Evidence-Informed Practice: creativity and challenging times

Back in 2012 a team from IRISS took part in an international invited workshop on Evidence-informed practice: creativity and challenging times.  Held in County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland, this was the third in a series based on a network of organisations from Australia, Canada, USA, UK, Ireland and Sweden.

Some of the papers from the workshop were published in a special issue of Evidence & Policy 10.4 (2014): Mapping the field in evidence-informed policy and practice: international perspectivesYou can download the introduction to the special issue free of charge.

On Research Unbound we offer a pre-print version of the paper presented by the IRISS team (Alison Petch, Claire Lightowler, Lisa Pattoni and Ian Watson), with additional material on more recent projects.

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Our evidence-informed practice work involves harvesting existing knowledge, skills and resources across the social service sector. Supporting people to share knowledge, learn from each other and to collectively produce new knowledge and solutions is both an innovative approach but also one which we believe to be cost-effective.  This is based on logic rather than detailed cost effectiveness studies; we have however promoted the replication of approaches which have been subject to such scrutiny through our Money Matters series .

The focus at IRISS enables the mobilisation of knowledge known to some but initially unknown to others, and supports the production of a more robust evidence which builds on a wide range of evidence types. Combining this with our innovative use of technology has offered an inexpensive means of providing better evidence-informed products and services to our stakeholders. It can also create numerous opportunities to do more with less—even in our current economic climate.

We believe that our organisational capacity to take an innovative and cost-effective approach to evidence informed practice is facilitated by a number of key ingredients:

  1. We have perceived freedom away from statutory requirements
  2. We are small, and as such can react more quickly to changes in policy/demand from the sector
  3. We operate in a culture which is informal, open and inquiring and which values experimentation
  4. We have the capacity to move financial or other resources around different projects and activities which enhances our ability to address issues where and when they emerge
  5. We are positioned between policy, practice and research communities, thus perceived as independent and trusted to facilitate knowledge sharing.

These elements combine to enable a culture where we can develop, and promote the use of tools and techniques for embedding knowledge, evidence and innovation in practice.


This paper explores ways in which the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS)  promotes the delivery of cost effective social services in Scotland that will support the achievement of positive outcomes for individuals accessing support.

It identifies a number of key principles that underpin the work of the organisation and suggests ways in which these facilitate innovative evidence-informed practice.  The approach to evidence-informed practice is characterised as comprising four pillars of activity.

The first pillar focuses on improving awareness and access to evidence and is exemplified by the Learning Exchange, the IRISS Insights series, and audio and video recording.

The second pillar refers to strengthening the evidence base and is discussed in the context of work on self-directed support.  Improving skills and confidence to use evidence forms the third pillar and is represented by work on data visualisation and peer support for self-evaluation.

The final pillar  is embedding evidence in organisations, through co-production, creating spaces to test and challenge evidence, and through the development of evidence-based products.  Supporting people to share knowledge, learn from each other and to collectively produce new knowledge and solutions is an innovative approach but also one which should be cost-effective.