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November 26, 2018

Evidence standards in web based research portals

Dr Lígia Teixeira

Today we release a report on the evidence standards and evidence used in web based research portals by two leading experts in the field: Prof. David Gough (UCL) and Dr Howard White (Campbell Collaboration).


Early in our journey to create the Centre we found that there was a strong appetite for an evidence portal for homelessness. A portal which could help commissioners and funders of homelessness services and others make better use of limited resources by providing an accessible and reliable entry-point to the body of knowledge on the impact of interventions without having to sift through lots of studies.

We looked outside our field for inspiration and found many ‘best in class’ examples of tools created in response to similar challenges. The Education Endowment Foundation’s Toolkit in particular appealed to people and seemed to be working well so served as our model as we developed our Intervention Tool.

At a glance, the Intervention Tool provides one-page overviews for each of the main interventions in homelessness. The overviews give ratings for how reliable the body of evidence is, how cost effective the intervention is and what kind of impact it has for people experiencing homelessness.

We knew that to ‘work’ the Intervention Tool would need to be trusted. This is vital if insights are to be acted upon. So a crucial first step was to develop the evidence standards that should inform our evidence portal - i.e. a clear, rigorous and transparent account for the approach taken to assessing the quality and reliability of the evidence in the Intervention Tool.

We invited Prof. David Gough and Dr Howard White to help us with this task because of their expertise in this area. One sensible way to approach the task seemed to be to review the standards of evidence used by the best well known evidence portals from across the world.

A survey of 14 English language evidence portals from other social policy fields was carried out to examine the type of research evidence captured and the evidence standards used. We found that portals predominantly focused on questions on the efficacy of interventions using experimentally controlled studies.  

The full report is available here:
Evidence standards and evidence claims in web based research portals

The study makes a number of recommendations about the use of evidence standards in evidence portals, including:

  • Specify the aims and methods of making evidence claims and ensure consistency across levels of evidence (guidance, evidence base, included studies).
  • Use explicit rigorous methods of evidence synthesis to make clams about the existing evidence base.
  • Develop methods and standards for policy and practice guidance informed by the evidence base.

We welcome the recommendations in the report and we are committed to adopting them as we continue to develop the Intervention Tool over the years to come. We look forward to continuing to work with our academic partners, user experience designers and our end users to further build the Intervention Tool.

Throughout our journey we have been able to move fast because of how much we’ve learned from those with a similar mission to us in related fields who have come before us and the development of our evidence portal was no exception.

We believe this is a good example of how it is possible to combine rigour and agility - a must if knowledge broker organisations like ours are to produce work that is both trusted and timely.

It may indeed be the case that a universal standard may not be possible but there is nevertheless a lot to be said for not reinventing the wheel. We hope this short study will be useful to others developing evidence portals in other social policy fields.

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