Setting employment goals

Prototyping digital tools with Recovery Focus' employment services



The brief

It is well reported that obtaining meaningful work or employment contributes significantly to people’s wellbeing. Recovery Focus, a national charity who support people in this journey towards work were interested in how they might use digital tools to provide more accessible, far-reaching and individualised services.

How might we make better use of digital tools to improve employment services?


The solution

A number of changes were introduced to the employment service; namely Aspire, a new web app that enables clients and staff to create collaborative ‘action plans’ and track progress between sessions.

Aspire will be supported by new online content, training packages for staff and internal champions, thereby enabling Recovery Focus to lead the way in the digital transformation of employment support services.



50 users

for a six week period to objectively measure outcomes


4 weeks

spent on-site conducting user research and user testing



of clients

wish to continue using the web application as part of their appointments

+20% increase

in client experience

of those who used the new web application compared to the control group




A discovery phase was conducted to:

  • Identify key user needs

  • Understand barriers to adopting new digital tools

  • Identify opportunities for improving the service

Seven different employment teams were visited UK-wide.

Methods included:

  • Shadowing employment support appointments

  • Contextual interviews

  • Workshops

  • Journey mapping

  • Desk research on best practice

The user research was synthesised into themes, insights and user needs.

Key insights

  • A lack of information online contributed to client anxiety before the first appointment

  • Employment ‘support plans’ were not used effectively when filled in by staff on behalf of clients

  • There is little consistency in approaches between employment teams

  • Digital skills and confidence is a prerequisite for the majority of jobs

A number of potential opportunities to improve the employment service were identified and prioritised by Recovery Focus in terms of desirability and feasibility.

The refined design brief at the end of the discovery phase:

How might we encourage client-led action planning?

Producing early wireframes based on the user needs

Producing early wireframes based on the user needs


A number of action plan prototypes were built at different levels of fidelity: 

  • Paper prototypes

  • ‘Click-through’ prototypes

  • Interactive Axure prototypes

  • HTML prototypes

The paper prototypes quickly evolved into a bespoke web application that enabled action plans to be built collaboratively in appointments.

The team used agile methodology to continually built, test and learn.

In keeping with agile methodology the team:

  • Produced working software in two-weekly sprints

  • Conducted weekly user-testing on site

  • Continually refined and prioritised a backlog of user needs

Agile was an excellent method of engaging stakeholders by showing how user feedback was incorporated.

Evaluating the impact

The new web application, called Aspire, was evaluated in a six week pilot. The aims of this evaluation were:

  • Gather objective evidence to understand the impact

  • Gain feedback from a large sample of users

  • Identify areas for further research and iteration

33 clients and 17 members of staff took part. Half of the clients were allocated as the control group and continued with appointments as usual.

The pilot results showed that:

  • The use of Aspire has a positive impact on client experience of the service

  • Clients were building digital skills and confidence through using Aspire

  • 71% of clients would like to continue using Aspire in appointments

“It showed me what could be achieved in terms of recording information relevant to our needs” - Employment Advisor

The final Aspire web application - UX and UI design by    Mindwave Ventures

The final Aspire web application - UX and UI design by Mindwave Ventures

Key touchpoints of the future service

Key touchpoints of the future service


Recovery Focus are planning to scale Aspire across employment services UK-wide.

To support adoption, it was recommended that:

  • The process is incremental and bottom-up

  • A number of staff are allocated as ‘champions’ to co-train colleagues

  • The positive results from the pilot form the basis of a comms plan

  • New website updates to link in with Aspire

By enabling clients and staff to set collaborative employment goals, Aspire demonstrates how a user-led design process, coupled with agile methodology, can result in sustainable service improvements.

“It was nice to have a platform to say what we want and why. It showed me what was possible to make it a truly client-led experience” - Employment Advisor