long run and frees them up to do the day job.

The threat of short-termism

With resources in social care departments likely to remain very tight, but with practitioners under more pressure to deliver than ever, the question is how can local authorities retain and enhance the evidence base it needs to make decisions effectively?

And how can practitioners engage with the research and analysis on key developments in policy that affect social care services, such as demographic change, housing need, and independent living?

It’s worth remembering that local authority social services researchers were introduced as a result of a recommendation of the 1968 Seebohm Report. This report stressed the need for research and evaluation to be ‘a continuous process, accepted as a familiar and permanent feature of any department or agency concerned with social provision.”

But as we approach another Spending Review, it’s likely that adult social care services will face more cuts. This is despite national organisations representing the sector issuing a statement in October arguing that the sustainability of the sector has now reached a ‘crunch’ point.

Focusing on efficiency savings and short-term interventions may seem the only option at the moment, but we risk just patching up problems rather than delivering services which take a holistic and long-term view of outcomes. And that’s why recognising the value of research and evidence should be a key part of decision-making in every part of the public sector.


We are currently offering a free trial of our service for local authorities. Contact us for more information.

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