Transforming Places Together: digital strategy for planning

This strategy defines a long-term strategic direction for how Scotland’s planning system will digitally transform, embracing the opportunities new digital technologies and data present. It sets out what we intend to deliver, why this is needed and the benefits this transformation will bring.

Broader policy alignment

Planning does not operate in a bubble. We must collaborate and work together to find solutions across organisational boundaries and sectors and deliver the best public services. Similarly, the reach and impact of digital planning is not confined to traditional planning processes and issues that fall within the boundaries of the Planning Act.

The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, recognises the profound impact on our health, economy and society that COVID-19 has had and continues to have on our lives. It outlines the opportunity not to simply go back to how things were, but to look afresh and deep-seated challenges, committing to delivering a fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

Planning sits at the intersection of many policy areas, with a broad policy context, and can play a vital role helping Scotland recover from the pandemic. As an example, in planning at the national level we are collaborating widely with stakeholders from across sectors and different interests to develop Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). The framework will set out a long-term spatial plan looking to 2050. It will identify where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth. To do that, NPF4 cannot be standalone. It must both influence and fit well with the policy objectives set by a whole range of other plans and strategies; for example, on climate change and net zero targets, infrastructure investment, housing, transport strategy, air quality, town centres and more.

Equally digitally transforming planning has far reaching policy impacts and collaboration is already underway on a range of cross cutting policy interests. For example, on the affordable housing data tool, support for a strategic approach to infrastructure investment set out in the IIP and joint working on the Mission Clyde initiative. In the immediate response to COVID-19 we saw how digital tools and data analytic techniques previously used on digital planning could help track and monitor the £350 million investment to support communities dealing with the pandemic, providing valuable information and insights into the spend coverage.

“Planning sits at the intersection of many policy areas, with a broad policy context, and can play a vital role helping Scotland recover from the pandemic.”

As we move forward, Scottish Government’s commitment to the place principle and focus on 20-minute neighbourhoods, localism and placemaking, signals the importance of joining up across organisational and policy boundaries to look at the outcomes for places holistically. The tools, technologies and different ways of working delivered through the digital transformation of planning are well suited to support this; helping design and create places that work for us all, regardless of background.

Significant emphasis and positive change is taking place more broadly around community empowerment and civic engagement, both at central and local government levels, with digital tools supporting this drive in some areas, helping citizens engage in democratic processes. The work by Connecting Scotland is playing a vital role in supporting digitally excluded households to get online, and access essential services. The social justice and renewal programme of work, led by the Social Renewal Advisory Board, aims to bank the policy and practice shifts seen during COVID-19 and utilise our current practice and knowledge with an emphasis on delivering equality and social justice. Aligning with the principles of this work will help ensure equalities and digital exclusion are key considerations as we deliver this programme.

The way we are transforming the planning system through innovative digital technologies and solutions is not unique; it also sits within a bigger picture. Public services everywhere, as in most walks of life, are putting digital at the heart of their futures.

Our Digital Strategy for Planning reflects the broader ambitions set out within Scotland’s national Digital Strategy refresh: Renewing Scotland’s full potential in a digital world. The revised national strategy to be published in early 2021, continues to provide a focal point for all of the digital recovery work taking place across government, and a blueprint that individual digital strategies – including the digital planning strategy – can align with.

The national strategy’s vision – to ensure that Scotland is recognised throughout the world as a vibrant, inclusive, greener, open and outward-looking digital nation – is now even more compelling in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ensure that Scotland is recognised throughout the world as a vibrant, inclusive, greener, open and outward-looking digital nation.”

In order to deliver successful, joined-up, digital transformation we will remain closely aligned to the national strategy, ensuring greater coherence and supporting the ambition to build a Digital Scotland in which:

  • the right support is given to the right people with more and more of us gaining the confidence to use and benefit from digital technology
  • we capitalise on Digital’s potential to sustain and invigorate rural and island communities
  • we reinvent our public services to make them more personal, accountable, adaptable, efficient, sustainable and worthy of public trust
  • we transform into true digital organisations with digital skills, cultures and operating models
  • our Tech sector is an innovative one, successful internationally and involving enthusiastic partners in a network of digital and data talent
  • green thinking is incorporated into all our digital solutions, so we can contribute to meet our statutory commitments to be a net zero society by 2045
  • we are open, ethical and working with others to meet new moral, environmental, regulatory and security concerns

Our research commissioned by RTPI on policy impacts of digital planning identified a number of strategies and plans across Government this work could support. All of these important policy commitments require a great deal of detailed information and data that, when used collaboratively and effectively, will help shape priorities and the direction for the future development of Scotland.

COVID-19 Community Fund Mapping Tool


A vital aspect of the £350m community support package announced by the Scottish Government at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, was the ability to track the spread of funding across Scotland, identify any gaps, and support rapid decision-making.

Early in the crisis, the Scottish Government’s digital planning team was able to pull together complex spatial and non-spatial data, analysing and visualising results, turning complex inputs into clear and valuable insight. This helped policy teams and analysts to understand the distribution of funds. For example, data analysis and visualisation work helped to highlight the range of different funds supporting the delivery of food packages beyond that of the ‘Food Fund’, demonstrating the impact of this support more clearly.

Publicly available dashboards (see Community Funding Overview) also provide a summary of how each Local Authority has been supported by a range of available funds, at a total and per capita level, allowing people to understand how the funding is supporting their Local Authority.

The work undertaken during the crisis to date has shown the benefits of agile ways of working, rapid deployment, collaboration across teams and the vital part that data plays in timely decision-making.


Scottish Government Policy Alignment

A circle-spoke diagram that shows how Digital Planning supports the alignment between the Programme for Government National Performance Framework and other key policies



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