Morag Campsie talks about our work and why it's important. Download the transcript for this video
Audit Scotland supports the improvement of public services by looking at how public money is spent, and whether policies are achieving desired outcomes for individuals and bodies.
We do this through our annual audits of individual public-sector bodies and through more specific audits of local and national digital and ICT programmes.
Responding to Covid-19 has increased the pace at which Scotland's 32 councils are delivering services through digital technology. Greater collaboration, use of shared expertise, citizen engagement and strategic planning are needed, however, to fully realise the potential of digital technology.
Digital innovation used to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the way we lived and worked, and how organisations operated, delivered public services and interacted with citizens was rapidly changing. Since March 2020, the pace of that change has accelerated. Organisations have had to innovate and collaborate on a scale never seen before. Digital technology has become a lifeline, allowing the continued delivery of public services, often to the most vulnerable in society. Its use has also exposed the risk of digital exclusion – not having the skills or resources to access vital public services, maintain learning, and stay connected with others.
In our digital progress in local government report, we provided some illustrative examples of how councils are using digital innovations to deliver services to, and interact with, citizens. Building on this, we have sourced case studies from our wider audit work that provide examples of how digital innovation and transformation has been used to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. We highlight some of the things that went well and the challenges that remain, so that lessons can be learned for future digital transformation.
We have based these case studies around six characteristics - digital leadership, user focused, digital workforce, collaborative, technology and data enabled, and innovative. While originally we identified these as the characteristics of a digital council, they are relevant to all public sector organisations. This is endorsed by the recent national digital strategy which describes them as the characteristics needed for true Digital Government.
Example: Education – National e-learning offer
What is it?
The National e-Learning offer provides a range of live, recorded and supported learning resources to support practitioners in delivering remote learning.
Who is involved?
Education Scotland, Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs), the Scottish Government and councils.
What did they do?
When schools closed in March 2020, schools, teachers and councils moved quickly to providing remote learning. Education Scotland supported this shift nationally, making resources available online through GLOW, the national digital platform for remote learning. There was wide variation in use of GLOW.
Education Scotland, RICs and councils have been working in partnership to develop more comprehensive and co-ordinated national resources and support. The National e-learning offer is hosted on the National Improvement Hub and brings together:
- Live, interactive lessons through e-Sgoil (a service developed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar)
- Recorded content for learners to use as directed by their teacher (developed by the West Partnership)
- Support and training materials and events for teachers to deliver remote learning (provided by Education Scotland and CERG Workforce Support workstream).
The CERG Workforce Support workstream also shares learning and best practice, for example through the weekly Scotland Learns Practitioner newsletter, and helps provide peer support for teachers through initiatives such as ‘Big Blethers’, informal online gatherings for teachers across the country.
What went well and what were the challenges?
Leadership and Collaboration: Partnership working led to more co-ordinated national support for remote or blended e-learning.
Digital Workforce: Training and support for the workforce to deliver remote learning including sharing learning and best practice.
Digital exclusion: Pupils living in very challenging circumstances have been most affected by the impact of school closures. Access to devices and broadband was a significant inhibitor to remote learning, as was parental knowledge and understanding of the various platforms used by schools. The Scottish Government invested £25 million in reducing the number of children and young people in digital exclusion. At December 2020, £24 million of the £25 million for digital inclusion had been allocated to councils. Of the original target of 70,000 devices, just over 72,000 had been provided to learners by end of June 2021, along with just over 14,000 connections. However, there are still people and communities that do not have access to an affordable or reliable internet connection. Good internet connectivity is a challenge for some councils, particularly in rural areas.
Example: Connecting Scotland
What is it?
A Scottish Government programme to support vulnerable people in Scotland to get online.
Who is involved?
Connecting Scotland is a partnership between the Scottish Government, councils and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). It’s supported by a range of local, public and third sector organisations.
What did they do?
Launched in May 2020, Connecting Scotland aims to tackle digital exclusion and support citizens to get online and access the services they need. The Scottish Government initially provided the programme with £5 million, to buy devices, data packages and provide basic digital skills training to 9,000 individuals at risk of isolation because they were on the Covid-19 shielding list.
In August, a further £15 million was made available to help 23,000 more households get online. Disadvantaged families with children and young people leaving care were prioritised. These families were given a device, twelve months unlimited data as well as linked up with a Digital Champion to provide six months of training and support over the phone. Families were identified by councils and third sector organisations, who then applied on their behalf.
Since then, the programme has been extended twice to support different target groups, including older people and people with disabilities. To date, £48 million has been invested with the aim of supporting 60,000 households by the end of 2021.
By June 2021, 36,000 devices had been delivered to households. Almost 600 organisations and all 32 councils have received support from Connecting Scotland.
What went well and what were the challenges?
Collaboration: Cross-sector collaboration and partnership working was an enabler for the development and delivery of the programme. The model – using voluntary and public sector organisations as trusted intermediary bodies – worked well in terms of identifying and reaching programme target groups.
Digital Workforce: Digital Champions have had a difficult task providing support remotely (over the phone) during Covid-19 restrictions. The use of visual aids, such as YouTube videos on how to use the different devices, was proven to be essential to support their work.
Technology: Initially data packages were limited to 20Gb per month but this was found to restrict full use of a device. Since phase two unlimited data packages have given users more freedom to use devices without monitoring usage. Individuals have ownership of the device, rather than a loan.
An evaluation of the programme is underway by the Scottish Government and findings are expected in Summer 2021.
Example: Near Me
What is it?
Near Me is a video consulting service used to facilitate remote consultations between patients and clinicians, clients and service providers, to improve access to health and care, with plans to extend it to other public services.
Who is involved?
It is led by the TEC (Technology Enabled Care) Programme within Scottish Government’s Digital Health and Care Directorate. Initially trialled in the North of Scotland it was rolled out across primary and secondary care, as well as social care settings across Scotland. The programme has now been piloted with housing associations as part of plans to extend its use to social landlords and other public services in Scotland.
What did they do?
Building on the success of the early adopters, in November 2018 TEC launched a £1.6 million challenge to support wider rollout of Near Me across all health boards. In March 2020, TEC launched a 12-week scale-up plan to support rapid deployment of Near Me services to maintain some level of service provision during the pandemic. This included targeted support for priority areas such as Mental Health, GP practices and care homes.
Use of the service rose from less than 1,000 consultations per month in February 2020 to almost 70,000 per month from June to September 2020. Hospital and community care services accounted for over 75 per cent of activity, with mental health services constituting over a third of this. Few GPs had embraced Near Me before the pandemic but around two-thirds did during the first lockdown. As the first lockdown eased, hospital and community use of Near Me continued to rise, while GP activity fell back with only around a third of practices continuing to use it, with telephone consultations preferred.
Uptake was lower in care homes due to connectivity limitations but care staff who did use it were generally very positive. An initiative has been launched to facilitate digital inclusion for residents in care homes – a collaboration with TEC and the Connecting Scotland Programme.
What went well and what were the challenges?
Patients and professionals surveyed found video consulting beneficial for both during the pandemic (eg. infection control) and longer term (eg. reduced travel times). Patient satisfaction was generally positive. Technical performance and call quality had a significant impact on patient-reported outcomes. Clinicians reported that video calls are clinically appropriate in certain circumstances but not others (for instance for rare/less predictable conditions or where physical examinations or medical tests are needed).
Leadership: Having national-level commitment and groundwork facilitated rapid adoption.
Digital workforce: It was a huge shift in working routines both for administration (eg managing patients with entry to the virtual waiting room) and clinical staff. Good support was provided for technical set-up, and guidance and training for staff that was grounded in lessons learned from earlier roll outs.
Collaboration: Taking a quality improvement approach to continually monitor and adapt to rapid scale up. Having a large number of people from across many quality improvement teams helped support engagement, training and service implementation.
Technology: Having a single national platform and branding helped rapid scale up. There are still some challenges with infrastructure to enable video calling.
User focused / Digital access: Professionals had some concerns related to digital access and health inequalities, and lack of privacy within a patient's home. Reasons for limited use in GP practices included the varied case mix seen in primary care and challenge of incorporating the technology into time constrained appointments. Further work is needed to better understand how best to embed video consulting into GP routines.
Audit Scotland will report more broadly on digital health innovations in our NHS in Scotland 2021 overview report.
Source: NHS in Scotland 2020 and Evaluation of the Near Me video consulting service in Scotland during Covid-19, 2020, communication from Scottish Government, The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.
Example: Aberdeen City Council
What is it?
Aberdeen City Council’s digital transformation allowed it to respond well to the challenges of the covid-19 pandemic.
Who is involved?
Aberdeen City Council, working closely with its business partner.
What did they do?
In 2016, the council approved its digital strategy ‘Being digital’, ‘to change how we do business to meet outcomes and customer’s expectations through digital solutions’. The strategy focuses on three areas: improving customer services, improving staff experience and improving how resources are used. It is underpinned by six design principles:
- Design services with our customers at the centre
- Present easy to use, integrated and standard interfaces
- Build services, not just websites
- Hold information once and securely
- Use data well
- Make sure the foundations work
In 2019, the council began working with a business partner to maximise how it uses digital technology to improve services.
The council, working closely with its business partner, has substantially delivered on its digital strategy: For example:
- paper-based processes have largely been digitised and customers can now access more services online
- new cloud-based systems have been procured to allow more mobile working and greater use of real time data
- a peer learning model has been adopted with over 500 digital champions, and a number of service specific super champions, supporting employees to learn to use new technologies.
- a chatbot, AB1, has been developed to provide instant online responses to customer and staff queries. Queries related to bin collections, council tax, education or annual leave and payroll are now routed through AB1.
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been implemented in several service areas, including education, finance and social care to remove routine tasks, releasing capacity for staff to support front-line activities. In Education services the equivalent of 14 FTE teacher’s worth of administration was removed.
- digital initiatives and efficiencies have underpinned many of the £125 million savings delivered so far in the council’s wider transformation programme.
The progress made in adopting digital practices and the investment in cloud-based systems and devices for staff, meant that the council was well prepared to respond to the covid-19 pandemic. Within days, staff were working from home to keep essential services running and there was rapid update of video conferencing and messaging apps like Microsoft Teams. The council updated its chatbot AB1 to respond to high demand - approximately 200 individual queries per day - for covid-19 information and it successfully responded to over 80 per cent of customer enquiries. The progress made against the digital strategy has also been beneficial for partnership working during the pandemic. There is now greater sharing of data between Community Planning Partners and work is ongoing to further develop collaborative datasets to inform how services can be targeted to meet demand and customer requirements.
Leadership: Clear vision. Commitment from leadership to embedding the cultural changes associated with changing working practices. The council strengthened its digital leadership and direction to focus on communicating changes to staff, with staff surveys suggesting this has been effectively achieved.
Digital workforce: Large digital champions network in place to support staff. The council invested in digital leadership for its managers and engaged the workforce to understand their needs to improve adoption of technology. Staff trained by business partner to manage chatbot.
Technology and data: Decommissioned legacy systems and moved applications and data to cloud-based systems. Better use and sharing of data. Developed data sharing principles.
Collaboration: Established good working relationships with partners as well as knowledge transfer.
Innovation: One of the first Scottish councils to develop chatbots to automate initial customer and staff queries.
Source: Aberdeen City Council BVAR 2021.
Digital vision and strategy: Glasgow City Council has an outward looking digital strategy that goes beyond IT to focus on people and outcomes. It is linked to wider council priorities and includes an action plan with goals and outcomes for local people, to support the council in achieving its vision for the city.
Example: Digital vision and strategy
Glasgow City Council’s digital strategy has a clear vision, containing two major themes: digital economy and digital public services. The strategy is linked to its wider ambitions for the local area and contains an extensive action plan, with detailed goals and outcomes to support the council in achieving its vision of Glasgow becoming:
'A world-class city with a thriving digital economy and community, where everyone can flourish and benefit from the best digital connectivity and skills, where technology is used to improve everyone’s quality of life, drive businesses’ innovation and service design and improve our city, its neighbourhoods and its success.'
The strategy integrates outcomes for local people within two themed action plans:
- The digital economy action plan states how the council will work with its partners to achieve several outcomes. For example, it aims to reduce existing skills gaps through a range of initiatives, including by ensuring that everyone in Glasgow has the opportunity to learn how to use digital technology.
- The action plan for digital public services states how the council intends to use digital technology to redesign services ‘around the citizen, enabling services to become more integrated, more proactive, and more personalised.’ Actions include establishing a programme that will provide opportunities for collaboration between communities and all sectors to help shape the city’s digital future. Outcomes are intended to improve partnership working and decision making, ensure public services better meet the needs of citizens and communities, as well as improving people’s lives by making better use of smart technology and data.
The council also aims to improve community engagement and empowerment through better access to information and using digital technology to increase civic participation.
This shows the council is communicating a clear digital vision and ambition, as well as understanding the importance of people and digital technology in transforming services.
Monitoring outcomes: Perth and Kinross Council developed a benefits realisation framework to identify and capture financial and non-financial benefits from digital transformation projects.
Example: Monitoring outcomes
Examples of non-financial benefits include an increase in staff satisfaction or work life balance, improved customer satisfaction and improved management information and data quality to better inform decisions.
The council recognises that non-financial benefits are more difficult to measure but are essential to assess whether changes are having the intended outcomes for service users, the community and the council. It is intended that non-financial benefits will be monitored alongside savings and efficiencies three months after digital services or programmes have gone live and then annually. These will be reported to the council’s Digital Board.
This shows the council is working to understand and improve outcomes for staff, citizens and communities affected by digital transformation, linking to the attributes of a user focussed council.
Example: Workforce planning
Fife Council’s Organisational Development Strategy and Digital Strategy are clearly linked with a workforce plan in place. This includes the skillsets and culture changes required to support the Digital Strategy, as well as the changes to its technical architecture and supplier and customer engagement.
Cross-sectoral collaboration: A range of partners established the Digital Telecare collaboration to develop an online resource to support the transition from analogue to digital telecare.
Example: Cross-sectoral collaboration
Digital Telecare for Scottish Local Government is a collaboration between the Scottish Government’s Technology Enabled Care team, the Local Government Digital Office and over 20 Health and Social Care Partnerships (Partnerships). It was established to explore what would be needed to support Partnerships transition from an analogue to a digital telecare service.
Digital Telecare worked with Partnerships and a range of industry experts to create an online resource- the Digital Telecare Playbook. The playbook outlines the process required to achieve the transition to a digital service for citizens who have telecare in their homes. The online resource also brings together the latest best practice guidance on the transition to digital telecare and allows users to share relevant technical information.
Since launching in October 2019, Digital Telecare has received positive feedback and estimates that the playbook has delivered an operational efficiency saving of 1,296 working days in the first year alone.
Technology and data enabled
Use of data: Glasgow City Council used data held across the council to introduce a system of automatic entitlement to increase up take of school clothing grants from families living in poverty.
Example: Use of data
Glasgow City Council set up a Poverty Leadership group to learn about welfare reform and child poverty from the lived experience of citizens. The group worked in collaboration with One Parent Scotland and found that take-up for school clothing grants was low due to a number of barriers including: challenges with the application process, the need to provide multiple forms of evidence of income and identity, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about entitlement.
The council used data analysts to develop an alternative model of delivery and a system of automatic entitlement by merging existing data sets held across the council. Data matching technology was used to identify those eligible for the grant and found that despite 30,000 being eligible, only 22,000 were actively claiming. The council were able to inform the additional 8,000 residents of their eligibility, subsequently making payments using existing details and providing letters containing barcodes that could be cashed locally for residents who were not already on the system.
The project resulted in almost full take-up, with nearly 30,000 eligible residents now claiming the grant. The council used the same approach to distribute food vouchers to families entitled to both free school meals and school clothing grants while schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach is now also being developed on a Scotland-wide basis to maximise the take-up of benefits and address child poverty.
Space and time to innovate: Glasgow City Council has an innovation strategy that provides a framework for innovative ideas to progress. It has established an innovation team and innovation centre to support innovative digital transformation.
Example: Space and time to innovate
Glasgow City Council established an in-house Strategic Innovation and Technology team to support digital transformation. The team developed an Innovation Strategy, linked to the council’s digital strategy. This sets out specific actions, including: establishing a culture of innovation by introducing an innovation forum and providing training for digital leaders and champions; introducing a workflow for management of £100k innovation fund; creating a framework to implement innovative ideas and a commitment to delivering four measurable innovations each year.
The council also has the Centre for Civic Innovation, run by its Development and Regeneration Services. The centre is designed to create an environment that allows innovation to develop. One innovation project involved collaborative working with Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership (Partnership) to look at using technology to support service users to live independently. This involved a range of partnership working, including collaboration with public and private sector organisations to develop digital telecare solutions to common problems such as false alarm call outs and unreliable sensors. The Partnership also engaged with the City of Edinburgh Council to learn lessons about innovative procurement approaches.
The project was successful in terms of building a range of industry partnerships and gaining an increased understanding of the technology available in order to co-design innovative solutions based around the needs of service users. The project has also allowed the council to start future proofing service delivery, by using digital technology to create efficiencies and enable service users to self-manage the support they require.
Our digital work includes an overarching guide of lessons learned from public sector ICT projects, and reports on digital related programmes for central government, infrastructure and health.
Lessons learned from projects
Our reports feature several exhibits that visualise complex data and processes in an accessible and informative way. See the examples below or click on our reports to find out more.
Our future work
We take a flexible and risk based approach to auditing digital public services. We will continue to monitor local and national digital and ICT programmes strategies. We will also look at areas such as digital exclusion, connectivity, innovation, collaboration, data governance and transformation, cyber security and service redesign as part of our local and national audit work.
Continue to monitor digital programmes at a local level through annual audit work
Giving evidence to Parliament
- Principles for a digital future at the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee – ongoing. Monitoring of progress made with implementing major ICT programmes is currently taking place on a six-month basis.
- Principles for a digital future at the Social Security Committee on 14 September 2017.
- Managing ICT contracts in central government at the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee on 22 June 2015.
Conferences and other activities
We take part in a range of engagement activities to spread the word about our work on digital in the public sector in Scotland. Senior Manager Gemma Diamond and Audit Manager Morag Campsie spoke at the recent events listed below.
- Auditing cyber security seminar organised by the European Organisation of Regional External Public Finance Audit Institutions (EURORAI), April 2018.
- Following the launch of Principles for a digital future, speaking engagements included presentations about the report at EURORAI October 2017; ISACA Scottish Chapter AGM June 2018; and the LG Digital Office Partnership Forum October 2017.
- We have also spoken about The role of the auditor: change and process management at the ISACA Scottish Chapter AGM June 2017.
UK Audit offices
The National Audit Office (NAO) has produced the following reports and guidance on digital and cyber security related issues :
- Transformation guidance for audit committees, National Audit Office May 2018
- Digital Transformation in Government, National Audit Office March 2017
- The digital skills gap in government: Survey findings National Audit Office December 2015
- Investigation: WannaCry cyber attack and the NHS, National Audit Office October 2017
- Cyber security and information risk guidance for Audit Committees, National Audit Office September 2017
- Protecting information across government, National Audit Office September 2016
Information on good practice is also available from the Welsh Audit Office’s seminar ‘Inspiring public services to deliver independence and well-being through digital ambition’ hosted in June 2018.
A collection of international Publications on Digital Government is available from the OECD, ranging from 2003 - present.
The Scottish Government and UK Government, and Scottish Local Government Digital Office (LGDO) provide the following strategies and guidance:
- Introduction to Agile, Scottish Local Government Digital Office January 2019
- Scotland's Digital Health and Care Strategy: enabling, connecting and empowering, Scottish Government April 2018
- Cyber resilience: learning and skills action plan 2018-2020, Scottish Government March 2018
- Safe, Secure and Prosperous: a cyber resilience strategy for Scotland – Public Sector Action Plan 2017-18, Scottish Government updated March 2018
- Realising Scotland's full potential in a digital world: A Digital Strategy for Scotland, Scottish Government March 2017
- Digital First Service Standard, Scottish Government 2016
- Technology Assurance Framework, Scottish Government 2016
- Digital Infrastructure Toolkit, Cabinet Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, July 2018.
- Minimum Cyber security standard, Cabinet Office June 2018
- The 7 Lenses of Transformation Guide, UK Government Digital Service, May 2018.
- UK digital strategy, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, March 2017
- Cyber Essentials Scheme, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport April 2014
Digital Advisory Panel
Audit Scotland’s Digital Advisory Panel provides expertise and advice to our digital focused audit work. Members sit on the panel in an advisory capacity only. The content and conclusions of reports presented to the panel are the sole responsibility of Audit Scotland. We would like to thank the advisory panel for their ongoing input to our work:
- Charlie Anderson, Fife Council
- Jonathan Cameron, Scottish Government
- Rab Campbell
- Colin Cook, Scottish Government
- Alexander Holt, Scottish Government
- Geoff Huggins, NHS Education for Scotland Digital Service
- Stephen Ingledew, FinTech Scotland
- David McNeill, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
- Deryck Mitchelson, NHS National Services Scotland
- Anne Moises
- Alastair O’Brien, Incremental Group
- Max Tse, National Audit Office
- Martyn Wallace, Local Government Digital Office
Get in touch
To discuss Audit Scotland’s work on digital or let us know what you think about this page, please contact: