Scottish Connections (diaspora) work: qualitative research

Reports on findings from qualitative research looking at what successful a diaspora engagement strategy should consider and include. Provides a synthesis of existing evidence and an analysis of data from interviews and focus groups with key diaspora stakeholders.

4. Methodology

The first part of this research involved a brief synthesis of the existing evidence on diasporas and the identification of topics of interest and any research gaps. This stage of the work built on a previous literature review carried out in 2021.[39] The previous study was comprehensive in terms of material collected from 'official' sources, particularly in relation to a range of countries, whose diaspora engagement they studied. We focused therefore on the more critical and analytical academic literature and this has informed the earlier part of this report.

The themes which emerged from the academic and 'official' literature informed the second stage of this study. This second and core element of the study has involved engaging with key internal and external stakeholders and groups with experience of or in diaspora engagement. This engagement has involved a series of detailed interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders, as detailed below.

Comparative Case Studies

We selected four locations on which to focus. Ireland has often been seen as a key comparator for Scotland, with a well-developed diaspora strategy. Indeed, previous research for the Scottish Government has explored the lessons which Scotland might learn from Ireland's strategy.[40] Our second case study was Canada, not least because of its having an extremely large Scottish diaspora presence but it is also a country which is beginning to develop an engagement with its own citizens abroad. Our third comparator was Estonia. We believed that there was a value in considering an eastern European country, as these countries, once they had achieved independence and democracy during the 1990s, have been able to develop diaspora strategies. In some respects, their progress is similar in both timeline and manner to that of Scotland's trajectory, post-devolution. Finally, as an example of a sub-state with a devolved administration, but also one developing an active engagement with its citizens abroad, we selected Flanders.

We consider each of these comparator case studies in turn in a following section, drawing out potential lessons for Scotland.

Face-to-Face Interviews

We conducted a series of face-to-face interviews[41] during the course of the research, as follows:

  • For each case study, we interviewed a number of people, ranging from government officials to honorary consuls and individuals involved in diaspora engagement. We were also sent copies of documents to supplement the material collected in the interviews.
  • Scottish Government officials. Again, these varied but included individuals working in trade and investment, tourism and cultural diplomacy, as well as officials working in the Scottish Government's network of international offices.
  • Diaspora organisations. It was important to obtain the views of officers of Scottish diaspora organisations to explore their ongoing connections with Scotland. The organisations that we interviewed were based in North America.
  • Alumni offices. There is an increasing awareness within Government of the importance of engaging with younger members of the diaspora, who may not necessarily be members of the more traditional diaspora organisations. In addition, some 'affinity' Scots may not be Scottish by birth or upbringing but may have studied in Scotland before returning to their home country. To explore this aspect of the diaspora, we interviewed alumni officers at Scottish universities.
  • Scottish Development International and GlobalScot. The GlobalScot business network has been seen as a very successful way of bringing together Scots working abroad who may be attracted to invest back in Scotland. We interviewed a number of people in this group.

Prior to interview, all individuals concerned were sent a Participant Information Sheet about the study, a Consent Form to be signed and returned, and a letter of support from the Scottish Government. In all, we contacted and interviewed a total of 24 individuals. All interviews were conducted online and lasted between 30 and 75 minutes and were recorded. Copies of the transcripts were made available to the interviewees.

Focus Groups

We held four focus groups as part of the research. Participants were identified in a number of ways. Some were recruited as a result of organisations such as diaspora groups and alumni offices publicising our research to their own membership. In addition, we advertised and recruited individuals through social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.), publicising our work and asking interested individuals to contact us directly. For that purpose, we set up a dedicated email account. Once again, all volunteers were sent a Participant Information Sheet about the study, a Consent Form to be signed and returned, and a letter of support from the Scottish Government. In the end, we recruited 36 volunteers who all provided information and consented to take part. In addition, we asked volunteers to complete a very short questionnaire to tell us about their background, so they could be allocated to an appropriate group.

The volunteers were subsequently divided into four specific groups as follows:

  • 'Lived' diaspora. This comprised those volunteers who had been born and / or brought up in Scotland and were now living abroad.
  • 'Ancestral' diaspora. This group comprised individuals who were involved with a diaspora organisation and whose connection to Scotland was a more genealogically distant one. The organisations they belonged to varied from Saint Andrew Societies to Gaelic learning groups.
  • 'Affinity' diaspora. This group had a connection to Scotland but it was less direct and often not familial. In some cases, it was through an appreciation of Scottish music, through a distant connection with a Scottish regiment, or through previously visiting Scotland.
  • Alumni group. This group comprised graduates of Scottish universities, living abroad.

The focus groups were all held in the evening at weekends, to allow those in work to attend and to allow for time differences with North America and wider Europe, where many of the volunteers originated. The focus groups were all held online, were recorded and each one lasted approximately 45-60 minutes.

Topic Guides

Prior to conducting the interviews and focus groups, we developed a series of Topic Guides. Following a general outline of issues highlighted by our previous research, these varied slightly, depending on the interviewees and groups. However, there were core questions about policy, the role of government in diaspora engagement and the form such engagement took, the drivers behind diaspora engagement, the events and activities taking place within the diaspora, the support which was being given to the diaspora by government, the support which was desired by the diaspora, and the ongoing links which the diaspora had with Scotland. In the case of our comparator case studies, we asked questions about their particular diaspora policies and assessed the implications for Scotland. We also sought specific input from all individuals around what they felt was the most single important issue that could/should be addressed by Scotland. Examples of the various Topic Guides employed are attached at the appendix.


All interviews and focus groups were conducted online via Microsoft Teams, and were recorded, with transcripts downloaded into Word. These transcripts were then individually analysed by both team members to identify key themes, issues and specific points. Then the team compared their findings to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the information and data provided by respondents. A number of major themes were identified, as highlighted below. Where responses illustrated a key point or theme, these have been employed within this report. In order to ensure confidentiality specific identifying geographic or personal information has been excised as appropriate.

We now move on to discuss the findings from our interviews and focus groups before discussing the implications for Scotland's future engagement with its diaspora.



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