The power of behavioural science in supporting people back to work  

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The study of human behaviour, how we think and make decisions, is transforming how services are delivered and the user experience.  

Behavioural science is becoming ever more prevalent in mainstream business – it is subtle, yet effective – and is a prime example of how small changes can make a big difference. From streamlining communications on our participant journeys to using plain English to make text easier to read, we’re using behavioural science to help thousands of our participants get the most out of our programmes.  

Over recent years Maximus has invested in incorporating behavioural science into every aspect of the user experience, working in collaboration with service design and operations teams. The Restart Scheme is just one of our programmes that implements the use of behavioural science to enhance engagement and promote the opportunities that the service offers.    

With our partners, Cowry Consulting, we implemented behavioural science into the Restart Scheme ahead of its launch in July 2021, to ensure our participants are engaged and empowered throughout their journey back into work.   

By using behavioural science, we are helping participants across our programmes to to make positive choices, and access the support and services they need to move forward.   

What is behavioural science? 

Behavioural science is generally about pointing people in the right direction, adding in small changes to their environment to support them to make the best choice for themselves.   

The key part of applying behavioural science is remembering context. Understanding the environment and the people we’re trying to help really underpins our approach.   

On our employment programmes, participants may have significant barriers to employment. Behavioural science is a way of helping to deal with those barriers in a more targeted way. The participants we support come from a range of different backgrounds and age groups, so having a personal approach with behavioural science is incredibly important. 

With so many varying factors impacting individuals on employability programmes, and with a desire to target barriers specifically, we decided to centre our approach around the COM-B model of behaviour change.    

The COM-B model provides insight into three factors that influence behaviour: Capability, Opportunity and Motivation. In order to perform a particular behaviour, one must feel they are able to do so, have the opportunity for the behaviour, and want or need to carry out the behaviour.   

The Behaviour Change Wheel was adapted from the COM-B model and is another tool that can be utilised to encourage behaviour change.   

We chose to apply the COM-B model, in conjunction with the Behaviour Change Wheel, as a guiding framework for the Restart Scheme as it provides advice for developing interventions specifically, rather than merely explaining the process of behaviour change.   

We improved participant Capability, Opportunity and Motivation by embedding techniques at key stages of their journey, including our appointments, welcome packs, and training our advisors.  


Through our use of behavioural science and the Nudge theory, we can improve face-to-face engagement, promote our services, offer extra support, and help participants learn skills that will help them long after they leave the scheme.     

Behavioural science has also been effectively implemented on our programme websites, too. Social Norm and Authority nudges have been added, demonstrating how many people we have supported, and how long we have been providing health, work and support services.   

Wording has also been amended to give the website a more personal touch, to speak directly to participants and reduce cognitive overload.  

These subtle changes are already making a difference to those we help and is optimistic about the future of behavioural science across our programmes.  

Through our use of behavioural science we have been able to positively impact thousands of lives. These minor and cost-free changes are making a real difference to our participants; successfully enrolling them on programme, helping them access the support they need, and ultimately securing sustainable and meaningful employment.    

Looking forward, we remain committed to fully utilising behavioural science within our programmes, through further implementation and rigorous testing. This will help us ensure we keep our participant-focused approach at the heart of our services. 

13 January, 2023