In 2014 we launched a new strand of our work focused on evidence-based practice in social services. This component of ESN’s work programme consists of a panel of applied researchers and senior practitioners, who meet in a variety of formats, and of a series of outputs exploring challenges and opportunities for evidence-based practice by drawing on the input of applied researchers and social services’ directors.

As a follow up to the first panel meeting, which took place in November 2014, we published a paper that defined the concepts of evidence and impact, assessed what sort of impact may be relevant and for whom, and discussed the evidence-based policy and practice phenomenon in social services in Denmark and the Netherlands.

The meeting served also as a starting point for the work carried out in 2015. Here we partnered with Ann Buchanan, researcher at the University of Oxford, to conduct a review of international databases that gather evidence-based practices in social services and to make an assessment of how useful the information contained may be for senior social service practitioners. This initial work helped us to formulate a proposal around what type of knowledge is required for commissioning social services. This aided us in the development of two questionnaires; one on what questions may be useful to think of when planning services, and the second questionnaire on what questions are useful when evaluating services.

In the toolkit, we address the confusion about the various definitions of effectiveness and what the definition of quality really means. We discuss and assess the range of “evidence” needed to develop evidence-based social services, including identifying risk and protective factors, knowing the extent of the problem and the importance of evaluating the effects of the service on the population. For financial and ethical reasons, bringing together the various definitions and types of evidence is key so that those responsible for designing and commissioning services can decide what is best for their setting.

We addressed the various parts of the toolkit with senior practitioners and applied researchers in a joint meeting in London last October and integrated their feedback in the final output, which we gladly present now. For next year, we are looking at testing the toolkit with practitioners in various European countries.


If you are planning a programme or its evaluation and would like to use the toolkit, please contact Alfonso Lara Montero.