Connecting Scotland - evaluation: qualitative research - implementation and early impact

Findings of research with organisations who applied for digital devices, through the Connecting Scotland programme, to distribute to people that they support.

Chapter 4: Conclusions and recommendations

Connecting Scotland is a unique and ground-breaking programme. It was set-up and implemented at the height of a pandemic in response to an immediate need for digital connectivity that is unprecedented. A programme of this nature has never been done before on this scale and the speed at which it was implemented, especially given the ongoing restrictions in place due to Covid-19, is impressive.

While there have inevitably been some teething problems related to delivery of devices, and the programme database, these were immediately identified and as the programme has progressed solutions have been found to address these. Programme managers continue to work on improvements and solutions to any challenges as these arise.

However, the programme has also re-highlighted the scale of digital inequality in Scotland and the demand for this kind of programme. There is no sense from those we consulted during the evaluation that demand was saturated and indeed many evaluation participants were concerned about sustainability, once Connecting Scotland was no longer able to make data packages in particular available to people in need. Organisations noted that devices are available through other programmes, or through recycling at affordable prices, but that it is far harder to access free data. This was considered to be a critical issue for the future.

The response to the programme has been very positive, and as a result of its simplicity the programme has been accessible to a wide range of organisations, including some volunteer-led organisations. It has enabled many participating organisations to continue to deliver services while staff have been restricted in their ability to provide face-to-face support.

While the Connecting Scotland model was designed to be an emergency response to reach people quickly and get them digitally connected, it has been instrumental in helping organisations to understand how they might deliver services differently in future. It has been an effective way for organisations to trial new approaches to service delivery and it fits clearly with the technology-enabled care agenda. It was a real-time opportunity for organisations to look at things differently. Many intend to continue to apply a blended approach to service delivery in future – offering support through a mix of online and face-to-face support.

SCVO's role in implementation

SCVO has implemented the programme on behalf of Scottish Government efficiently and effectively. While not without teething problems, feedback from applicant and participating organisations was highly positive and there was clear evidence of continual improvement to the delivery model.


The programme has had a significant impact on those people who have received devices and support, and on the organisations involved in implementation.

Organisations reported very positive impact on those individuals who received devices and support through the programme. Outcomes included improving people's engagement with family and friends; improved health and wellbeing; improved IT skills; better access to local services; more engagement with local communities; parents engaging more effectivelty with their children's education; improvements to employability of participants; and improved ability to search and apply for jobs.

There were clear benefits to organisations participating in the programme including improved IT skills amongst staff; a case being made for more digital delivery of services in future; and more effective use of staff time due to reductions in travel time, and more flexible use of staff time.

Sustainability of the model

However, whilst the model has been highly successful, there are real question marks over whether it is sustainable in the longer term. While participants in the programme will continue to be able to use the devices they have received for as long as these are functioning, staff in participant organisations had concerns about the impact on people once the free data packages end (they are currently available for a period of two years). Many highlighted the unafforability of an internet connection for many of the households they support. While many would like to see Connecting Scotland continue indefinitely, some believe that longer term, connectivity and access to devices needs to become the responsibility of organisations like housing associations and care homes. Some also felt that WiFi should be considered like an essential utility and be available to all.

Similarly, some organisations questioned the sustainability of the model in relation to the support element. While most have managed to identify and train digital champions to date, some organisations highlighted concerns that this would prove more challenging in future as staff involved as digital champions were required to shift back to delivery of face-to-face duties once restrictions related to the pandemice are lifted. Furthermore, some raised concerns about the amount of time spent administering the programme and were concerned that these costs were not eligible for funding through the programme.

Many emphasised the need to plan well ahead of the end of the programme to ensure seamless transition. The following recommendations have been developed on the basis of feedback received throughout the evaluation:

Strategic recommendations

1. Consider continuing the provision of free data beyond the end of the current two-year period, but for a fixed time period with a clear transition plan to ensure this can continue to be supported beyond the lifetime of the programme.

2. Consider contributing to the cost of administering the programme and providing financial support for the digital champion role to ensure that the programme can be sustained beyond the current timeframe.

3. Ensure that organisations collect monitoring and evaluation data systematically, whilst ensuring this remains manageable and proportionate.

Operational recommendations

1. Remove eligibility criteria in relation to target group and enable organisations to apply for devices for those who are most digitally excluded.

2. Enable organisations to specify which type of device they would prefer to issue to service users, rather than allocating based on availability. Consider offering the option to organisations to receive low-cost laptops where this is more suitable (e.g. for training organisations)

3. Consider issuing devices which are already set up with common apps downloaded onto them to reduce time required by digital champions at the outset.

4. Consider allowing national organisations to submit one application across all local authority areas in which they operate – potentially by bidding into a ring-fenced pot for national organisations.

5. Consider allowing organisations to bid for a data package only, particularly as numbers of people requiring devices reduces.



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