A changing nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world

This strategy sets out the measures which will ensure that Scotland will fulfil its potential in a constantly evolving digital world.


We live in a digital world. It’s changing the way we work, do business, entertain, shop and keep in touch with our family and friends. It’s transforming our expectations of public services and requires Government to change the way it works to meet these expectations.

Digital technology is already a source of incredible opportunity – to open new markets, work in new ways, personalise services, innovate and scale rapidly, tackle climate change and make links across the globe. It shapes the way in which we meet national priorities such as economic recovery, climate change, decarbonisation, wellbeing and social renewal. It can provide global opportunities for Scottish businesses and talent to build on their technological expertise. It also brings huge new challenges - around privacy, regulation, competition, media fragmentation, security, rights and social inclusion. The way in which we respond to the impact of technology is one of the greatest public policy challenges of our age.

The digital agenda goes beyond the adoption of the latest digital technology. It’s about the adoption of digital thinking, the way we lead organisations and how we embrace the culture and processes of the digital age. An approach to doing business which is user centred and process (rather than silo) focussed. A way of working which maximises the value of networks.  A recognition that the pace of change is accelerating and action to equip all of us to embrace this change and take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

For Scotland to thrive in this digital world, our response must embrace three key opportunities: designing and implementing technology in a secure, efficient and user centred way, realising the potential of data to improve services, increase efficiency and deliver better outcomes, and transforming our culture and the way we work through digital thinking, with its emphasis on openness, networking and agility.

Image of construction workers using a tablet computer

Back in 2017, we set out a vision to ensure that Scotland is recognised throughout the world as a vibrant, inclusive, greener, open and outward-looking digital nation.[1] This vision is now even more compelling. However, the context in which it will be delivered has changed dramatically.

The pandemic, and our response to it, has shown that the public sector needs to be able to act at speed to deliver new services and bring data together to innovate, provide insight and enable effective decision making.

It has shown us the importance of working as part of an ecosystem of organisations and individual talent in every sector of the economy, to get the right support, to the right people, in the right ways.

It’s focussed attention on the importance of wellbeing, given more of us the confidence to use and benefit from digital technology, and made it more obvious that exclusion from the digital world can increase our sense of isolation and limit our life chances.

It has also highlighted the security challenges as more organisations and people work, learn and communicate online. Cyber resilience is key to operational resilience and business continuity, as well as our capacity to grow and flourish as we adapt to the demands of operating online. Looking forward, we must embed cyber resilience into the design of Scotland’s future digital services, as we ensure that the digital services we build for the future are trustworthy and resilient.  

EU-Exit has, of course, compounded the challenges we face. Scotland has enjoyed many benefits of EU membership. Close collaboration with our EU partners and access to the digital single market promoted innovation, growth and the exchange of ideas across borders. We now need to find new ways of ensuring that Scotland remains an attractive destination for talent and investment, and enabling both our digital technologies sector and wider economy to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world.

We held a consultation on an earlier draft of this document between September and December 2020, receiving more than 200 responses from every sector of society. We were hugely encouraged by the support we received, with almost every response endorsing the vision and agreeing on the need for collaboration and innovation to deliver it.

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 or have taken place across government, including in health and social care and in planning. These will align to and describe further sector-specific actions to deliver our vision.

The consultation has shown that while it may be too early to understand the full extent of the economic and social shock of the pandemic, it has redefined our perceptions of “normal”. Scottish Government and Scottish Local Government therefore cannot, and will not, seek to simply return to previous notions of ‘business as usual’. Together, we will rethink the way we work and support a country that balances and sustains economic, social and environmental wellbeing in a secure and resilient way. We will build a country that has a distinct vision of its place in the digital world and embraces the potential of data and digital technology to deliver the outcomes of the National Performance Framework.

We can and must build a digital Scotland in which:

  • we are open, ethical and working with others to meet new moral, environmental, regulatory and security concerns;
  • green thinking is incorporated into all our digital solutions, so we can contribute to meet our statutory commitments to be a net zero society by 2045;
  • geography, background or ability is not a barrier to getting online and benefiting from digital technology, and we capitalise on the potential of digital technology to sustain and invigorate rural and island communities;
  • wellbeing is both safeguarded and enhanced through the greater use of digital technology;
  • security and resilience are at the core of all our digital developments;
  • our children are prepared for the workplace of the future, and training and skills development are available for the existing workforce;
  • our businesses embrace the economic opportunities of data, technology, digital marketing and new ways of working;
  • our digital technologies sector is an innovative one, successful internationally and involving enthusiastic partners in a network of digital and data talent;
  • we reinvent our public services to make them more personal, accountable, adaptable, efficient, secure, sustainable and worthy of public trust;
  • our government, NHS, and Councils are transformed into true digital organisations with digital skills, cultures and operating models; and
  • our third sector partners are supported to develop their digital capabilities and introduce new digital business models.

Our people, places, economy and planet require it.


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