Connecting Scotland: phase 1 evaluation

This report evaluates the impact of the Connecting Scotland programme for users in the first phase of delivery.


Low income households are more likely to be digitally excluded than the general population. They often cannot afford appropriate devices, lack a high quality and continuous internet connection and may have fewer opportunities to be able to acquire digital skills. Getting online might involve visiting a library, job centre, or a relative or friend to use their connection. Whole families might share a single mobile phone to meet all their digital needs and be unable to always afford to pay for data.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdown restrictions confined people to their homes, there was a huge expansion in the use of digital technologies to mediate people's everyday lives. The extent of this is only now becoming clear with a recent Nesta report stating that: "the response to the pandemic has brought digital adoption forward by 5 years."[1]

For those on a low income, particulary those instructed to shield, not being able to join everyone else in finding digital means to achieve everyday goals meant increased social isolation, poor access to vital information and deepening poverty.

Connecting Scotland was initiated to alleviate the extreme situations created for people by the compounding effects of low incomes, digital exclusion and the requirement, for many, to shield. In phase 1, Connecting Scotland delivered devices, data and training to people on a low income, who were sheilding or vulnerable to COVID-19 so that they could:

  • acquire appropriate digital skills to be able access the internet and use their devices
  • stay connected with their support networks
  • be able to keep up with healthcare and pandemic related advice
  • avoid a decline in their mental health due to loneliness and isolation
  • continue to shield effectively

A second phase of Connecting Scotland was later launched with a primary focus on low income families and care leavers. The additional aims for this phase were concerned with enabling access to education and employability resources.

The third phase is currently underway and has a specific focus on helping people looking to enter employment.

This interim report presents initial evidence of the benefits realised by people in the phase 1 cohort - those shielding or particulalry vulnerable to COVID-19 - from their involvement in Connecting Scotland.

Fig 1. Overview of Connecting Scotland Programme Delivery


Date phase announced

Funds £

Target group

Target numbers



May '20


People at a high clinical risk of Covid-19


April – July 2020


Aug '20


Young care leavers & families with children


August 2020 – April 2021

Winter Support

Nov '20


Socially isolated / older and disabled people


December 2020 – March 2021


Jun '21



Digitally excluded / low-income households


June 2021 – September 2021

August – December 2021

Programme details

This section presents more information on the roll-out of the Connecting Scotland programme in its first phase, detailing the characteristics of those receiving devices and support, the types of devices available to apply for and the offer of support from 'digital champions'.

Application Process

The application process for Connecting Scotland worked in the following way:

1. Support organisations and local authorities applied for Connecting Scotland support on behalf of their clients

2. Applications were made to SCVO (Connecting Scotland's delivery partner) who convened panels to assess the applications in partnership with designated local authority leads

3. Applications were assessed on the basis that appropriate client groups had been identified who met the target criteria, and confidence in the organisation's ability to provide digital champion support

4. An award formula was used to ensure a balance of awards across all of Scotland's local authority areas

5. Successful organisations signed a grant agreement and committed to the programme's contractual obligations

6. Post award, the Mhor Collective provided training for those nominated as digital champions in each organisation

7. Devices were delivered to organisations who distributed them to their clients within a prescribed timeframe

8. Post distribution, organisations submitted monitoring data on their device recipients to a central portal managed by SCVO

Groups in phase 1

Phase 1 (April – July 2020) focused on those who were at risk of isolation due to coronavirus because they were in the extremely high vulnerability group ('Shielding') or the higher risk of severe illness group. For Phase 1, around 50% were in the Shielding category, around 35% in Group 2 (clinically higher risk) and around 15% as 'other vulnerabilities'.

The following data shows the relative proportions of awards:

479 applications were received.

  • 84 were exclusively for people in the extremely high vulnerability ('shielding') group
  • 36 were exclusively for people in the higher risk of severe illness group
  • 49 were exclusively for 'other vulnerable groups'
  • 310 were for more than one of the above 3 groups

Applications were received from organisations working with these groups across all 32 local authorities.

Over 8,500 devices have been delivered to these groups in phase 1.


Organisations could request the following for their clients:

  • an iPad: Chosen as an easy to use device with accessibility features that would meet the needs of older clients who would be using the device to stay in touch and access information
  • a Chromebook: suitable for clients with a wider range of digital needs who may need to produce documents (e.g. create a C.V.) or use other applications requiring extensive use of a keyboard
  • a MiFi device: an easy way to provide internet access without the need to have a broadband connection installed and allowing multiple users to connect simultaneously. During the first lockdown, a solution was needed that avoided face-to-face contact e.g. with a broadband installer

Support provided

To optimise users' experience of the programme, Connecting Scotland coordinates digital skills support via 'digital champions'.

Digital champions are normally staff who work in front line positions for the organisations that have applied to Connecting Scotland and so will already possess knowledge and experience of working directly with user groups. Training and a range of resources for digital champions are provided for free as part of the Connecting Scotland programme. This covers device-specific training as well as materials to enhance core digital skills.

The role of digital champions is to help people who get devices through Connecting Scotland to do things online like:

  • connecting a device to the internet using the Wi-Fi settings, and putting in the password when they need to
  • sharing documents by attaching them to an email
  • understanding that not all online information and content that they see is reliable

The aim is that, with support from digital champions, learners will be able to use the internet safely, confidently and effectively.

More information about applicant organisations' experience of identifying and training digital champions can be found in this report: Evaluation of Connecting Scotland - Blake Stevenson.

The Connecting Scotland website also includes information for end users or others who may lack experience in online technology. Beneficiaries of the programme are also able to call a dedicated helpline to deal with any specific issues.



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