Are you in the know?

For many social care practitioners, gaining information is a
continuing problem. Work time is dominated by heavy caseloads and
there is often a lack of awareness of, and access to, information
resources that could help solve immediate or emerging problems. As
a result, people often fall back on a quick Google search and are
faced with vast amounts of information, much of it irrelevant or
invalidated. Life would be easier if social workers could focus
their searching for research and practice information on the
specialist bibliographic databases that cover social care-related

It has become clear to the team of information scientists at the
ESRC UK Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice (based at
Queen Mary, University of London), that researchers and
practitioners in many fields have a limited knowledge of the range
of sources that might be useful to them. Even researchers working
in universities, with access to a range of databases through their
libraries, may limit themselves to one or two familiar academic
services. While valuable, these are dominated by peer-reviewed
journal papers, and often have a distinct US bias. They provide
variable and usually limited coverage of the wealth of social
science research, policy and practice information that appears in
practitioner journals like Community Care, and in UK
central and local government reports, reports from independent
research institutes, voluntary organisations, think-tanks and
others (this material is often referred to as “grey

Practitioners are likely to find UK-focused material – whether
policy, practice or research – particularly useful. However, the
centre’s current series of information workshops, sponsored by the
Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) for social care and
policy staff, has revealed a surprising lack of awareness of the
specialist databases, such as AgeInfo, Acompline, Planex,
CommunityWise and DrugData that cover this kind of material.
Awareness of the ChildData and Caredata websites does appear more
widespread but, overall, knowledge of information sources and how
to use them effectively is sparse. Unfortunately, nearly every
specialised social policy and practice database produced in the UK
differs in its structure and search protocols, making the task of
finding information arduous for those with limited searching

Practitioners are doubly hampered, not only by lack of knowledge
about information sources and how to search them effectively, but
by the fact that most services are subscription-based and not
available within their workplaces. For example, a practitioner
seeking evidence on social problems in rundown housing estates
might need to subscribe to Planex, Acompline, ChildData, ASSIA,
IBSS and Inside Web, as well as searching the free Caredata
database provided by Scie through its Social Care Online website.
Those dealing with abused children, people with mental health
problems or vulnerable older people might also need access to
health-related services such as CINAHL, HMIC and PsycINFO, as well
as the freely available Medline.

To try to overcome some of the problems and provide practitioners
with easier access to some of the specialist UK social care and
social policy information sources, staff at the centre have been
working with a group of database producers to provide a single
point of access to their material.

The databases involved in the project are:

  • Acompline from the Greater London Authority – covers all issues
    relevant to social policy but with particular emphasis on London
    and south east England. Its coverage of grey literature is
    particularly valuable and the subject coverage ranges across social
    care, health care and social policy, equalities, law and order,
    education and training, housing and homelessness.
  • AgeInfo from the Centre for Policy on Ageing – covers all
    matters concerning older people (excluding medical issues). All
    forms of literature are included and subject coverage includes
    welfare and health care, carers, disability, employment, housing,
    retirement, finance and pensions, and community and residential
  • Caredata from Scie – offers broad coverage of social care,
    social work and social policy. All forms of literature are
    included, with links to full-text versions where available.
    Specific subjects include families and children, fostering, social
    exclusion and inclusion, disability, substance abuse, health care,
    equal opportunities, bereavement and race and ethnic issues.
  • Planex from Idox – covers all matters relevant to social policy
    but with special emphasis on Scotland and northern England. It
    includes all forms of documentation and its coverage of grey
    literature is exceptionally strong. Hyperlinks to online material
    are included, and subject coverage is similar to that of

Unique content from all four databases has been brought together
to form the new Social Policy & Practice database, containing
more than 200,000 abstracted references to all forms of documents
and available online through the internationally available Ovid
Technologies SilverPlatter platform. The individual component
databases will continue to be marketed and provided separately by
their producers for users who prefer to access them in this

Using the simple search protocols of the new database, social care
practitioners will now be able to identify key central and local
government policy documents, commentaries on current legislation,
recent research findings, reports from independent research
institutes and charities, papers from practitioner journals and
useful texts on management and administration in the social care
field. Given the significant grey literature content, a linked
(priced) document supply service from the British Library is a
valuable additional feature. Although there is more social
care-related literature available online, much of it remains
paper-based and the library’s document supply service covers all
kinds of material, including books and journal papers as well as

The evidence-based policy and practice agenda has focused attention
on the need for everyone to be better informed about what they do.
Access to the documented experience and knowledge of the outside
world is an essential prerequisite, and Social Policy &
Practice will be a valuable resource for any social work
department: from front-line practitioners to those involved in
monitoring or conducting research and those engaged in policy

Alan Gomersall is deputy director at the ESRC UK Centre for
Evidence Based Policy and Practice at Queen Mary University of
London. His career has been in the provision of information
services and he has previously been head of the research library at
the Greater London Council and director of science information
services at the British Library.

Training and learning
The author has provided questions about this article to
guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at and individuals’ learning from the
discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected training
log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all
GSCC-registered professionals.

Access to information from the outside world is vital in
the new evidence-based world, which demands that we are all better
informed about what we do. This article describes a new
bibliographic database covering social care and related literature,
which brings together unique content from four UK services that
cover a range of documents, including journal papers, books, policy
documents, central and local government reports and reports from
research institutes and charities. The new database is called
Social Policy & Practice. It offers practitioners more than
200,000 references from 1990 to the present.

Further information

  • Further details on Social Policy & Practice, including how
    to take out a 30-day free trial, are available at
    Anyone wishing to join a free Scie-sponsored one-day workshop on
    information retrieval, where the new database (and many others)
    will be available for practical searching sessions, should contact
    the author. These are running at Queen Mary, University of London,
    until April 2006.
  • Further information on all the
    databases mentioned here are at

Contact the author
By e-mail:

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