Scotland's Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland

Strategy setting out how we will ensure Scotland takes full advantage of digital technology.

4 Digital Participation

Digital participation describes people's ability to gain access to digital technology, and understand how to use it creatively. Increased digital participation can improve people's quality of life, boost economic growth and allow more effective delivery of public services.

Many people in Scotland already use digital technology regularly and confidently. However, there is clearly more that can be done to improve and increase usage.

Figures from Ofcom show that the level of broadband uptake in Scotland is 61% of the population. This is the lowest of any nation in the UK, and 10 percentage points below the UK average of 71%.

This is not an issue which is directly related to broadband infrastructure - uptake of broadband in rural Scotland, at 60%, is almost identical to that of urban Scotland. Furthermore, areas which have good broadband infrastructure, such as Glasgow, have relatively poor levels of broadband use. Indeed, broadband uptake in Glasgow, Clyde and Lanarkshire at 53% is among the lowest anywhere in the UK and 20 percentage points below the average uptake in England. 15

Unsurprisingly, given that broadband use is lower than in the rest of the UK, people in Scotland also use the internet for key services less than in other parts of the UK. In Scotland, 29% of people use internet banking services (as opposed to 43% UK-wide), and 13% use the internet to access local government websites (26% UK-wide). 16

Broadband use is lowest among older people, those with health difficulties, and those on low incomes. For example, 33% of UK citizens over the age of 65 have an internet connection at home, as opposed to the UK-wide average of 71%. Only 48% of the DE social category have an internet connection at home. 17

Figures published in 2010 indicate that, across the UK, broadband use by people with visual impairments (42%), a hearing impairment (32%) or a mobility impairment (36%) was significantly below the UK average of 70% 18 .

Therefore, many people who would potentially benefit most from digital technology - whether it is online shopping, accessing public services such as telecare, or simply to increase employability and confidence - do not have the inclination or opportunity to use it.

We know that this must change. For that reason, our Digital Ambition paper set out a commitment to ensure that broadband uptake in Scotland should be equal to, or above, the UK average by 2013.

Research shows that the main reasons why people do not go online 19 are (in order of priority):

  • lack of interest
  • financial considerations
  • lack of access to a computer
  • lack of confidence or knowledge 20

Care needs to be taken in interpreting this data, since Ofcom has suggested that people who are financially excluded from using broadband may sometimes cite other factors, such as lack of interest.

However, it is unlikely that any digital participation strategy will be fully effective unless it addresses these three key barriers: access, confidence and inclination.

The level of broadband uptake in Scotland is the lowest of any nation in the UK, and 10 percentage points below the UK average of 71%

Lack of interest is the most commonly given reason for not going online

Increased digital participation can improve people's quality of life, boost economic growth and allow more effective delivery of public services


Cost is not the most commonly cited reason for people choosing not to use broadband, but it is named by a significant number of people. People in Scotland are more likely than elsewhere in the UK to cite "involuntary" factors, such as accessibility or the cost of hardware or broadband access, when explaining why they have chosen not to use broadband 21 . There are limits - especially in the current public spending climate - to what can be done to make broadband access more affordable. However, there is scope for action in some areas.

One of these is by making re-used computers available at a low cost. Race Online 2012, which estimates that there are 30 million used computers available in the UK, is working with Age UK and Microsoft on a scheme where unused computers - which would otherwise be thrown out or kept in storage - are donated to centres across the UK. They are then "cleaned" (so that all personal data relating to the previous owners is removed), equipped with new software and made available to help train people to use computers. 22

Re-use and re-boot

Other re-use schemes in Scotland have included the Wise Group, which has worked with Microsoft to make PCs available to people who are seeking employment, and Pass IT On, which makes computing equipment available to people with disabilities in the Edinburgh area.

For schemes of this kind to be successful, they require a supply of hardware, and a means of "cleaning" PCs and installing new software. They also need an effective way to distribute them to people or organisations with a proven need. Where equipment is being given to individuals, issues surrounding access to, and the cost of, broadband packages may also impact on the scheme's effectiveness. Despite these potential difficulties, we believe it is worth exploring options for making schemes of this kind more widespread.

Action 4.1 We will work with established suppliers and community organisations to investigate options for recycling computer equipment and making it available at lower cost to individuals and community centres. Options analysis to be completed by end of July 2011

Even if home access to digital technology can be made more affordable, it is still important to maintain free access to computers and the internet in certain settings, in particular, schools and educational facilities, workplaces, and public spaces such as libraries.

Scotland's libraries have a crucial role to play in delivering access to IT, and in developing the skills and confidence of people who do not currently use the internet.

CASE STUDY Scotland's libraries - reference section

  • 49% 23 of the Scottish population use their local library*
  • Most people use the library for borrowing books
  • 14% 24 of library users are using it for computer/internet access; this number is growing
  • This figure is highest amongst 16-24 year olds where 40% 25 use the library to access a computer/internet, perhaps demonstrating a changing expectation from library services
  • From 2006-08, internet terminals in libraries increased from 3826 to 4106
  • Scottish libraries provide 8 million hours of free internet access a year; this has risen by approximately 25% year on year 26
  • In Glasgow, 1.2 million sessions of internet access are provided each year

* for 2007/08 percentage of the Scottish population who have visited a library in Scotland in the last 12 months (not including paid work or academic study)

The responsibility for public library provision lies with local authorities, who have a statutory responsibility to provide an "adequate" service. The Scottish Government provides the Scottish Library and Information Council ( SLIC) with a grant to facilitate good practice in the library sector and to support improvements to library services in Scotland.

Through SLIC, we provide the Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix Fund ( PLQIM). 27 This is an annual fund of £500,000 for libraries to make improvements or provide additional services based on the findings of their PLQIM self-evaluation, such as increased WiFi Access, more PCs, and new training programmes for excluded groups.

Access also relates to other technology, not simply computers. The increasing popularity of online television over the next two years may mean that a significant minority of the population has access to internet content (which will not solely be conventional television programmes) through their television screens. For some viewers, this could help to reduce costs, as the internet will be available from a set-top box, rather than a computer.

The increased use of tablets and smart phones has also made mobile devices a popular means of accessing digital content. As this trend continues, more people may choose to benefit from internet content and web 2.0 platforms, without paying for home broadband connections.

Because Scotland's uptake of home broadband is lower than other parts of the UK, broadband is a significant issue and a key focus of this strategy.

However, our strategy is not solely about computers and broadband. It is about ensuring that all people in Scotland are able to benefit as fully as possible from the use of digital technology.

We must, therefore, recognise that people's different technological preferences mean that mobile devices, internet-enabled television and future, unforeseen, devices and applications will play an increasingly important role in how people choose to access the internet.

Scotland's libraries have a crucial role to play in delivering free access to IT

The increased use of tablets and smart phones has made mobile devices a popular means of accessing digital content


Adult learning

In addition to having access to digital technology, people also need to have the confidence and skills to use it. Libraries, in particular, play an important role, not only in providing physical access and an increasing range of online services but by having library staff on hand to provide advice and support to new computer users.

Many libraries offer training courses to help people develop their IT skills. For example, Edinburgh City Council runs IT classes for beginners in 14 of its libraries.

This work of libraries complements other work underway to promote IT awareness in adult learning across a range of sectors, such as local authority community learning and development, Scotland's colleges and the voluntary sector.

Evolving literacy

In the "Adult Literacies in Scotland 2020: strategic guidance" 28 digital technology is recognised as important for increasing the frequency of learning.

The guidance also stresses the importance of practitioners improving their own IT skills: "Adult literacies providers must ensure their services are adaptable as the use of literacies change and evolve. Online and blended learning should continue to be developed in order to reach more learners, offer alternative modes of learning and provide the learner with increased opportunities to access learning outwith face-to-face tuition. This is particularly important for those in remote and rural areas, shift workers and those who may face other physical or time barriers."

Trade unions also play a crucial part, and are supported by the Scottish Government to deliver adult learning opportunities and learning in the workplace.

Scottish Government money, which attracts European Social Fund matched funding, supports thousands of learning opportunities for often low-paid and low-skilled workers across Scotland. For the year 2009-10 our contribution of £1.4 million provided around 15,000 learning opportunities at an average cost of around £100 each.

Action 4.2 We will work with learning providers to ensure that delivery of adult learning takes full account of the importance of digital participation. We will produce a summary of actions to achieve
this by the end of July 2011

School education

Technology, social trends and economic developments continue to transform our global society, fuelling a knowledge-based economy and enhancing social cohesion. Equally, our education system must look forward and embrace innovation if it is to meet the current and future needs and aspirations of our children and young people. Technology plays a crucial role in achieving this.

We have already delivered Glow in Scotland, the world's first national intranet for schools. This provides a powerful set of integrated online tools and resources, from virtual learning environments and content delivery systems to email, video conferencing, Blogs, Wikis and discussion forums, all accessible in a safe and secure environment.

Glow can be accessed at any time from anywhere, and is now available to all 32 local authorities in Scotland. It serves a potential user base of some 1.5 million individuals (including teachers, students and parents), almost 3,000 schools (including nurseries, primary and secondary schools) and a wide range of associated interests such as Scottish Qualification Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education and Learning and Teaching Scotland ( LTS).

Glow has been embraced by all 32 local authorities in Scotland and through their active participation it is being used on a daily basis by teachers, students and parents to learn, create, share, collaborate and showcase - in the classroom, in community centres, at home, in a library or abroad.

For examples of how Glow is being used to enhance learning and teaching go to .

Homework Glows

Wendy Lee teaches class P7B at Forthill Primary School in Dundee. Dundee City Council was an early and enthusiastic adopter of Glow. Wendy was keen to find out if the Glow tools and functionality would help improve pupil attitudes towards homework. Most of Wendy's pupils have access to the internet at home, but she ensured that they also had access to computers during the school day to complete Glow tasks, if required.

To further increase pupils' use of Glow, she allowed her pupils to post material themselves to the class Glow Group and encouraged them to post items of interest (new addition to the family, school football results, theatre visits etc) on the News page. These topics were then discussed as a class activity, first thing Monday morning. Parents were also encouraged look at their children's contributions to the Glow site. Wendy then created a Parents Page, posting items of interest and encouraging parents to submit their own stories onto a Discussion Board.

For examples of many other ways in which Glow is being used within and across local authorities to enhance learning and teaching, go to reference:

While technology can provide unparalleled opportunities in learning it is imperative that the learning community understands how to use these ethically, safely and responsibly.

To do this, Learning and Teaching Scotland's ( LTS) on-line service features dedicated web pages with resources on internet safety and responsible use. 29 LTS is also working with the Centre for Child Exploitation and Online Protection to digitise its Think U Know training course so that it is available through Glow. There is also a Glow group about these safety topics.

Underpinning Glow is our investment in the Interconnect 2.0 - the high speed education broadband infrastructure linking all 32 local authorities and key educational sites.

This will enable our schools to be amongst the early beneficiaries of next generation broadband. If our students are to benefit from the learning opportunities and expectations brought about by the global knowledge society it is essential that their access to those opportunities is not compromised.

We are developing a Technologies for Learning strategy (due summer 2011). An integral part of this strategy will be introducing the next generation of Glow by September 2012.

Our education system must embrace innovation if it is to meet the current and future needs and aspirations of our children and young people

Action 4.3 We will ensure that the Technologies for Learning Strategy takes full account of the aims of this digital strategy. We will also ensure that there is effective co-ordination of work on delivering broadband to schools and delivering it for the wider public sector


The biggest challenge in encouraging people to go online is likely to be persuading them that it is worth their while to do so, and that the benefits to their quality of life will significantly outweigh the cost (either in time or money) of using digital technology.

People are much more likely to do this if they can see how technology directly relates to their own interests, whether these are family history, sports information, online shopping or keeping in touch with distant friends and relatives.

They are also more likely to respond if they are encouraged to pursue their interests by people they already know and trust. This suggests that any drive to increase digital participation cannot rely purely on awareness-raising at a national level. It will also require a willingness and capacity from individuals and organisations at a local level to encourage the use of technology.

This is why the Race Online 2012 team uses digital "champions" within organisations as part of its approach to encouraging digital participation 30 . There is clearly an important role for champions, whether it is trade union learning representatives or helpers in day care facilities.

Broadcasting also has a significant role to play in the drive towards increased digital participation in Scotland. The BBC, for example, played a major part in Silver Surfers' day in April 2010, running a number of features to encourage older viewers and listeners to explore the internet. Its First Click campaign provides information and materials which help people of all ages to go online. BBC Scotland has a memorandum of understanding with libraries in Scotland, which ensures that they are able to anticipate additional demand which may arise as a result of its campaigns.

In addition, technological convergence means that television sets will increasingly be enabled so that they are able to receive broadband.

Although this already happens (eg. many games consoles allow online content to be viewed on television screens), online television is likely to become significantly more common during the next 18 months with the proposed launch of services such as Youview, a partnership between the four UK-wide public service broadcasters and BT, Arqiva and TalkTalk.

You view…I view…

Youview and other similar services will make a wide range of online content and applications available on people's television screens. It will potentially make online technology less intimidating and more desirable for people who trust television, but are wary of the internet. For that reason, Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, noted in his 2010 Mactaggart Lecture that online television was "one of the key ways in which we can help deliver universal broadband take-up in the UK".

We do not see the BBC as being the only broadcaster which can help drive digital participation. STV's hyper-local websites are an example of content which could prove attractive, and Channel 4 has contributed to the development of digital media companies. Sky, meanwhile, as a partner in the UK Government's Race Online 2012 initiative, has pledged to encourage digital participation in its workforce, a significant proportion of which is based in Scotland.

Our chief objective in relation to broadcasting is the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network with a public service remit, to provide a secure and sustainable source of competition to the BBC for Scottish public service broadcasting.

CASE STUDY Scottish Digital Network Panel

The Scottish Digital Network ( SDN) Panel's report to the Scottish Government stated that a public service remit could reasonably be expected to include a "responsibility to use the broadcast and broadband platforms in pursuit of social inclusion in the digital age and a truly connected society in Scotland". The panel noted that "New and attractive forms of Scottish content could drive take-up just as the Scottish Government is seeking to drive availability and to lead the UK in connectivity. We have a problem currently with social exclusion and geographic exclusion and a range of attractive content and services linked to the SDN will help to get all of Scotland connected and participating in the benefits of the digital age".

Action 4.4 We will continue to pursue the establishment of a Scottish Digital Network, in line with recommendations made in the final report of the Scottish Digital Network Panel. We will seek to ensure the importance of encouraging digital participation is enshrined in the remit of a digital network when it is established

We will also explore whether there is scope for using the network of community organisations being used to help to promote awareness of the digital television switchover in central Scotland during 2011, in order to promote awareness of digital technology more generally later in the year.

We also want to explore opportunities presented by other projects and events, such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Awareness-raising activity will be planned during the second half of 2011, and we will consult widely with external stakeholders to ensure that activities are as co-ordinated as possible.

Broadcasting has a significant role to play in the drive towards increased digital participation in Scotland

Action 4.5 We will establish a project team to take forward planning for an awareness raising campaign for the benefits of digital technology. Options for the campaign to be assessed by the end of July 2011, and the campaign to commence during the second half of 2011

Working with the UK Government

In July 2010 the UK Government appointed Martha Lane Fox as UK Digital Champion. This followed her appointment as Digital Inclusion Champion by the previous UK Government.

Martha Lane Fox published the "Manifesto for a Networked Nation" in July 2010, which sets out the UK Government's aim to get millions more people online by the end of 2012.

Although many parts of the manifesto apply only to England, there are some recommendations which cover reserved issues, and will therefore have implications for Scotland. For example, the manifesto envisages placing local digital champions in all Jobcentre Plus offices. Race Online is discussing with Scottish libraries how the work of Jobcentre Plus champions can be co-ordinated with the learning opportunities offered by libraries. This is a good example of how reserved and devolved activities can be link together to provide better opportunities.

Martha Lane Fox's office has also been engaging companies and organisations as partners in its digital participation activities. Many of these (eg. the Post Office Ltd, McDonalds and BT) are major UK organisations whose activities should benefit employees and customers in Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK.

For these reasons, we will ensure that the Scottish Government works constructively and collaboratively with the UK Government on digital participation issues whenever it is appropriate to do so. The Minister for Culture and External Affairs has met Martha Lane Fox and discussed areas for co-operation in more detail.

Action 4.6 We will work with Race Online 2012 programme and UK Government to ensure co-ordination between Scottish Government's digital participation initiatives and relevant Race Online UK-wide initiatives.

Action 4.7 We will work closely with partner organisations signed up to Race Online 2012 to ensure that they are able to deliver or contribute to digital participation initiatives in Scotland

Back to top