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…

Evidence Search and Summary Service launch

Evidence Search and Summary Service launch

Last week saw the launch of the new Iriss Evidence Search and Summary Service (ESSS). We’re really excited to make this free service available to the social services sector in Scotland, to help support practice, service improvement and continuous learning. This post gives a bit of  background as to who we are, where we come from and what we’d like to achieve with the service.

We’re looking forward to getting out into the social services sector to meet people we can help with our service. We’re particularly keen to find out what your information needs are and how we can develop a service that provides the evidence and information you need. Key to our approach will be co-produce evidence searches and summaries that help you make informed decisions about your work.

The service is funded by the Scottish Government and sits within Iriss, a charitable company that promotes positive outcomes for people who use Scotland’s social services. A lot of their work is centred on ensuring that everyone in social services has the knowledge, tools and skills to effectively use evidence and to innovate. The new ESSS service will organically contribute to the aims of Iriss. It will communicate evidence and inspiration to the sector, create conditions for information sharing, help people to make use of evidence to improve services and support, and enable culture change through filling knowledge gaps and supporting the development of skills around evidence, innovation and digital literacy.

Contributing to Scotland’s national Knowledge into Action Strategy, we aim to bridge the knowledge-practice gap, by supporting practitioners, planners and policy-makers to identify and apply evidence, ensuring that decisions about frontline practice, service design, development and delivery are based on sound evidence. Scotland’s strategies for social services highlight the importance of embedding the use of knowledge and evidence in social services practice. It is important for social services to:

  • Work on continuous improvement and innovation
  • Apply new knowledge to policy, planning and practice
  • Use robust evidence and effective application of knowledge in all its forms
  • Achieve better outcomes for people who use social services, and the wider community.

This work isn’t easy, and we know that social services need support and guidance to handle the amount of information available, its broad distribution and wide range of formats, and the complexity of new policy development. ESSS exists to help social services providers to use a range of useful and up to date evidence and knowledge, and build their confidence that they work they undertake is evidence-based.

What we’ll be doing through the ESSS is similar to the work being undertaken by the Knowledge Managers and Health Librarians in places such as NHS Education Scotland’s Knowledge Network, who provide knowledge support for the delivery of health and social care. We’ll be working in partnership with them to develop a service that meets the needs of the workforce and facilitates the use of evidence in practice, service improvement and continuous learning.

The social services sector needs a tailored approach to best respond to the unique nature of the sector and the nature and cultures of the evidence and knowledge relevant to it – something we’ll be writing more about in future posts. We’ll also be writing here about the kinds of evidence we search, how we go about ensuring that we find and evaluate evidence appropriately, and how we aim to communicate this effectively. We’d like to get a dialogue going about this work, share experiences in a social services context internationally and across the library and information world.

The new Evidence Search and Summary Service aims to increase the application of evidence, through providing expert support to source and bring together evidence from research, practice and experience. It’s vital for us to make different kinds of research evidence more accessible and easier to understand for all kinds of people working in social services across Scotland. We’ll be working with each person we support to make sure our products meet their needs.

We’re also working to supporting people in social services to increase their confidence, skills and capacities around finding, evaluating and using evidence. In turn, we believe this will lead to improvements in the quality, efficacy, cost effectiveness and outputs of service and practice developments.

If you’d like to find out more about ESSS and the products and services we offer, you can visit our website. You make an enquiry about your information and evidence needs through the website. Alternatively, you can email us at or phone us on 0141 559 5057. We’re also on twitter at @irissESSS.

If you’ve got any thoughts about the new service and its potential, please do feel free to start a discussion in the comments below!