17 September 2020

Why should I use the What Works database?

Ulrike Thomas is a Research Associate at Newcastle University who helped I CAN and The Communication Trust find out how the 'What Works' database is influencing professional practice around children's speech, language and communication.

“When wanting to find evidence of effective interventions for care planning and in delivering training packages, What Works is the first place I look.” 

For those of you unfamiliar with What Works, it’s an online searchable database of evidence-based interventions for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. A practical tool to help early years practitioners, speech and language therapists and school staff to make decisions about how to plan the best, well-evidenced, support for them. (Mary Hartshorne, blog post February 2020) 

Every year more evidence is reviewed and added to the database to ensure it remains high quality, useful and relevant. In order to test how effectively What Works achieves this, I CAN regularly conducts a survey with users to get their feedback.  

In 2019 this survey was undertaken by a research team from Newcastle University, led by Cristina McKean, Professor of Child Language Development and DisordersWe followed it up with interviews with a sample of practitioners to really find out in detail exactly how it is being used and in what ways it is impacting on practice. 

We would like to share some of the main findings with you so that you can read, in the words of some of the 857 respondents, why they turn to the database in the course of their work.  

'I use What Works to support and justify my current practice/decision-making' 

On a day-to-day basis, professionals use the interventions that they consider to be effective based on their own experience, training and expertise. However, it is great to be able to support these decisions with robust evidence, especially when justifying them to others; this is where the What Works database comes into its own.  

I have used narrative therapy somewhere myself and I was well aware of it but it was nice to find it on the What Works database and that it has been recommended and evaluated. Specialist Teacher

“At the moment it’s really about checking what we’re recommending so we’ve got a more solid base to say actually this is what we know works.” Speech and Language Therapist 

I use What Works to get new ideas/inspiration 

After assessing a child or young person a need is often established that you may not have had to consider before. In such cases a search of the database can lead to new ideas, interventions and resources all of which you know will have been tried and tested: 

I've looked at a method that isn't working for my client, then looked for one that I might use instead Online survey respondent 

“It has given megood informationabout interventions such as Colourful Semantics, and FocusedStimulation, which helps me implement effective therapy approaches.” Online survey respondent

I use What Works when developing and delivering professional development activity 

If you are a professional who needs to train others as part of your work, you can use the database as a resource, secure in the knowledge that the evidence presented has been robustly and rigorously moderated: 

“We've been demonstrating the resource to local SENCos as part of a training package, particularly to support them in working with children with delayed skills that have not yet been assessed by an SLT.” Online survey respondent

“I base my interventions on the evidence base and always direct student therapists towards What Works to identify possible interventions for target groups, to help their professional development.” Online survey respondent

I use What Works to review provision 

If you are in a leadership role where you have oversight of a service, the evidence on What Works can be used on a regular basis to review and develop provision at a systemic level: 

“We are going through a period of change and redesigning the provision. In terms of What Works, I used it to look at all the different therapy approaches that What Works would recommend, as part of those changes.” Professional Clinical Lead for Paediatric Speech and Language Therapy

I use What Works to signpost others to useful information 

Because What Works is considered a high quality, trustworthy and objective resource it can be used to signpost others to information e.g. to head teachers, class teachers as well as parents. There is information relevant for a range of different stakeholder groups. 

“It does provide a source of information that we can signpost professionals and parents to. Business Relationship Manager

“In the last few years SLT reports have changed dramatically and it means SENCOs and non-SLT specialists are able to access them in a way they couldn’t do before. But they still need sign-posting to some of the resources that are mentioned. They need to have really clear idea of what they are getting into and what they can do without the speech and language therapist but also when reports do come in and they say you know they need vocabulary training or something like that I can signpost them to some of the things from this website." Specialist Teacher

Looking to the future 

Read our full report to see just how much the What Works database has impacted on the practice of professionals working in a range of different settingsI CAN are not complacent, however, and they are keen to address the suggestions from users as to how the resource can be improved - particularly with respect to usability and the search facility. They are determined that What Works will remain a crucial resource for practitioners who work with children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. 

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