Going digital
Jan 18, 2024

Goal setting for service users: Paper vs digital

Mark Topps explores how care providers can best set service user goals, and discusses the pros and cons of paper vs digital care records.

Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager

Table of contents

I previously wrote articles about goal setting and its importance for our staff, leaders, and managers. However, I haven’t discussed how to best set goals for service users.  

I am often asked if paper solutions are better than digital solutions for goal setting for service users. This week, I’ll explore the differences between both, and touch on how to set effective goals for the people we support.

The pros and cons of paper systems for goal setting

We often hear from our local authorities, the regulator and professionals that digital solutions are the way forward – especially with the government assisting with funding to help providers move digital social care records (DSCR).

While digital systems are a way forward for many things, paper-based systems still have their place for some aspects. I believe goal setting is one of them.  

This is especially true for some care services where you may be supporting people who are not digitally skilled or do not like using computers. Paper based systems reduce technical barriers to more complex solutions.

Back when I was managing care services, there were service users with learning disabilities or of older age who just did not understand technology. For these people, paper-based systems would be preferential and a lot more accessible. We must always remember the person’s choice.  

Goals can be empowering to people, and for many that involves the physical act of writing goals, which paper brings and digital does not replicate.  

One of the key benefits to written records includes a sense of ownership. Studies have shown that the experience of holding a pen or pencil, and feeling the texture of paper, can create a more memorable connection as sensory engagement contributes to better retention and recollection of information.  

I think back to my time as a support worker, and how I used to support people to write their own care plans, and the impact this had on their wellbeing and involvement. This would be no different to people writing their goals and progress.  

Paper based systems can also be a cheaper alternative, especially for smaller providers or smaller bedded care homes, where the cost of digital solutions may not be an option.  

That said, in the long run paper can become more expensive due to the printing costs, paper wastage, and lack of storage space, and this should be considered, especially as we move into a more sustainable world and regulators and local authorities are considering this more and more. This is where digital care systems can excel.  

The pros and cons of digital care systems for goal setting

Whilst the above paper advantages are clear, there are many positives with using digital systems, and one of these is the ability to track goals, progress and updates in real-time, thanks to the power of cloud solutions.  

Cloud solutions also bring the added advantage of enhanced collaboration, as many platforms allow for sharing, feedback and joint participation.  

There are several goal setting systems, and one thing you need to be mindful of is user friendliness. There is nothing worse than having to use a system which is not user friendly as this adds to the workload and prevents staff from wanting to use it.  

Digital systems will often come with enhanced features that can optimise goal setting and outcomes, especially when it comes to data and analysis. Just keep an eye out for added costs to make sure you know what is and isn’t included within a system.  

It may be that the system can integrate with other digital platforms that you have, and this can enhance workflows and, in some cases, eliminate manual data entries.  

Paper records can easily be misplaced by the person being supported or by staff, and sometimes not returned. However, digital systems remove this risk, alongside the added bonus of being able to search and retrieve specific information which can save time and increase productivity.  

Another benefit of digital goal setting solutions is the enhanced security, due to the ability of encrypting records and providing safeguards against data loss.  

The biggest benefit for me with digital solutions is the audit trail of knowing when changes were made, and being able to evidence these changes when reviews took place as well as who did them. This transparency can be essential for accountability and compliance.  

How to effectively set and track goals for service users

So, which solution better for setting and tracking goals?

It all depends on your needs, however having a solid understanding of why evidencing goals is important is key. For example, you might want to improve how you showcase progress during CQC inspections.  

With that in mind, setting effective goals, no matter if you use a paper or digital system, will require some thought.

Consider the individual

Think about the service users’ interests and needs, and then use that as a basis to personalise their goals. Some may want to travel abroad or manage a certain amount of their own money, while others may want to brush their teeth twice a day or work towards doing something else independently.  

The more person-centred the goal, the more actionable the steps towards it can be. This will make it easier to track progress, as well.

Gather feedback

Use surveys and meetings to collect feedback from service users and staff about experiences and progress.  

Visualise trends  

Create visual progress charts and graphs, and take photos or videos to illustrate changes over time. This might be easier done on digital systems that allow you to link visual evidence with logs and care plans.  

Regular goal reviews

Conduct regular meetings to discuss progress, adjust, and collaboratively document goal achievements.


Considering service users is crucial. Some with thrive with tangible paper plans, whereas some will benefit from the digital features.  

A key benefit of implementing a digital care system with goal tracking features is making the process more convenient for staff and personalised for service users. Since some systems are intuitive, it enables service users to easily tap their way through recording their experiences and progress. This can also be shared during inspections.

A tailored approach should be taken, and the person’s choice should be at the centre.

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