Renewing Scotland's full potential in a digital world: consultation

Consultation seeking views on a new digital strategy for Scotland, which reflects the changing digital world in which we live and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

4. No One Left Behind

Geography, background or ability should not be barriers to getting online and benefiting from digital technology. To achieve this, we need networks which reach every corner of the country. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of access to the internet, for information, access to services and the social links that are so important to wellbeing. However, it also exacerbated isolation and inequality and focussed attention on the consequences of the digital divide. Digital and data skills are vital to us all, and the internet is fast becoming a basic essential in our lives. We need to ensure everyone has these skills and access.

Our digital infrastructure is critical national infrastructure and is central to economic and societal resilience. It must be capable of meeting the current and future needs of business and society – including providing fair and equitable access to connectivity so all of our people and businesses can benefit from being on-line. We rely on fixed and mobile connectivity, the systems they support and the data they produce to find information, shop, enjoy our leisure time and engage with government and public services. Fast resilient connections provide a competitive advantage for business. When used alongside other technologies, they can provide insights that allow us to cooperate and maintain more traditional infrastructure in a greener and more efficient way: for example by managing road traffic flows; monitoring performance and making real time decisions about energy consumption.

The Infrastructure Investment Plan consultation sets out a single vision for future infrastructure, underpinned by three themes:

  • enabling net zero and environmental sustainability;
  • driving inclusive economic growth; and
  • building resilient and sustainable places.

Effective digital connectivity can ensure that our rural and islands communities are an integral part of the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Scotland. It can make living and working in a rural setting a more attractive option for those who have recognised the benefits of home working, or for small businesses who can rely on the same access to international markets on a level playing field with their urban counterparts. It can also help to diversify our rural economies by capitalising on the unique richness of Scotland’s renewable energy sources to attract investment in high quality jobs such as in the data centre industry.

A Digital Scotland can be a more inclusive nation in which the benefits of digital technology can be for everyone. It can be a country where there is universal Digital Citizenship, with world-leading levels of digital inclusion, participation in community and democracy, accessible by all – where no-one is unable to participate because of poverty. A nation in which the services that digital technology can deliver the access it provides to information and knowledge and the job and business opportunities it creates can be for all. Where we use technology to promote wellbeing, and tackle, rather than reinforce, the inequalities of the analogue world.

Potential Actions to ensure that no one is left behind:

  • Deliver broadband coverage for all: We will do this through a combination of the Scottish Government Reaching 100% (R100) programme, considerable network upgrading by commercial providers and future UK Government investment. While telecoms is a reserved responsibility of the UK Government, the Scottish Government, recognising the importance of digital connectivity, has chosen to provide extra investment in certain areas to accelerate progress.
  • Improve 4G mobile coverage and set the right conditions to encourage investment: We will continue to deliver the Scottish 4G Infill Programme, bringing future-proofed 4G infrastructure and services to selected mobile “notspots” in rural Scotland. We are also making it easier for mobile and other telecoms operators to deploy in Scotland, for example through the production of rental guidance to facilitate access to publicly owned assets and simplification of the planning process, while ensuring we continue to protect the natural environment.
  • Digital inclusion that tackles inequality and promotes wellbeing: We will work to ensure that moving government and other services online reduces inequalities and does not exclude the least advantaged in society from the services they may need the most. This will require us to build on the Connecting Scotland programme to provide equipment and data packages and digital skills training to those in greatest need. We will also work with the third sector and others to provide training and support to ensure that people have the skills, confidence and information literacy required to make the most of being online.
  • An education system that builds digital skills: We will need to continue to take action to address future skills demand and ensure that education equips people with the skills and capabilities they need for the future. Education will need to keep pace with the constantly changing world, which calls for new skills. The development of these skills will also need to recognise that the way in which people learn is changing as more courses are delivered flexibly on-line, so we will closely align with our plans for a new National Digital Learning Strategy to ensure a coherent digital learning experience.

Case Study: Connecting Scotland – Ending Digital Exclusion

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic thousands of vulnerable people in Scotland who needed to shield found themselves unable to keep in touch with family and friends, or carry out tasks such as online shopping which most of us take for granted, because they didn’t have the confidence to go on-line, or the kit and connectivity in their homes.

The Scottish Government, in partnership with Scotland IS, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), COSLA and Healthcare Improvement Scotland, set up Connecting Scotland in just four months to address this. Nine thousand people at high clinical risk from coronavirus were given an internet connection, training and support and a laptop or tablet, so they could access services and support and connect with friends and family during the pandemic.

Each of the partner organisations lent their own area of expertise: the SCVO were able to make contact with and convince harder to reach groups to take part in the scheme; whilst telecom providers gave free access to NHS Websites to ensure data usage was minimised.

Recipients immediately reported improved wellbeing thanks to the programme. For Shannon and her family, this has made a huge difference: before joining the programme her children were trying to use a mobile phone to do schoolwork, making home-schooling even harder.

An extension of Connecting Scotland now aims to end digital exclusion by getting 50,000 people online by the end of 2021. This will open up access to education, health care and employment opportunities, counter social isolation and raise the quality of peoples life.

Case Study: Promoting mental health And wellbeing In Young People

This ground-breaking CivTech® challenge, developed in partnership with Stirling Council and NHS National Services Scotland puts young people in Stirling in charge of a project to find better ways for their peers to engage with mental health issues.

Mental health champions across secondary schools in Stirling spent three months researching and developing ways technology can help young people start discussions about mental health and address the stigmas sometimes associated with it.

They secured the support of Edinburgh-based company Voxsio to develop a prototype chatbot called ‘Allichat’, accessible across social media platforms, to help young people get personalised answers to complex questions. The aim of the solution was to help young people start conversations about mental health, and provide personalised advice on where to access additional services and ongoing support.

Allichat turns each search into a conversation that gives personalised results by understanding the question and the individual’s context.

Case Study: Bookbug – How an app has helped give babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers the best start in life

Bookbug is a partnership between Scottish Government and the Scottish Book Trust that gives free book bags to every child in Scotland, and runs free song and rhymes sessions across the country, to help improve children’s literacy.

While a Bookbug app couldn’t – and shouldn’t – replace existing resources, it was identified that an app would had huge potential to reach more families across Scotland, by helping families to fit songs and rhymes into their daily routine more easily.

It was important for the app to be built for users by users, so developers worked with a mix of local authorities, NHS health boards, library services, and charitable organizations such as Barnados, the Scottish Childminding Association, Play Scotland and local Multicultural Associations.

Following launch in January 2019, the app has been downloaded over 40,000 times and over 2 million songs and rhymes have been listened to.

The key to its success was working directly with families to see what they needed most including:

  • ‘Find my nearest Bookbug Session’ to help families find physical sessions nearby, to encourage a break from the screen; and
  • songs and rhymes in other languages, and instrumental versions so users can sing along in their own language.

The app was also instrumental in providing a quick response to lockdown following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as it allowed for Bookbug sessions to continue on-line when physical sessions had to be suspended.

Future plans include developing targeted features to broaden the reach, deepen the impact of the Bookbug programme; and improve the accessibility of the Bookbug app for users with a range of disabilities and access requirements, as well as socioeconomic barriers to access. This includes improved accessibility and additional content for British Sign Language (BSL) users, and broadening the availability of content in Scots and Gaelic.

Case Study: Unicef Data For Children Collaborative – Using Data To Improve The Wellbeing Of Children

The Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF is a unique partnership between the Scottish Government, UNICEF and the University of Edinburgh Data Driven Innovation Programme, hosted by The Data Lab.

It seeks to improve outcomes for children locally, nationally and globally, by using data and data science techniques to solve societal problems such as nutrition, poverty, population dynamics, mental health, climate change and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Proper nutrition is essential, and children who are well nourished are more likely to be healthy, productive and able to learn, which benefits families, communities and the world as a whole.

Research by UNICEF suggests that childhood obesity is on the rise with the number of children 5-19 years old who are overweight globally almost doubling in 15 years. In Scotland, almost a quarter of children are starting school at risk of being overweight or obese, with the poorest children at almost 50% greater risk than the wealthiest.

The Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) project is supporting Scotland’s target to halve cases of childhood obesity by 2030, with the aim of developing an effective, inexpensive, routine measurement system that can flag indicators to prevent obesity, protect children from malnutrition and promote healthy lifestyles.

The project is addressing questions such as:

  • At what specific ages would measuring height and weight most effectively and efficiently identify children at risk of persistent obesity at ages 10 and 12?
  • What underlying risk factors for child obesity could be used to accurately identify cases of concern, and intervene in a preventative way, before obesity develops?
  • How do markers of family socio-economic status relate to child overweight and obesity? (Including child obesity unrecognized by parents)?
  • Are any adverse and protective childhood experiences independent risk factors for obesity?

Analysis has already highlighted important risk factors for childhood obesity and is continuing to explore issues how both Adverse and Protective Childhood Experiences contribute to obesity risk.

The project currently focuses on Scotland, but the opportunity exists to support other countries in the global challenge to reduce obesity rates, by sharing the learning. Over 80 delegates from countries around the world recently came together to hear about the progress of this and the other projects the Collaborative is taking forward to address the challenges facing children locally, nationally and globally. Demonstrating Scotland’s commitment to be leader in the data for good movement.



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