Connecting Scotland: phase 2 evaluation

Report based on research with people receiving digital devices and support in phase 2 of the Connecting Scotland programme. It discusses people's experiences of the programme and the impact that it has had on them.

About Connecting Scotland

Connecting Scotland provides digital devices and support to people in Scotland who are digitally excluded and on low incomes. It was initially set up as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, in its first phase, was targeted at people who were particularly vulnerable during lockdown, including those advised to 'shield'.

Providing people with their own internet-enabled device, and dedicated digital skills support, meant that people were able to keep in touch with others, find important information and stay mentally stimulated while physical restrictions were in place. An evaluation of phase 1 of the programme was published in May 2022.

A second phase was launched in autumn 2020, targeted primarily at low income families with children. Phase 2 also focused on young care leavers - people aged 16-25 who have been looked after in the care system - and, additionally, included a 'winter support package' aimed at older and or/disabled people.

In summer 2021, phase 3 was launched with the specific aim of helping people find employment, or gain employability skills, by enhancing digital abilities and providing greater access to advice and opportunities online.

An overview of the Connecting Scotland programme, to date, is shown at Figure 1.

The focus of this evaluative report is phase 2 end users: families, young care leavers and those receiving devices through the winter support package.

Fig 1. Overview of Connecting Scotland Programme Delivery
Phase Date phase announced Funds Target group Target numbers Delivered
1 May '20 £5M People at a high clinical risk of COVID-19 9,000 April – July 2020
2 Aug '20 £15M Young care leavers & families with children 23,000 August 2020 – April 2021
(2) Winter Support Nov '20 £4.3M Socially isolated / older and disabled people 5,000 December 2020 – March 2021
3 Jun '21 £26.6M Employability Digitally excluded / low-income households 23,000 June 2021 – September 2021 August – December 2021

Programme Governance

Connecting Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government and administered by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). Third sector organisations, or local authorities, apply for devices on behalf of individuals on low incomes, who are digitally excluded. Applicants can apply for a smart device (Apple iPads or Google Chromebooks), as well as 'MiFi' (mobile WiFi) devices if users require a means of connecting to the internet.

Limits on data use initially applied to users in phase 1 but Connecting Scotland now provides users with free unlimited internet access for 2 years; this includes phase 1 users for whom the extended data offer was retrospectively applied. Users own the devices they receive and can keep and use them for as long as they wish.

People who receive devices are offered support from a 'digital champion'; a nominated person from the applying organisation who can provide digital skills support and help with using devices. Users can also call the Connecting Scotland helpline if they need help with a specific issue.

Connecting Scotland has delivered on its target of getting 60,000 digitally excluded households online in the first 3 phases, distributing devices via more than 1,000 organisations.

Application Process

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

1. Third Sector 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.


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

Digital Champions

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. People receiving Connecting Scotland support, however, are under no obligation to engage with their digital champion.

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.

Programme Purpose

Connecting Scotland was initially implemented as a response to COVID-19; providing a means of connection for those most vulnerable to the effects of 'lockdown'. The overall ambition for the programme, however, goes beyond emergency response and aims to tackle digital exclusion in Scotland, ultimately helping to build a digital citizenship in which people are able to comfortably access and navigate the digital world.

The benefits of fostering digital inclusion are manifold. The online access and digital skills support provided by Connecting Scotland can help users in the following ways:

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing: The ability to maintain connections with family, friends, social groups and organisations reduces social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Research respondents from phase 1 of Connecting Scotland reported improvements in their ability to connect with others and in their mental health[1].
  • Employment: Improving digital skills, accessing online learning and resources, and having the ability to search and apply for jobs online increases the likelihood of people securing employment. Increasingly, the ability to work remotely is essential for multiple industries and sectors; improving access to devices and technology will allow people to retain jobs and avoid unemployment due to lack of connectivity.
  • Saving money on goods and services: Reliable access to the internet enables people to view and compare the prices of goods and services, and to make purchases online. Being online gives access to a wider range of products and reduces transactional costs, such as phone calls or travelling, meaning people can save both money and time.
  • Applying for, and managing, social security entitlements: The majority of UK social security benefits, including Universal Credit (UC), are primarily applied for and managed online. Research by Citizens Advice found that people seeking advice on benefits were among the least frequent users of the internet[2]. Providing a connection and digital skills support to those on low incomes will enable people to check entitlements, apply in the most expedient way and boost their incomes.
  • Access to information and public services: Many public services have embraced digital technology to make processes quicker and more efficient, for example video healthcare consultations, or online repeat prescription services. A wealth of public information and details of local services can also be accessed easily online. People who are digitally excluded are disadvantaged if they are unable to access important information in a timely way or interact with services efficiently. Interviewees from the phase 1 research told us how they had used their connection to keep updated with public health information relating to COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive. There are countless advantages to having consistent, reliable internet access that the majority of people take for granted. Digital technologies are integral to so many facets of daily existence that those who are digitally excluded or marginalised cannot realistically participate in society on an equal footing with others.

National Performance Framework Outcomes

By providing access to a connection and digital support, Connecting Scotland potentially impacts upon each of Scotland's 11 National Outcomes. These are set out in the National Performance Framework[3]and reflect the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland.

As a programme aimed at people on low incomes who are digitally excluded, Connecting Scotland most obviously aligns with the outcome on poverty, which states that poverty is tackled by "sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally". Other specific outcomes are associated with the different groups targeted in each phase of the programme. The focus of this report is phase 2, in which the primary target group was families with children. The needs of this group of users are qualitatively different from those targeted in phase 1, where the focus was on enabling people to stay connected with others and keep mentally stimulated.

For phase 2, connectivity was likely to be used for both child and adult education, searching and/or applying for jobs, and attending groups, or support services, online. Therefore, phase 2 of Connecting Scotland supports the realisation, in particular, of the national outcome on fair work and business which emphasises investment in the adequate skills and training of employees; the outcome on education which states that "We are well educated, skilled and able to contribute to society", and the outcome on children and young people, by enabling children to engage with online culture and communities and not be excluded from activities enjoyed by their peers.

A table detailing how tackling digital exclusion contributes to the National Performance Framework outcomes is included at annex A.



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