Announcing the Social Care Elf


This blog post originally appeared on the LSE Social Care Evidence in Practice blog.

It was written by André Tomlin (Mental Elf Chief Blogger) and Martin Webber (Anniversary Reader in Social Work and Director of the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research at the University of York).

How do you keep up to date with the latest reliable social care research?

Ask a hundred people who work in social care and you’ll probably get a hundred different answers! There’s no simple and easy way to keep abreast of the latest evidence because it’s so scattered in terms of where it’s published, often in obscure locations, frequently behind pay-walls.

But of course, it’s not just about getting your hands on the evidence, it’s also about actually being able to read and understand the research when you have the time and inclination. Social care research can be jargon-filled and impenetrable stuff that you need a degree in research methods just to decipher! And there just isn’t enough time to spend reading lengthy research reports.

Add to this the fact that there is limited accessible guidance about how to separate the useful social care research from that which is poorly conducted and badly reported (and unfortunately there’s quite a bit of that out there). Accessing high quality social care research is challenging, but fortunately help is at hand.

There's a huge amount of social care research now published, but how can we be sure that it's reliable?

There’s a huge amount of social care research now published, but how can we be sure that what we are using is reliable?

The National Elf Service

A group of partners led by the NIHR School for Social Care Research and the Personal Social Services Research Unit at LSE, Making Research Count at University of York and Social Services Research Group have been inspired by a simple but effective idea that has been developed by an Oxford University company over recent years. The National Elf Service is a set of health websites that started in 2011 with the Mental Elf and the Learning Disabilities Elf and now contains elves on ten topics.

The sites are simple; they offer easy access to relevant and reliable research in a clear, concise and engaging format. Each weekday an expert writes a blog that summarises an important piece of new research in fewer than 1,000 easy to read words. The bottom line of the research is presented, along with a critical appraisal of the evidence and a clinical commentary that puts the research into context.

So if you’re a social worker with an interest in mental health you might get a blog about a new Cochrane systematic review on exercise for dementia, or a paper in the Lancet about community treatment orders for psychosis, or a new guideline on social anxiety disorder. Everything is relevant to UK mental health practice, easy to read and understand, evidence-based and delivered in an engaging format on your preferred device (computer, phone) and via social media.

Each of the ten websites in the National Elf Service is fronted by a friendly elf. The idea here is to make research less daunting by presenting it in a fun and memorable way, and this tactic has worked remarkably well as the sites have become extremely popular with a diverse audience in a relatively short space of time.

The blogs are sent out across various social media channels as well as in more traditional formats, so users can subscribe to regular email alerts or join in with the conversations around each blog on Twitter and Facebook.

The elves provide a friendly way into the world of evidence-based research

The elves provide a friendly introduction to the world of evidence-based research

Looking forward to the Social Care Elf

What’s more, it won’t be long before there’s a new elf in the woodland. The Social Care Elf is in development and the website will be launched soon. It will adhere to the same simple principles of making high quality social care research more accessible and usable, so that people who work in the field have the research they need at their fingertips to enable their practice to be informed by relevant research findings.

You can find out more about the ten live elves by visiting the National Elf Service website.

Developing the Elf with you

Join us at the LSE on Friday 25 July 2014, 10.30-13.00 to design and develop the Social Care Elf. We need your help to shape the future of this innovative project:

  • What key topics within social care should be included on the website?
  • What sources (journals, databases, websites) should we search to find evidence to highlight?
  • Who should write the blogs on the website?
  • Would you be interested in critically appraising new evidence and writing for the Elf?
  • What should the Social Care Elf look like?

Contact the team now if you are interested in getting involved:

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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