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.


Phase 2 Users

This section describes the profile of people supported in phase 2 of Connecting Scotland, detailing the needs, experiences, and barriers to digital inclusion specific to this group of users. The table below summarises the distribution of awards in phase 2.

Fig 3: Phase 2 Applications and devices issued
Target Group Successful Applications (from organisations representing target groups) Devices Awarded
Families with Children 247 17,001
Young Care Leavers 16 4,116
Other Vulnerable Groups 25 1,527
More than one of above groups 793*  
Winter Support Package (older and/or disabled) 382 4,867
Total 1,175 27,457

*Applications on behalf of more than one group are accounted for in the 3 target groups to which devices were awarded

Needs and Barriers to Digital Inclusion

Phase 2 of Connecting Scotland was primarily targeted at families with young children, but also invited applications from organisations working with care leavers and included the winter support package, aimed at older and disabled people.

The winter support package essentially continued to fulfil the aims established in phase 1 of the programme which enabled older and/or disabled people (two groups at greater risk of digital exclusion) to maintain connection with others and alleviate the effects of social isolation. Lockdown restrictions were still in place at this phase of delivery. The profile and need of these users are discussed in detail in the evaluation of phase 1. This evaluative report focuses, for the most part, on those users that are an unique focus of phase 2 – chiefly households with young children, who represent the majority of support recipients in phase 2, but also young care leavers.

The needs and experiences of the primary target group for phase 2 (young families) are quite different from those targeted in phase 1. In many cases, the situation of families with young children, and that of young care leavers, may be more accurately described as digital marginalisation, rather than digital exclusion. That is to say, people's digital participation is limited by certain factors, but not to the extent of total exclusion. Digital skills and knowledge are generally higher than for phase 1 users and, as one application pointed out, people understand the value of being online and using the internet. The chief barrier is the affordability of a permanent secure internet connection and suitable devices. People generally did have some experience of going online and using digital technologies but with inconsistent access to both.


Common to all applications to Connecting Scotland, though especially for phase 2, cost was consistently cited as an impediment to online access. Applications highlighted that subscribing to a long-term data plan was unrealistic for many low income families and that people relied on limited mobile data, often using a shared device.

The welcome survey for phase 2 users of the programme confirms cost as the chief barrier. Of households with children, almost 74% of respondents said that devices are too expensive, and 37% said that data is too expensive. The figures for all phase 2 respondents are similar (70% cost of devices; 37% cost of data).

In addition to the overriding barrier of expense, there is evidence that young care leavers face difficulties getting online access that relate to their specific circumstances. Recent research by CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection) shows that care leavers' online use is often mediated by institutional relationships; for instance, some supported accommodation does not allow personal WiFi, and use of the internet has to be endorsed by a corporate parent.[4] Relatedly, applications from organisations who work with young care leavers pointed out that this group, in particular, lack familial support networks who might be able to help with the cost of devices and internet access.

Inadequate Devices

The majority of those supported in phase 2 did use digital devices to get online, prior to their involvement with Connecting Scotland, however, these devices were not suitable to meet people's online needs. 60% of people from households with children responding to the phase 2 welcome survey said that, before receiving a device from Connecting Scotland, they used a smartphone to get online, while a further 30% relied on an old device. However, over 60% of this user group, said, in the impact survey, that their reason for getting involved in the programme was that they didn't have access to a device. From this, it can be reasonably concluded that respondents were indicating that they didn't have access to a device that met their needs. Indeed, this is confirmed by interviewees, many of whom told us that their devices were old and slow or that they used mobile phones that were not adequate for a range of tasks.

Respondents to the survey were able to also provide an open text response to this question about why they got involved; several answers highlight some of the problems with device use:

- "Using mobile phones for school work was not appropriate."

- "Two kids: I only had one very old and slow device."

- "The phone doesn't provide enough support for doing course work and is too small, so I could hardly see as my eyes would hurt all the time."

Device Sharing

Relatedly, not only were devices themselves inadequate (outdated or unsuitable for certain tasks), in many cases, they were also being shared between household members, restricting access to individuals who need devices for different purposes. The COVID-19 lockdown added to pressures on families with too few devices as people were working, and learning from home. Again, open text responses from the welcome survey demonstrated this issue:

- "We had one properly working device and 5 people working from home during lockdown"

- "We had access to the Internet but not enough devices for the kids to home school on"

The data we have for care leavers shows they are more likely to be in full time education, themselves, and the majority indicated that they were the only person in their household using their Connecting Scotland device. This indicates that device sharing may be less of a concern for this group of users.


The applications to phase 2, for both young families and care leavers, identified the unaffordability of internet data as an obstacle to digital inclusion. The impact survey found that around half of respondents did not receive a MiFi device as part of their package of support because they already had a working connection – home broadband in the majority of cases. Among the half who did receive a MiFi device (including the majority of care leaver respondents), the survey indicates that, had they not received a means of connection, they would have had to rely on mobile data (45%), or simply would have been unable to connect to the internet (32%).


Some phase 2 applications cited lack of confidence on digital devices as a barrier to digital inclusion for families with children, however, the welcome survey indicates that the majority of respondents rated their confidence quite highly. 39% of respondents said they were 'fairly confident' and 24% 'very confident' internet users. These figures are higher still when looking only at responses from households with children (42% 'fairly' and 32% 'very'). Correspondingly, over 60% of respondents from households with children said they wouldn't need any support in order to do various online activities. Digital confidence levels appear even higher for young care leavers who represent a younger cohort, although there is much less data about this group of users.


Phase 2 users from families with children, and young care leavers, are likely to be familiar with the internet and digital technologies. The main issues for families are: not having a suitable device for various tasks; sharing devices, or in many cases just one device, between the whole family; overreliance on mobile phones and, to a lesser extent, mobile data.

Phase 2 users wanted devices that could be used for children to do schoolwork from home, for adult education and for employment related activities for which a smartphone was not adequate.


This section outlines the main impacts and outcomes, reported by phase 2 research participants, resulting from their involvement in Connecting Scotland. Data from the impact survey is brought together with responses from the qualitative interviews to show how Connecting Scotland devices have been used and the effect this has had for people. Quotations are from qualitative interviews unless otherwise stated.

A table detailing a series of impact questions asked in the experience and impact survey is included at annex B.


The impact survey shows that the majority of respondents with children in the household were sharing their Connecting Scotland devices with those children - 62% - and a further 18% were sharing with children and other adults in the household. The survey indicates that study was the main activity for which devices were being used by children, with 80% saying devices were being used for schoolwork and 74% for remote learning online (respondents could select more than one option). When asked, in the impact survey, what they felt the biggest change had been since receiving devices from Connecting Scotland (open text response), the single most frequent response was that it had helped children to do schoolwork at home. Indeed, some people indicated that this was the sole purpose of their device:

"It's literally just been used for kids for school. 'That's what's most important''

Interviewees expressed how important devices were in enabling their children to complete schoolwork and not fall behind:

"It's the best thing that's happened for the kids. It means they aren't missing out on school work and to be marked as attending school they had to log in so it meant they were able to keep up attendance."

One interviewee highlighted how, without a device, continuing to do school work while restrictions were in place was practically impossible:

"I didn't have teams, I didn't have a device. I actually took him down to the school but because we weren't keyworkers he wasn't eligible to be in, but he couldn't completely participate in any learning and then he really struggled to catch up when he went back in."

There is also evidence that devices were being used to support adult education. Several free text responses in the impact survey mention devices being used for college or university work. Around a quarter of people we spoke to in qualitative interviews indicated they used their devices for study, usually for a specific qualification with a view to employment:

"I'm studying childcare. I work in a nursery. The course is an SVQ [Scottish Vocational Qualification] Level 3 … equivalent of an HNC [Higher National Certificate] I believe, which will allow me to work as a child support worker. I would not be able to do the course at all without the laptop [Chromebook]".

A few people we interviewed did not speak English as their first language and were all using their devices to access language learning resources. One asylum seeker told us they were using the internet to learn more about their local area and community.


In the impact survey, 36% of respondents from households with children reported using their devices to search and apply for jobs and 57% said that their ability to do so was 'much' (41%) or 'a little' (16%) better. Looking just at the proportion of young care leavers answering the survey, almost half (47%) said they had searched or applied for jobs on their devices and 74% said that their ability to do so was much or a little better.

In qualitative interviews, people reported doing various activities related to employment, some actively looking for work, others doing online research or formal education courses which would help them to find a job in the future. Interviewees described using the internet to look for jobs, signing up to job search websites, writing CVs, and completing applications online.

"It's good even now looking for jobs having the internet you can just type in and get a list whereas before you had to go round places or ask people."

A few people even said that they had managed to secure employment and had used their devices in the process; completing applications online and attending interviews via zoom.

"I guess the biggest difference is that it made getting back into work much easier, so that was probably the biggest difference (…) It was the device that helped me get the job I'm currently in yeah."

Saving Money

Owning a device, and accessing the internet through Connecting Scotland, has enabled some people to save money. In some cases, people talked about the direct savings from having a device and connection provided for them, rather than having to try to pay for what they could not afford:

"Financially things are quite tight in the house and we wouldn't have had the ability to buy her [child] another device ourselves''

One education professional told us that:

"Some parents were buying devices on credit they couldn't afford and more would have gone into debt without Connecting Scotland. Families need the devices and it's not seen as optional."

Others said that the MiFi device provided by Connecting Scotland had saved them money, either because they couldn't have afforded to subscribe to home broadband, or because relying on mobile data is expensive. A number of interviewees told us that they had saved money from using the MiFi device, rather than their mobile data:

"The MiFi we've connected to our phones and it's unlimited so that saves us money on our phones. I was paying about £75 a month and now it's about £45 so it's a lot of a difference!"

The other way in which people reported being able to save money was by using the internet to make financial transactions or to find information to help cut costs. For example, one interviewee told us they used the internet to compare prices and stock at different supermarkets. Another told us that they used their device to look for deals and discounts and that, furthermore, they use social media to share any tips they find with other parents.

In the impact survey, 42% of respondents from households with children said that they had used their Connecting Scotland devices to shop around for cheaper products, and a further 27% said they compared prices for services or utilities. However, 41% said they had not used their devices in a way that saved them money. A similar response rate was observed for young care leavers.

Social Use and Leisure

From the evaluative research for phase 1 of Connecting Scotland, we found that the ability to use devices for entertainment was important to helping people stay mentally stimulated and combat the effects of isolation. Though, arguably, the most pressing concerns for the primary target group in phase 2 were practical issues, such as studying from home and searching for work, there is a strong indication in the research that real value was attached to the more social applications of owning a connected device.

The impact survey shows that 78% of households with children, and 86% of young care leavers who responded, said their ability to find interests and activities to pass the time were much, or a little, better.

Devices were used to watch television, films or videos by both adults (64%) and children (71%) and 60% of children played games on the devices. The qualitative interviews revealed also that, importantly, the devices often enabled children to maintain social contact with their peers, as well as keep up with school work, so that they did not feel left out:

" …there was this thing called 'Sumdog' where they [children] compete against their mates and there was one morning a week where all the class would log in and play and my kids couldn't do it, so the devices gave them an opportunity to not be excluded."

81% of respondents from households with families (and 90% of young care leavers) reported that their ability to stay in touch with others was much, or a little, better. However, in interviews, people generally spoke about the importance of maintaining connections with others in reference to their children, rather than themselves.

Where people did not use their devices for leisure, or social activities, they often explained that this was because their Connecting Scotland device had been earmarked for a specific use, and/or that they preferred to continue to use their smartphone for certain things.

"I use mostly snapchat for social media and facebook and it's easier to just get the notifications through on my phone so I just click through to it but obviously with the laptop I have to like log on and loads it up and stuff."

Information, advice and guidance

In the impact survey, over three quarters of respondents said that their ability to find advice and guidance on important issues was 'much, or a little better' since receiving a device from Connecting Scotland. In the interviews, various activities were discussed which may generally be considered as relating to advice and guidance, although there was no underlying consistency in the type of information being sought.

A couple of people mentioned that they used their device to read articles and keep up with the news. A few respondents told us that their device enabled online access to support organisations; browsing websites for information and attending online sessions via video call. One mother told us that they downloaded information and resources that helped with their child's ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Another respondent, who was seeking asylum in the UK, told us they had used their device to find out information about the asylum process and their rights. More generally, a few people said that they used Google or watched YouTube videos to find solutions to, or information about, day-to-day issues.

"… I googled the other day 'funny noise coming from brake' and it said I didn't have enough brake fluid and that was right and that's important so I got that fixed!"

Enabling Features

There are specific features of the devices and support provided by Connecting Scotland that interviewees identified as making a difference to what they were able to do online. In many cases, before their involvement with Connecting Scotland, people had been attempting to undertake certain tasks on smartphones, or using old and slow technology. New devices and connectivity meant that several activities were easier to achieve.


Several of the people we talked with in the qualitative interviews commented on the difference that having a larger screen made to various tasks, as compared to using a smartphone. This was more often a comment on Chromebooks, rather than iPads.

"I think because I had been used to doing everything on the phone moving over onto the Chromebook was a relief. Everything was bigger and easier …"

A larger screen size also enhanced people's experience of video calls and attending online sessions, including, in the case of one child, karate lessons over Zoom, "which wasalmost impossible on his phone."

Some people also mentioned that, along with the bigger screen, having a keyboard with the Chromebook, rather than small phone buttons or a touch screen, was beneficial, especially for school, college or university work:

- "Home-schooling was very difficult before. Chromebook is better for typing and can complete work more quickly."

- "Being able to write my essays for college, using the chrome book makes it much easier and accessible" -[impact survey respondent]

Many of the people with whom we spoke who were seeking employment identified specific features of their devices as helping them to do this. Again, people were usually making comparisons to previous smartphone use. Three interviewees mentioned, specifically, that the Chromebook enabled them to edit and save their CVs which hadn't been possible on a phone.

"I could create one [CV] fine but you couldn't like print it or save it or edit it. Every time I wanted to update it, I had to create a new one, which was a nightmare"

Even where respondents didn't mention one specific feature of their device, almost all of those who had previously been reliant on mobile phones for online access said that their new device represented a marked improvement. As one respondent to the impact survey summed up, the biggest difference from involvement in Connecting Scotland was:

"Being able to access the internet using a proper device and not just my phone"

Applications (apps)

Another feature that was often identified as making a difference to the things that people were able to do was the range of applications that could be used with Connecting Scotland devices. One interviewee told us that the iPad they received had greater storage capacity (than a phone) which meant they could download and use several apps.

People mentioned a range of apps that were of specific relevance or interest to individual users. One terminally ill user told us that a speech app on their iPad had allowed them to communicate, having lost their ability to speak. A mother we spoke with said that they had used their device to download an educational app that helped with their child's learning difficulties. Others spoke about particular apps that enhanced the user's capacity for learning:

"He's [interviewee's son] now in sixth form and he's taken a graphic design course. There's an app that he's downloaded to the laptop [Chromebook] and you can build in it and construct in it and stuff and it like designs and draws it all out for you and shows you what it would look like as a model."

Some younger recipients of devices used particular apps to pursue creative interests, including two children who were using music editing software that they had downloaded on to their iPads.

MiFi Portability

Receiving a MiFi device from Connecting Scotland meant that users were able to consistently connect to a stable internet connection, rather than relying on (limited) smartphone data. Many interviewees also highlighted the portability of the MiFi device as being an additional benefit. Users could maintain their connection when outside of the house at no additional cost:

-"I can disconnect it and pop it in my bag when I go out. If I don't have any 4G I take it in the bag with me."

-"They [children] also could use it outside in the garden in summer and when out with friends which was great."

Some people recognized that they could connect their portable MiFi device to their smart phones, instead of using mobile data, to which limits applied and which was more costly.

One interviewee told us that they had previously relied on visiting supermarkets to access WiFi, where they weren't allowed to use the café unless buying something, and so were limited in what they could do.

"Obviously I could not do this too often or for too long. Consequently I was unable to do any MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] or access any online talks or webinars, only to get and deal with email, usually about once a week. So the best thing has been being able to get internet access wherever I am."

Reservations about Devices

While the majority of Phase 2 research participants were satisfied with their devices and the things that it enabled them to do, a minority had some misgivings over the device that they received. For the most part, these reflected a perception that the device lacked certain features or capabilities that users desired.

In the impact survey, over 90% of respondents from households with children reported using their iPad at least once a day. For the minority who used their devices less frequently, or not at all, a space for open text comments was provided. These comments indicate the perceived shortcomings of devices, chiefly related to the ability to complete work or educational activities:

-"It wasn't compatible with office 365 which is what I required it for in order to complete my college course. I didn't have access to Word or PowerPoint which I need for my assessments and after researching I found Chromebook doesn't provide full access."

-"It is okay to look at presentations and looking into demonstrations relating to my heavy vehicle mechanical course. But completely useless for me to do reports, electrics diagrams etc. that I require to do."

One interviewee, who described herself as digitally confident and tech-savvy, seemed particularly upset after having received a Chromebook to help with her studies, finding several issues:

"You can't put apps on Chromebook; it's like a phone, you can only have one tab open at the same time.…it's not easy. It does not have all the keys e.g. cap locks, delete button or the things you would need. You need to be online to do everything. You have to have a Google account to log in to do things."

Other respondents were happy, overall, with their device and the support provided, but still identified features of the device that were not ideal for them. One interviewee questioned the ability of the Chromebook to support offline working:

"I haven't really had difficulty with it because I've not taken it out and about so I don't really know but, thinking about it, I guess it would be an issue getting into my documents if I took it somewhere without internet."

A younger user said that they would have preferred a laptop to an iPad because of compatibility issues with a particular programme they wanted to use. Another interviewee suggested that a device with more memory might be beneficial for the course that they were enrolled in.

Device Sharing

For most users, receiving a device from Connecting Scotland alleviated the difficulties presented by having to share limited devices among their entire family. Some of the open text responses in the impact survey testify to this:

- "My children don't have to share one smart phone for learning."

- "Less stress trying to complete all needed things online while sharing 1 device among three people. More access and productivity."

For some larger families, however, while an additional device was appreciated, the issue of not having sufficient devices to undertake all online activities within the family remained.

- "The kids love it, it's absolutely brilliant. Sometimes they argue over it because they all want to use it."

- "A second device would be welcomed as it is still a stretch for 3 children to complete homework and sometimes work is handed in late."

There is a normative argument about whether or not children should have their own individual internet connected device, although research indicates a trend towards this. A YouGov survey indicated that by age 12, 88% of children, in Britain, owned their own smartphone and 63% owned their own tablet[5]. Furthermore, Ofcom research shows that over half of UK households had 5, or more, devices through which they could access the internet and that, in 8 out of 10 households, children could access 'appropriate devices for schoolwork' all of the time[6]. Relying on sharing devices is not commonplace and those that have to are, therefore, at a comparative disadvantage.

Digital Champion Support

The most notable finding about Phase 2 users' experience with digital champion support is that it has, for the most part, not been utilised, especially in the case of households with children (who account for over 2/3 of phase 2 users) and young care leavers. Only around 1/5 of respondents from these groups (combined) said they had developed digital skills with support from a digital champion – the majority being self-taught. Around 2/3 of these respondents said that they had either never met with their digital champion or had not needed to.

The chief reason for this appears to be that phase 2 users generally perceive themselves as being confident online and therefore able to set up and operate devices themselves:

"I'm good with technology (…) I did get offered help from a person from the [support organisation] but I didn't need it."

Generally, the younger the research participant, the more comfortable they were in using their devices without assistance. In a group interview with three children, all indicated that they had been 'self-sufficient' since having their MiFi set up. Even where children were unfamiliar with some features, they were able to work out, for themselves, how to operate the devices.

"…the children seem to be able to work it all without me as well."

However, a significant minority of interviewees (around 25%) appeared to know little or nothing about the support that was available from digital champions. For the most part, in the case of users from households with children and younger users, the lack of digital champion support was not cited as a major obstacle to using their devices and getting online, though one interviewee who wasn't aware of support said that they would benefit from advice on using PowerPoint for their college work.

Those who did engage with their digital champion were generally very positive about the service provided, with 97% of those surveyed saying the support they received was either good or very good. Several interviewees praised their digital champion, even if they felt they had not needed a great deal of technical support.

- "They checked in often and would help with anything you need. They went above and beyond what's expected, for example helping son to work new iPhone when switching from android."

- "Yes, they gave me loads of support. Showed me how to set up device and provided a booklet. They're always available on the phone."

Because digital champions are recruited from support organisations, some users had an existing relationship with their digital champion outside of involvement in Connecting Scotland. We found, in the qualitative interviews, that some of the most enthusiastic appraisals of digital champion support were from people where a positive relationship had already been established. An extant relationship of trust might be a significant factor in facilitating support via digital champions.

In a similar vein, where people engaged less with digital champions, they often relied on existing sources of support, both formal (e.g. college tutors) and informal (family and friends):

"My son helps me if I need help quickly, like when I'm stuck."

Telephone 'top-up' survey

The main purpose of the 'top-up' survey was to ascertain whether there were significant differences, in terms of both demographic profile and experience of the programme, between people completing the online survey and those that were unable or disinclined to do so. Although the 'top-up' survey comprises a much smaller sample than the online impact survey, it provides a reasonable gauge of the representativeness of the online survey.

In terms of demographic features - age, gender, ethnicity and household composition - respondents to both surveys were similar. This indicates that there are not any particular characteristics excluded from the impact survey. The chief exception to this is that 16-24 year olds are comparatively underrepresented in the top up survey. One hypothesis for this is simply that this age group may be less likely to answer their phones.

In terms of the extent of device use, and the impact on digital skills, respondents to both surveys answered similarly – that, in general, they were using the internet more since receiving their device and that it had had a positive impact on their digital skills.

The chief difference between the 2 surveys was that half of the top-up survey participants said that they did not need to meet with a digital champion, compared with only around a quarter of all respondents to the online survey. Also, fewer top-up survey respondents had met with their digital champion more than once. This may be because these respondents had a less established relationship with representatives from the organisation that applied for their devices. This supposition is supported by the fact that the vast majority of top-up survey respondents were not aware of the initial online survey – of which their digital champion would likely have informed them. Furthermore, the top up survey was administered later than the main online survey so people had owned devices for longer. Possibly, having had more time with their devices means that the felt need for digital support was less.

Though expressed to a greater extent in the top up survey, this finding is not out of synch with the overall finding that phase 2 users are largely less needful of formal digital support.

Recognition of the Programme

It is apparent from the qualitative interviews that, despite receiving digital devices, some people have limited knowledge and awareness of Connecting Scotland and its remit. One interviewee suggested that the communications around the programme were both limited and unclear:

"It was really helpful but I've not seen it advertised much and when I have it's been very confusing about who can get help."

Evidence from some interviews indicated that the lack of clarity around Connecting Scotland was due to the existence of different sources of digital provision. One interviewee, who applied for devices on behalf of a school, said that there seemed to be overlap between different initiatives providing devices and that it would be more straightforward if everybody was provided with a device through the local authority, delivered by schools. A mother we spoke to had received 3 devices through a support organisation, only one of which was provided by Connecting Scotland.

Of course, having use of a digital device is more important than knowing where it came from. However, people may have been able to access more resources and give direct (unsolicited) feedback on the programme had there been greater awareness of the role of Connecting Scotland.

It is also worthy of mention that the term 'digital champion' was not consistently recognised. This is partly because digital champions are staff from support organisations so, in many cases, will already be known in another capacity. A lot of people were supported in a range of ways by organisational staff and did not differentiate this from support with their devices. Others did not realise that support was available and had not been in contact with their digital champion since their device was delivered.

There were a few users contacted via the telephone survey who were essentially 'stuck' and unable to use their device for what they wanted who were referred to the Connecting Scotland helpline for support. Despite being a small overall proportion of clients in the programme, their presence indicates that it is possible for users to miss opportunities to get support under the current delivery model.

For many phase 2 users, support from a digital champion was not integral to their ability to use their device; nonetheless, clear and consistent messaging about digital champions, and the Connecting Scotland programme more broadly, is important for people who do want more support and information.



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