Plans unveiled for ‘refreshed’ digital strategy for Scotland in response to COVID-19

Plans for a refreshed digital strategy for Scotland have been outlined as part of a coordinated response between central and local government in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The Scottish government and local authorities around the country have pledged to work together to ‘cut across boundaries’ in designing fully digital public services, boosting connectivity to support people and businesses and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’ as technology becomes an ever greater part of citizens’ lives.

In response to the pandemic – and also the economic uncertainty of Brexit – the updated plans take into account how the economic and social context has changed “dramatically” since the last national digital strategy was conceived in 2017.

Although the new vision is described as a ‘discussion’ document – and it has been put out to consultation – the 39-page blueprint contains a series of overarching aims and more specific measures to deliver a radical repurposing of government services, linked to National Performance Framework goals.

Such recommendations will help to address the ‘challenges’ brought about not only by the global pandemic – where citizens and businesses have moved rapidly towards digital technology – but also access to the European digital single market for business, skills and innovation.

In a joint statement from Ben Macpherson, Minister for Public Finance and Migration and Councillor Gail MacGregor, COSLA Resources Spokesperson, they said: “The coronavirus crisis has shown us that working digitally is more important than ever before and has driven fundamental changes, including how we work and how we interact socially. It has also shown that collaboration can achieve powerful results.

“The Scottish Government and COSLA are committed to working together to deliver a refreshed Digital Strategy for Scotland that reflects this, and to engaging with partners across Scotland throughout this process. We share a vision of modern, digital and collaborative government, designed around people. This can only be delivered when central and local government work together. We are committed to doing that to ensure services are designed to meet the needs of the user, cutting across boundaries between service providers, to deliver economic recovery, meet our climate change targets, and ensure that everyone in Scotland has the skills, connectivity and devices required to fully participate in our digital nation.”

The launch of the consultation for ‘Renewing Scotland’s Full Potential in a Digital World: Updating the Digital Strategy for Scotland’ builds on the work between central and local government undertaken during lockdown. Connecting Scotland – a nationwide programme to provide tech devices and digital training in some of Scotland’s most deprived communities – aims to get 50,000 people online by next year. The scheme was set up in just four months by Scottish Government, in partnership with tech trade body ScotlandIS, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), COSLA and Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

The document is driven by tech’s capacity to support National Performance Framework goals, including on climate change, social and economic inclusion, connectivity and building digital public services that are ‘person-centred’; it recognises that the pandemic has had a profound effect on the way people are interacting, working and travelling and describes the changes as an “incredible opportunity” to position digital as front and centre of the economic and social recovery.

The consultation states: “This document is intended to set out the overarching digital vision; but separate strategies and/or action plans may be required in specific policy areas. Digital strategy updates which take account of the radically changed environment are underway across government, including in health and social care, in planning, and in learning. We are working closely with colleagues to ensure our work is aligned, and together we deliver the vision outlined in this document.”

Big themes outlined in the document reflect the need to build services around the needs of the user, not the organisations delivering them, ensuring they are accessible, ‘secure and resilient’, are joined up and can adapt and scale to changing demand. Again, the document references a need to work with local government and third sector organisations to deliver that and contains specific measures, including ‘developing a common catalogue of services and service components that will be used as a default across national and local government’. Common platforms listed include a digital identity service which can be used for citizens’ access to public services, for payments, application forms, publishing, customer relationship management (CRM), management information and cloud operations.

The document states: “Modern government and organisations need to work together to reduce unnecessary duplication of work, improve the way they use data, and the way they deliver services to Scotland’s people.” It is also recommended that common digital and data standards are developed across the public sector and that the Scottish Approach to Service Design underpins the move towards user-centred design of services based on common services and platforms “as the default”. As such a Data Standards community of practice will be formed and a public sector data catalogue developed.

Other commitments include repurposing CivTech – the Digital Directorate’s digital innovation hub – as a ‘joint service innovation centre for national and local government and establishing Research Data Scotland as an ‘internationally recognised centre of excellence for ethical research that ‘uses the high-quality data we have about people, organisations and places to systematically improve the lives of people in Scotland’.

The consultation, which opened yesterday and has already been guided by 56 submissions received from a cross section of Scottish business, closes on December 23.