One year of evidence support for social care and services

One year of evidence support for social care and services

This week marks the first birthday of the Iriss Evidence Search and Summary Service. It’s been an exciting and challenging year of designing, developing and delivering a service that aims to provide tailored, relevant and accessible evidence from research, practice and lived experience to people working in social care and services across Scotland. Here’s a little bit about how it’s gone so far, taken from our annual report, which included responses from a service user survey.

Key figures

  • 52 weeks in operation: 55 enquiries
  • 25 Outlines published in year one (2017-18)
  • 17,861 overall page views in year one (2017-18)


We’ve had some wonderful feedback from service users, about the direct contribution ESSS has made to using evidence to improve service delivery, the way ESSS provides capacity organisations would not otherwise have, and various aspects of the quality of the service including efficiency and accessibility of the Outline content. These are some of our favourites: 

“The service provided was effective and efficient in gathering and presenting the information needed to a high professional standard.”


“The Outline showed the information in a useful, easy to read format, which will enable us to find and also do any further research around the topic. It brings it all in one place and saves a lot of time, it means we have this info to hand for our staff and volunteers.”


“This is a very helpful overview covering a wide range of evidence sources. It is organised and presented in a way that helps us focus in on and further explore that which is most pertinent to our improvement activity.”

Service users view ESSS positively, reporting that it provides capacity that service providers would not otherwise have, including time and expertise. Survey respondents directly link ESSS Outlines to evidence use in practice. Their quality, including structure and content, is rated as high. The service is perceived as welcoming, supportive and efficient which users feel is important. Several respondents were repeat users and/or recommended it to colleagues, who have then used the service.


Respondents reported high levels of satisfaction with aspects of service delivery (the time between initial enquiry and having a conversation with someone about their needs, the time between having a conversation about their enquiry and an Outline being produced, and the general way their enquiry was handled) and aspects of the Outline as a product (layout and design, accessing evidence sources provided, clarity of writing, how understandable the writing was, the extent to which requirements were met, amount, usefulness, and quality of evidence provided, and the extent to which the Outline met the user’s information or evidence need).

Chart showing level of satisfaction with ESSS

Comments included:

“This is the first time we have used the ESSS. It was recommended to us by someone from [redacted]. The depth and quality of work produced exceeded our expectations.”

Evidence aims

The majority of survey respondents identified the development of knowledge and skills (68%), improvement of the quality of care or services (63%), supervision and leadership of staff (53%) and innovation or trying something new (53%) as their aim for using the evidence being sought.

Chart showing different aims for using evidence from ESSS

Other respondent-provided responses included providing an evidence base for a conference, developing a service improvement project, supporting social work education and to inform planning and resource distribution.

Evidence use

100% users report they have (61%) or intend to (39%) use evidence provided. In their additional comments, respondents reported uses of evidence identified and summarised in ESSS Outlines including the development of interagency collaborative strategy, policy development to improve service delivery, training and staff development to improve practice, and to justify the need for funding.


100% of respondents who answered reported that use of the ESSS had an impact on their knowledge and understanding of the area they enquired about; their awareness of the range of evidence sources available; their likelihood of accessing evidence from a range of sources (including academic journals and organisations’ websites), and their confidence in using evidence for the purposes they identified. A particularly significant impact was that 89% of respondents reported that the use of the service had a lot of impact on their awareness of the range of evidence sources available.

Chart showing the level of impact of ESSS

Engagement and reach

The service has achieved significant wider sector impact: Iriss ESSS Outlines are now indexed by Google Scholar, SCIE Social Care Online, NICE and Care Knowledge, have been included in news bulletins, including Lifestyle and Health News, and linked to in sources including SSSC’s Step into Leadership. Google Analytics also indicate that the Outlines are also being shared widely across communities of practice such as What Works Scotland, the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, Inspiring Scotland and the Scottish Co-Production Network. Google analytics indicate that the materials also appear to have been included in several HE courses, including the University of the West of Scotland, Robert Gordon University, University of Strathclyde, Dundee and Angus College, City of Glasgow College, Northampton University, The Open University, and University of Otago (NZ).

It was very heartening to see that the way we do things at ESSS seems to be working well, but it’s also been important for us reflect on how we can improve what we do and the way that we do it to better support knowledge mobilisation and the use of evidence in practice in social care and services. We’re looking forward to whatever might be around the corner. Without giving the game away just yet, it involves online learning…

Evidenced-based practice in social work

Evidenced-based practice in social work

The Iriss Evidence Search and Summary Service (ESSS) was set up to help social services providers use evidence to help support practice, service improvement and continuous learning the social services sector in Scotland. As a part of this, we’ve been looking into the research around evidence-based practice (EBP) in social work. In this post, we’ll be sharing some of the key issues highlighted in the literature.

Defining evidence-based practice

“EBP is a process, a verb, not a noun.” (Thyer and Myers 2011)

Like so many slippery subjects in social services, there is disagreement about how we define EBP (Gray et al. 2009). Some researchers argue that the phrase itself, which originates from medicine, is too rigid, and prefer the term evidence-informed practice (EIP) (McLaughlan and Teater 2017). EIP is considered by some to be a more inclusive, non-hierarchical notion (Webber 2015), implying that practice knowledge and interventions might be enriched by prior research but not limited to it (Epstein 2009).

There was some consensus, however, that EBP is a process that involves many different factors with the long-term goal of positive outcomes for service users. Generally, there is a lot of discussion around the barriers to EBP. These tend to be focused around the evidence itself, practitioners and organisations, and we’ve summarised some of these issues below.

What is evidence?

“Much research is ‘of the wrong kind’ – that is, it focuses on problems not on evaluating solutions.” (Webber 2015)

In the studies we read, there was agreement that the strict, narrow, scientific view of evidence traditionally associated with EBP was not wholly appropriate for social services (Gray et al. 2009). Rather than a strict hierarchy, there is a tendency to place equal value on organisational, practitioner, policy community, academic and user and carer research (Pawson et al. 2003). See our post on social services evidence for examples of resources relevant to the Scottish context.

A broad approach to gathering evidence is often necessary; as social work covers a diverse field of activity, the research base is correspondingly fragmented (Booth et al. 2003). The complex issues surrounding interventions in social work do not do not easily lend themselves to experimental designs (Berger 2010; Gray et al. 2009). Many social workers embarking on research might find limited academic evidence relevant to the diverse populations they support and their unique agency context (Bledsoe-Mansori et al. 2013). Other issues related to evidence include:

  • Lack of fit between the type of research undertaken and requirements of practitioners (Gray et al. 2015)
  • Slow process of academic publishing means evidence can quickly become irrelevant in practice context (Wike et al. 2014)
  • Evidence around effectiveness, such as what type of intervention works best with a certain group of clients, is most useful for practitioners, but the majority of evidence tends to be descriptive or explanatory (Berger 2010).

What role do practitioners play?

“[I]t is inevitable that professional judgement will always take priority over evidence in informing decision-making.” (Gray et al. 2009)

A survey on 152 social workers found that approximately a third found it difficult to practice evidence-based social work, and 17% did not feel it was feasible to use EBP when providing interventions for clients (Teater and Chonody 2017). The literature also shows that social workers tend to draw on their practice wisdom and experiential knowledge rather than privileging empirical research (Gray et al. 2015).

The responsibilities of EBP frequently fall on the shoulders of practitioners, who might be given little support to implement these changes in the way they work (Yates et al. 2015). Social workers were found to differ in terms of whether or not they see themselves as needing to be involved in locating, appraising and applying research in order for EBP to be best implemented; a survey of 364 social workers found that 41% felt practitioners had a responsibility to appraise and apply research themselves, while 42% believed EBP involved the use of guidelines and protocols developed by others (Gray et al. 2015).

The barriers to EBP experienced by practitioners will undoubtedly be familiar:

One of the main themes emerging from the literature is that social workers tend to consult with peers, supervisors or mentors to alert them to relevant research (Booth et al. 2003) and for support in making practice decisions (Teater and Chonody 2017). Peer influence is also thought to play a part in their exposure to and willingness to adopt new practices (Wike et al. 2014). There is potential for more research around how this way of working might be leveraged to integrate EBP.

How can organisations support EBP?

“Evidence-based practice is the endpoint of a massive research, policy and practice infrastructure pushing the practitioner in a particular direction.” (Gray et al. 2009)

Research in this area consistently finds that organisational culture and availability of resources have a significant influence on the uptake of EBP (Bledsoe-Mansori et al. 2013Cheung et al. 2015; Gray et al. 2009; Gray et al. 2015). These resources include dedicated staff time, funding support and an infrastructure providing access to evidence (Gray et al. 2015).

Some of the recommendations for supporting EBP in an organisation include:

  • Giving practitioners access to research and time to engage in EBP (Teater and Chonody 2017)
  • Working towards organisational cultures marked by norms of achievement and motivation, development of staff abilities, positive interpersonal relationships, and mutual support (Wike et al. 2014)
  • Incorporating the direct experience social workers and clients have regarding the impact and effectiveness of interventions into evidence-generation (Gray et al. 2009)
  • Developing agency–university partnerships to motivate social work practitioners to increase adoption of EBP (Bledsoe-Mansori et al. 2013)
  • Framing research utilisation within an organisation as mission-relevant and as connected to growth, learning and innovation (Yates et al. 2015)
  • Providing ongoing training and/or mentorship and support from peers or experts in the field (Teater and Chonody 2017)

Want to know more?

Get in touch with the ESSS team for support finding and using evidence in your practice or within your organisation.


Berger, R (2010) EBP: practitioners in search of evidence, Journal of Social Work, 10(2), pp.175–191 (paywalled)

Bledsoe-Mansori, SE et al. (2013) Implementing evidence-based practice: practitioner assessment of an agency-based training program, Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 10(2), pp.73–90 (paywalled)

Booth, SH et al. (2003) The need for information and research skills training to support evidence-based social care: a literature review and survey, Learning in Health and Social Care, 2(4), pp.191–201 (paywalled)

Cheung, M et al. (2015) Research–practice integration in real practice settings: issues and suggestions, Research on Social Work Practice, 25(4), pp.523–530 (paywalled)

Epstein, I (2009) Promoting harmony where there is commonly conflict: evidence-informed practice as an integrative strategy, Social Work in Health Care, 48(3), pp.216–231 (paywalled)

Gray, M et al. (2009) Evidence-based social work: a critical stance. Oxon: Routledge

Gray, M et al. (2015) What supports and impedes evidence-based practice implementation? A survey of Australian social workers, British Journal of Social Work, 45(2), pp.667–684 (paywalled)

McLaughlan, H and Teater, B (2017) Evidence-informed practice for social work. Maidenhead: Open University Press/McGraw Hill

Pawson, R et al. (2003) Types and quality of knowledge in social care, Knowledge Review 3. Social Care Institute for Excellence (open access)

Teater, B and Chonody, JM (2017) Identifying as an evidence-based social worker: the influence of attitudes, access, confidence, and education, Social Work Education, 5479(January), pp.1–16 (paywalled)

Thyer, BA and Myers, LL (2011) The quest for evidence-based practice: a view from the United States, Journal of Social Work, 11(1), pp.8–25 (paywalled)

Webber, M (2015) Applying research evidence in social work practice. London: Palgrave

Wike, TL et al. (2014) Evidence-based practice in social work: challenges and opportunities for clinicians and organizations, Clinical Social Work Journal, 42(2), pp.161–170 (paywalled)

Yates, M et al. (2015) From a provider’s perspective: integrating evidence-based practice into the culture of a social service organization. Child welfare, 94(2), pp.87–106 (open access)

Open access social services research

Open access social services research

There’s an increasing interest and drive in social services in Scotland to use evidence and research to improve social care and support. Lots of academic research that would be useful for practitioners and other social service deliverers to access is behind paywalls, only available to those with subscriptions. Although people working in social services across Scotland have access to some academic research through an OpenAthens login* with The NHS Knowledge Network, there is still a lot of relevant research that the NHS doesn’t and can’t afford to subscribe to. There’s also a lot of high quality academic research published in journals that don’t charge to read them (referred to as ‘open access’), and these aren’t always included in The Knowledge Network’s catalogue. On top of this, it can be confusing to work out where to go to find open access research online, particularly when publishers make it deliberately complicated to protect their profits.

All these challenges can make it really hard to identify and get hold of relevant research publications that could help with professional development, practice, policy and organisational approaches. At ESSS we’re in the process of building an online learning resource to help people working in the area of social services to learn more about finding, accessing and using research and evidence to support their practice. This will include content on what open access means and looks like, the tools you can use to make it easier to find open access content and free versions of paywalled materials.

In the meantime, we thought we’d share some of the free tools we use when we’re working on our Outlines to support social services practitioners:

Kopernio is an extension for your internet browser that quickly tells you if you have access to a version of a journal article that you are looking at. It detects when you are looking at an article’s page and if you have access, either through NHS subscriptions or through an Open Access version, it will provide a link to the document. One nice feature of Kopernio is that it automatically files away the pdfs you read in your own private Kopernio Locker, to help you organise your files.

This is generally the most convenient way to find Open Access work if you’re used to searching academic journals and databases. The extension will work in Google Chrome.

Unpaywall  is another useful browser extension. It adds an icon to the right-hand side of any page where it detects an academic article. The icon indicates whether there is an Open Access version available and clicking it will take you to the appropriate document. One thing we like about Unpaywall is that when you get to the web page for a paywalled journal article and you’ve installed the extension, it lights up green and you can click it to get to an open version of the article.

Unpaywall draws on slightly different sources to Kopernio, but does not check if you have access through your Knowledge Network membership. It may be helpful to install both. The extension will work in Google Chrome and Firefox.

Open Access Button is also a browser extension. It registers when people hit a paywall to an academic article and can’t access it. If Open Access Button can’t get you access, you are automatically invited to request it from the author to make their work publicly available, and guide them on making the work available to you. If the author shares it with you, everyone else who needs it will be able to access it. You can install Open Access Button as a browser extension or you can use their website. You can get Unpaywall on all desktop browsers – as an extension for Chrome and Firefox (and soon one for Edge) and as a Bookmarklet for all others.

CORE is a service that pulls together a collection of over 125 millions of open access harvested research outputs. Many of the extensions mentioned above use this aggregated tool, but you can search from the website too.

Google Scholar enables you to search articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Although some people are reluctant to use Scholar because it’s seen as less credible than academic databases, it can be a really useful tool. It’s doesn’t always find all the material that academic databases (such as ASSIA, PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, and Web of Science) do, but it also finds material that isn’t in these databases but which can be high quality and relevant. We find it can be a good starting point for searching alongside academic databases.

Something we really like about Scholar is how it connects you to content that’s paywalled but available through The Knowledge Network. If you set it up to link to your NHSScotland OpenAthens login (through the Settings > library links > enter Knowledge Network Library Search – NHSScotland Journals), it can show you which articles you can access through the The Knowledge Network subscriptions. If you’ve installed an extension like Kopernio above, it will work alongside this as well to point you to free versions of articles where it has found these.

A particularly useful feature of Google Scholar is it shows you who the article you’re looking at has been ‘cited by’ – you can follow these links to find other relevant information.

Edited to add:

You can search for open access versions of papers if you have the DOI of the document, by using To do this, simply replace with in any DOI link. For example, change to

Another way to do this is to add the DOI information to the end of For example, copy and paste 10.1016/j.jalgebra.2015.09.023 to the end of to make

* The Knowledge Network offer accounts to everyone who helps provide health and social care in Scotland in conjunction with the NHS and Scottish Local Authorities, including many in the third and independent sectors. You can register here.

Many thanks to Alex Clarke, Research Engagement Librarian at the University of Bristol for some of the content provided here. It was originally posted on the University of Bristol Library website.

We hope this is a useful starting point for getting hold of research, and if you’d like more support please do contact the ESSS team at Iriss – we’re here to help with little niggly questions or big ones, technical or topic-based.

Social services evidence

Social services evidence

When we’re asked to produce an evidence summary or review, we use a wide range of evidence sources to make sure we’re finding research, reports of activities, evaluations and discussions around the topic from a variety of voices and perspectives. Over the past few months we’ve been testing out different sources of useful evidence, considering which websites may be of relevance when we’re doing focused searches, and looking for alternative ways of accessing research that is not publicly available and to which we don’t have access through subscriptions. We thought it would be useful to share these resources, so that people working in the social services across Scotland (and beyond) could try out these evidence sources for themselves. Some search tools and databases are more appealing to use them others, and some have more relevant information than others for particular topics. We’re learning more about them every day, but what we really want to know, is – what do you think about social services evidence sources?

We’d love to know what you think, so we’ve created a Google document of social services evidence sources with a bit of description about what some of them are and how they collect and organise research and other evidence. Comments are open on the document and this blog post, so please feel free to add your thoughts for example about usability of different sources, what challenges you might encounter when you use them, why you would or would not use them. Getting an insight into the challenges and perceptions of people working in social services and wanting to use evidence will help us tailor our workshops and one to one support, as well as to help us, if necessary, to challenge information providers to make their systems more open and accessible. And of course, if you think there are sources that should be included, please make suggestions.

If taking a look at these evidence sources gets you wanting to know more, please feel free to get in touch with us at Iriss ESSS to talk about one to one support or organising a workshop. You’re welcome to come to us in Glasgow, or we can come to you.