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The big reveal – the Scottish Government’s new Digital Citizen Unit
Eilidh McLaughlin, the Scottish Government's new head of digital citizen unit/Supplied.
Digital Transformation

The big reveal – the Scottish Government’s new Digital Citizen Unit 

My name is Eilidh Mclaughlin and I’m here to talk to you about the Digital Citizen Unit in Scottish Government.

Wait, stop! I can tell you’re bored already. But behind that somewhat unassuming name, we’re building something really important and exciting for Scotland.

Here on a First Minister Digital Fellowship, I came from NHS National Services Scotland where I held two roles over several years. The first was associate director of corporate affairs and compliance, and the second was associate director of information governance and security. Yes, I enjoy data protection. There, I’ve said it. Please don’t judge me.

I had various public sector roles before that, in local authority and in higher education, and they’ve all taught me different things. All of this learning and passion has culminated, for now, in leading the Digital Citizen Unit. So who are we?

We’re the team that runs the Connecting Scotland programme, and also now the team who lead the considerations of how Scotland can be an ethical digital nation. These two strands complement each other well and it’s a privilege to be working on something that can make such a difference to people’s lives.

I’ve never written a blog post before (can you tell?!), and when one of my team suggested I give it a go, I thought, “Well, why not?!”. I think I may be regretting that now.

There’s so much to say about the Digital Citizen Unit. But units are about more than a name, they’re about the people who are motivated to work in them, who believe in the purpose and who do it in the service of Scotland.

I’m one of those people. You know, slightly over eager, a bit too enthusiastic perhaps….. but this unit really matters to me!

Connecting Scotland began as a child of the pandemic. It was and is a fantastic, caring and altruistic programme. Basically, we help people get online by giving them a device, connectivity, skills and support or a combination thereof. Straightforward, no? Well…. Not really.

The processes involved in this programme need to be carefully co-designed with the recipient at the heart of what we do. We have to carefully consider how we reach those who need this type of support most (I call it designing for the 20 per cent). This makes sure we make the best possible impact with the best outcomes for those who need it.

We use agile methodology to frame our work so we can monitor and move at pace but easily correct where we might go off track. And we use data as much as possible, from our evaluation process, from the markets, from Ofcom and the R100 programmes. This helps us understand not just what people are telling us, but also to identify what the realistic possibilities are. Layering these approaches together should lead us in the right direction towards getting it right for everyone.

But it all comes at a cost and that will be a challenge too.

That cost must also be considered in ethical terms. Have you ever stopped to wonder whether the public would absolutely know and understand the digital direction you’re taking them in and be able to play this back to you with enhancements?

By the public here I mean someone who’s not immersed in digital, or the area of expertise, or even involved in public life. We must consider, as we work, not just the co-design approach but the fundamental question: Is this the right thing to do? Our biases and assumptions will make us believe it is, and that is why it is really important that we have an ethical framework which challenges our views and assumptions to make us very sure that we are doing the right thing. The team who are considering these questions are the Ethical Digital Nation team.

So there we have it. Although I’ve written this blog, the Digital Citizen Unit is the sum of the great people who work within it, of which I’m just one of the cogs. If you want to know more, we’d be very happy to hear from you – please email us at connectingscotland@gov.scot. Just please forgive us the over-enthusiasm in advance.


Originally published as a blog on the Scottish Government’s website.

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