Free access to Social Policy and Practice … this month only!

Social Policy and Practice is the UK’s only national social science database embracing social care, social services, public health, social policy and public policy. And Ovid – the internationally-recognised leader in medical information services – is celebrating its unique benefits by offering the chance for librarians and researchers to test drive it for free, throughout October!

UK-focused evidence and research

Social Policy and Practice is produced by a consortium of key organisations within the UK. Currently these are:

  • Centre for Policy on Ageing
  • Idox Information Service
  • National Children’s Bureau
  • National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
  • Social Care Institute for Excellence

The focus is on research and evidence that is relevant to those in the UK. So although a large proportion of material relates to delivery and policy within the UK and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the database also covers material that is transferable from Europe and across the world.

Unrivalled scope

Social Policy and Practice covers all aspects of public health and social care. It is a must-have resource for anyone interested in the following topic areas:

  • Social work and social care services
  • Children and young people
  • Adults and older people
  • Families and parenting
  • Safeguarding
  • Health promotion
  • Health inequalities
  • Community development
  • Physical and mental health
  • Education and special educational needs

It also offers a holistic view of wider policy areas that impact on health, such as homelessness, housing and deprivation.

Social Policy and Practice boasts over 400,000 references to papers, books and reports and about 30% of the total content is grey literature.

The importance of geographical focus

Research studies have shown that people searching for social science evidence tend to neglect the question of geographical and coverage bias within research sources. And that the geographical focus of databases is a potential source of bias on the findings of a research review.

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).

So as a UK-produced database, Social Policy and Practice is uniquely placed to provide relevant results for UK-based researchers.

A valued resource

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.

Social Policy and Practice was also identified by the Alliance for Useful Evidence in a major mapping exercise in 2015, as a key resource supporting evidence use in government and the public sector.


To see for yourself why so many UK universities and NHS bodies rely on Social Policy and Practice as a resource, visit Ovid Resource of the Month for instant access.

To find out more about the history of the database and the consortium of publishers behind it, read this article from 2016 which we have been given permission to share.

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:

Evidence use in health and social care – introducing Social Policy and Practice

SPP screenshotWith public sector austerity and the integration of health and social care, it seems as though the need for access to evidence-based policy and practice has never been stronger. Initiatives such as those from the Alliance for Useful Evidence, most recently its practice guide to using research evidence, have 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 journey to a new resource

A recent article in CILIP Update has explored the background to the Social Policy and Practice database, and its contribution to ensuring the inclusion of grey literature and a UK-perspective within systematic reviews. Update is the leading publication for the library, information and knowledge management community and they’ve given us permission to share this article with our blog readers.

We’ve written before about the value of UK-produced databases within a global publishing context. The CILIP Update article makes the point that when conducting any search for evidence, it’s important to look beyond the major databases to more specialist collections, to source grey literature and to look beyond geographical borders.

This was one of the major drivers in 2003, when the heads of the Centre for Policy on Ageing, the Greater London Authority, Idox Information Service, National Children’s Bureau and Social Care Institute for Excellence agreed to pool their resources and create the first national social science database embracing social care, social policy, social services, and public policy.

The proposal was met with great enthusiasm by the sector which recognised a gap in provision. The new Social Policy and Practice database was launched in November 2004.

The strengths of consortium working

Bringing together these organisations was relatively simple. They were all striving to provide evidence and information to their staff, members or customers. They all also had a professional drive to share their focused collections with the wider world of researchers and to influence policy and practice.

Through developing best practice and troubleshooting problems together, we have improved not only the Social Policy and Practice database for users but also improved our own individual collections. All whilst remaining independent and focused on our individual specialities.

Continuing to evolve

The NSPCC joined the database consortium in 2015, bringing its collection of resources focused on child abuse, child neglect and child protection. The NSPCC library is Europe’s largest collection of publications dedicated to safeguarding children. It includes journal articles, books, academic papers, leaflets, reports, audio-visual material, websites and digital media on all subjects that help researchers, policy makes and practitioners protect children from abuse and neglect.

Social Policy and Practice now 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.

We’re proud to be contributing to the knowledge base for social research, policy and practice!


To find out more about Social Policy and Practice (SPP) database for evidence and research in health and social care, or to get a free trial, please visit www.spandp.net

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

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.