Sometimes the evidence for an activity or intervention will be limited or conflicting.  In these circumstances, evidence to support a proposed activity may come from multiple sources.  These sources may include an analysis of data already produced by others and the experience of those who have been involved in developing the application. It can also look at different possible courses of action and make suggestions on the most promising option.

The proposed beneficiaries of any activity should always be involved in this process. The Life Changes Trust recognises their experience and'insight'as important evidence for generating ideas and evaluating their effectiveness.

Evidence of all kinds can help inform improvement and innovation plans. It can help organisations make smart choices amongst many ideas for activities and programmes.  In this way, the gathering of evidence can be a spur for action and change; an inspiration rather than a blueprint.

Sources of evidence might include:

  • Testimony of the lived experience of perspectives of our beneficiary groups.
  • Testimony based on the experiences of professionals engaged in relevant practice.
  •  Evaluations and systematic reviews of particular interventions.
  •  Evidence drawn from related areas of work or based on a similar process.
  • A review of the external environment and the specific local and policy contexts that affect beneficiary groups.

Evidence or advice might be rated according to the degree of confidence it provides that a practice is effective and will improve outcomes for a specific group (e.g. people affected by dementia).  Perkins (as cited in Nutley, Powell, and Davies' 'What Counts as Good Evidence') makes the helpful distinction between:

  • Good Practice - 'we've done it, we like it, and it feels like we make an impact'.
  • Promising approaches - some positive findings but the evaluations are not consistent or rigorous enough to be sure.
  • Research-based – the programme or practice is based on sound theory informed by a growing body of research.
  • Evidence-based – the programme or practice has been rigorously evaluated and has consistently been shown to work.

Even if based on a range of sources, the ‘case for action’ may well be inconclusive.  This uncertainty is a fact of life and often requires taking risks and using the evidence you have.  Evidence should be used in a meaningful way as part of any organisation’s ongoing process of evaluation, learning, adaptation and innovation.  This kind of ‘learning as you go’ is a way of mediating risk.

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Further sources of information

See the Life Changes Trust Briefing on Insight and Evidence for a discussion of the Trust’s approach to evidence and how we believe different types of evidence can contribute to a cycle of learning.

The Confidence through Evidence Toolkit from IRISS is one of the most helpful guides.  It is aimed at all staff working in the social services sector, including social care.  It will be of use for those interested in finding and using evidence for service innovation and improvement as well as individuals who want to make their practice more evidence-informed.  The toolkit has four steps designed to help beneficiaries acquire, assess, adapt, and apply evidence in practice, and involves a number of learning activities to help improve skills and confidence in these areas.

Evidence for Success: the guide to getting evidence and using it produced by the Knowledge Translation Network offers a practical guide for the third sector.  The guide covers:

  • Generating or finding evidence in the first place.
  • Using evidence to influence your own internal policy and practice.
  • Using evidence to influence external (other people’s) policy and practice.
  • Using evidence to influence funding and commissioning.
  •  10 tips to communicating evidence effectively.