Where is the evidence base?

In a back room in Tottenham – at least, the bit that relates to evaluating interventions. Since 1999 Findings has been collecting, analysing and disseminating evaluation research. Read our 10th anniversary report on how it started, and how it became the custodian of the largest working drug and alcohol library in Britain.

Findings logo was founded by three national non-governmental agencies concerned with information, research and practical responses to drug and alcohol problems in Britain. Together with subject specialist Mike Ashton, Alcohol Concern, a predecessor organisation of what became DrugScope, and the National Addiction Centre, responded to the need for increased investment in this sector to be guided by research on the effectiveness of the interventions being funded.

By the late ’90s the need to link practice with research had been widely recognised but no specific mechanism existed to make the link a reality. Because it is the core business of neither side to link up with the other, these two sectors tend to be isolated from each other. Researchers talk to each other in academic journals, while practitioners have neither the time nor the ability to monitor the world evaluation literature and make sense of its findings.

In 1999 the founders of the Findings logo project came together to bridge this divide by creating the Drug and Alcohol Findings magazine. The aim was to provide subscribers with the evidence they needed to demonstrate and improve the effectiveness of their interventions to treat, prevent or reduce drug and alcohol problems. Drawing on the resources of the project’s founders, the magazine’s editor monitored research from across the world, identified and obtained the evaluation studies, and selected those most relevant to the UK. To make the studies intelligible and useful to practitioners, in the magazine’s ‘Nuggets’ the findings were encapsulated, set in the context of earlier research, and the practice implications were explored. Also published were authoritative, practice-oriented reviews of the literature and extended analyses of key studies.

With support for three years from the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust and later the Pilgrim Trust, from 2006 Findings set out to extend the project by replacing the magazine with a free web-based service called the Effectiveness Bank. From November 2010 the service was part-funded by Alcohol Research UK (formerly the AERC), and the following year received a further three-year grant from the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust.

By that time the web site had been stocked with the entire contents of the past 15 issues of the magazine – 230 Nuggets and similar items analysing over 300 key studies plus 54 articles including in-depth analyses of priority topics such as opiate overdose prevention, how to prevent the spread of hepatitis C, and the importance of the manner in which patients are treated. The Effectiveness Bank is also continually updated as new research is selected for inclusion from the world literature on ‘what works’ in responding to substance misuse. All these documents can be searched by subject or by using the free-text search facility.

In 2013 in partnership with and funded by the Substance Misuse Skills Consortium the project launched the alcohol and drug treatment matrices. These distil its learning since the project started in to two 5x5 grids segmented in to the major practical divisions relevant to treatment effectiveness and delivery. Within each cell are the main historical and contemporary research landmarks, reviews offering a panoramic view, expert guidance based on this research, and an option to explore beyond these dozen or so selected documents. On these were built the weekly cell-by-cell Matrix Bites courses, commentaries on each cell which cumulate in to a year-long course on the alcohol and drug treatment evidence base. In 2014 the Society for the Study of Addiction joined in financially supporting this initiative, lending the considerable weight of this learned society to the drug treatment course.

In 2015 the liquidation of DrugScope led to a reorganisation of the project, which continues to be led by Mike Ashton and supported by Alcohol Research UK and the Society for the Study of Addiction and advised by the National Addiction Centre. From that year funding permitted the appointment of an assistant editor, making a team of two.

The main indicator of our engagement with our subscribers and site users is the number of times our research analyses are downloaded and (presumably) read. By the second half of 2015 this number was topping 100,000 per month and by the end of the year had neared 200,000 – see this chart showing the growth of downloads and current figures. Another important indicator is the results of the site user survey; see latest analysis.

Sign up to the e-mail update service to keep up to date with our new research analyses and other developments on the site. Further information from editor@findings.org.uk.

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