About evidence

Evidence refers to a range of sources of information that could inform a decision about an intervention, service or care.

This toolkit aims to support you in accessing evidence from different sources. It particularly focuses on locating evidence from research, as this can be under-used in decision-making.

Working in health and social care, you’ll probably need to look for the latest evidence at some stage, perhaps for service design, transformation or commissioning.

You may be a commissioner, manager, clinician, researcher or service user. But whatever your role, understanding the evidence base will help inform your decisions. It can inform decisions on funding, changes, improvements, evaluation or your choices as a patient.

So what does evidence mean in this context? Research papers, guidelines, evaluations, population and surveillance data, policy, health needs assessments, activity data, feedback from stakeholders, patients, carers and the public are all sources of evidence.

What type of evidence is best?

You may have come across the concept of an evidence hierarchy in healthcare.

As it originates from the evidence-based medicine movement, it’s based on the best research designs for questions about whether something works. This places designs such as randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews of trials at the top.

This encourages a focus on certain types of evidence in particular. But if we’re asking a different sort of question, that hierarchy may not be appropriate and we might overlook useful evidence.

For example, if we want to know about patients’ experiences of a service or care received, then we will need evidence from sources like qualitative research or patient reported experience or outcome measures (PREMS or PROMS).

You might find it more helpful to consider the question you are asking and what type of evidence is most likely to help you answer it, in the style of a matrix like table 1 in this article. This will help you embrace all the possible evidence that might be helpful, rather than just evidence from certain types of research.

Tip: If you want help with understanding different research designs there is more detail in this guide.

What difference does evidence make?

This local case study about alcohol dependency and malnutrition among homeless people illustrates the value of evidence in helping reduce inequalities in health and improve health outcomes in our population.

Read the case study

The Evaluation and Evidence toolkits go hand in hand. Using and generating evidence to inform decision making is vital to improving services and people’s lives.

About the toolkits