Good practice guide

We have created this guide to highlight things that leadership teams, senior officers and elected members should consider putting in place to help them progress. It is based on the characteristics of a digital council from our Digital in local government report and also links to illustrative examples in our e-hub.

This guide is supplemented by a checklist with questions for elected members, to help them scrutinise and challenge digital progress in their council.

The Principles for a digital future (2017) also complements this and provides further detail.

Transforming public services and building a digital council is difficult and takes time. Each council has started from a different position depending on its available resources (money and people) and the state of its existing systems and culture, and the demographics of the council area. These factors will also determine how quickly a council can transform.

Click on the key characteristics below, to see what we’d expect to see in a digital council:

Digital leadership icon

Digital leadership

What should I expect to see?

Vision and strategy

A digital strategy that goes beyond IT to focus on people and transforming services. It is linked to wider council priorities to improve outcomes and accompanied by plans detailing actions, timescales and resource requirements.

Example: Glasgow City Council has an outward looking digital strategy that goes beyond IT to focus on people and outcomes

Glasgow City Council’s digital strategy has 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.’


A leadership team that champions the benefits of digital transformation and creates a collaborative culture and mindset through sustained staff engagement across the organisation.

Example: North Lanarkshire Council found that having a corporate communications strategy was critical to its success in sharing digital goals

The approach focused on engaging with key groups including staff, residents, businesses and elected members through multiple channels. The chief executive and senior leadership team have taken responsibility for engaging staff in delivering digital change across the council. They have communicated with staff directly about digital transformation through digital roadshows, live and on-line Q&A sessions and a digital transformation newsletter.


A leadership team with sufficient understanding of the opportunities and risks digital technology (or transformation) offers or that recognises the importance of bringing those skills to strategic discussions.

Example: The Scottish Government’s Digital Champions programme is about creating networks as well as skills

The Scottish Government launched its Digital Champions programme in October 2013, primarily to develop the digital skills and awareness of public sector leaders. It provides the opportunity to learn about innovation, technology and how to deliver digital programmes. However, it also provides opportunities to collaborate by creating a network of leaders with a common interest in delivering better public services. Collaboration is easier when there are established networks and the right culture. This needs to happen at all levels of an organisation. Creating cross-sector forums for people involved in digital programmes at different levels within an organisation should also be considered.

Elected members

Elected members that have sufficient digital awareness and support to champion the benefits of digital transformation and scrutinise progress.

Example: The Digital Office has worked with the Improvement Service to develop training for elected members on digital leadership and skills

Two-thirds of elected members who responded to a Digital Office survey expressed a desire to better understand how to design services to meet citizens’ needs and what types of digital skills are needed now and in the future. An initial workshop in January 2020 was attended by 22 elected members from 14 councils. For more information see:

Governance arrangements

Governance arrangements that ensure the right level of scrutiny and support at the right time, with a clear distinction between operational monitoring and strategic control.

Example: North Lanarkshire Council have put in place more centralised assurance arrangements for their digital programme

North Lanarkshire Council has a dedicated committee with a remit for digital transformation, with 25 elected members on the committee supporting the scrutiny of the digital programme, Digital North Lanarkshire (Digital NL). The council also has a digital delivery board that provides overall strategic control for the programme and a corporate working group that ensures any new products or technologies align with Digital NL aims and reuse existing solutions or integrate with the council’s digital platform.


An understanding of the level of investment required to create a digital council fit for the future. This includes investment in IT infrastructure (hardware, software and cloud services) as well as council staff, and digital leadership.

Example: Fife Council has planned its investment in digital

Fife Council has prioritised investment in ICT infrastructure and enabling technologies that will support service transformations. This is allowing the council to create better value for money through re use of common systems and address the limitations of legacy systems. The council has clear investment plans for these projects and is now looking at how to invest in people and skills.

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User focused icon

User focused

What should I expect to see?

User involvement

The use of user research and service design methods so that of users (both staff and citizens) of the council’s systems and services are involved in service redesign and their needs are understood.

Example: The Scottish Approach to Service Design is a strategic approach to redesigning services for all sectors

The Scottish Approach to Service Design was introduced by the Scottish Government in late 2018 by its Chief Design Officer (CDO). The approach puts the citizen at the centre of services. Processes and underlying systems are then redesigned around citizens’ needs. It needs organisations, people, systems and processes to be joined up, often across different sectors. Transforming services in this way needs cultural change, new skills, training and support. The CDO has developed guidance and a training programme with the Digital Office delivering training sessions. For more information see:

Outcome focused

Monitoring progress and measuring outcomes more broadly than financial benefits. A focus on what benefits are being realised for a range of stakeholders such as staff, citizens, communities and businesses.

Example: Perth and Kinross Council developed a benefits realisation framework

Perth and Kinross Council developed a benefits realisation framework to identify and capture financial and non-financial benefits from digital transformation projects. 

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.  

Digital first approach

A digital first approach and mindset to service redesign – one that prioritises digital solutions but also ensures equity in customer experience and access and addresses digital exclusion.

Example: The Connecting Scotland initiative is helping to address digital exclusion

In response to Covid-19, the Scottish Government launched the Connecting Scotland initiative to provide devices, data packages and skills to vulnerable people digitally excluded. In November 2020, CivTech launched a sprint challenge with Connecting Scotland focused on getting citizens more meaningfully involved in designing the public services that many of them use. Initially it will focus on the Connecting Scotland user base but has potential to be used more widely across the public sector.

Audit Scotland has previously reported on the Scottish Government’s use of user experience panels for its Social Security Scotland programme.

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Digital workforce icon

Digital workforce

What should I expect to see?

Capacity and skills

A leadership team that understands the skills and culture needed across the council to deliver digital transformation and work in different ways. It requires a more collaborative and less siloed teams.

Example: Perth and Kinross Council have established a digital skills team

Perth and Kinross Council have a digital skills team in place to support employees grow confidence in using new technologies. The team uses a range of media to engage staff and also provides skills support in major digital change programmes. The council has a Digital Charter that describes an informal set of digital skills against which staff can measure themselves and links to self-help resources for skills development.

Workforce planning and developing digital skills

Workforce plans that are aligned with the council’s digital strategy.

Workforce planning that takes account of the roles and digital skills that people have now and how needs may change in the future – this may include:

  • developing a competency framework that sets out the digital skills to deliver the digital strategy
  • carrying out a council-wide digital skills survey to understand the digital skills staff have and where there are gaps
  • building digital skills and capacity by developing training and talent management programmes as well as bringing in expertise.

Example: Fife Council's digital workforce plans

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.

External Expertise

Expertise being brought in from other organisations when appropriate and knowledge transfer plans in place.

Example: Glasgow City Council’s approach to working with business partners

Glasgow City Council established a Strategic Innovation and Technology team to get the most out of contract with its business partner. The team helps drive the digital strategy and provides in-house capacity across the four pillars of technology, business intelligence, innovation and working together.

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Collaborative icon


What should I expect to see?

Council-wide collaboration

Services working together to provide better coordinated services for citizens. Networks and groups for staff to share lessons learned, ideas and digital solutions.

Example: Fife Council's initiatives to support collaboration

Fife Council has a change network in place, with service representatives working together to identify common problems and find solutions.

Procurement and common platforms

Collaboration with other councils at a senior level to identify and agree on the areas and services where common platforms and joint procurement would add most value.

Example: There are examples of councils developing common platforms and systems

These include:

  • SEEMiS – the management information system used by the education departments of all Scottish councils. It is used for pupil and staff records, nursery applications, attendance, pastoral notes and communicating with external agencies such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).
  • Care case management system – Scotland Excel is currently managing procurement for common software solutions for case management in social work. Six councils are considering adopting this system as they replace legacy systems.

Regional and cross-sectoral partnerships

A place-based approach involving stakeholders from across the local area to provide better coordinated services for the community.

Accessing support and increasing capacity to deliver digital change by actively participating in the Digital Office community, accessing regional support networks and developing relationships with academia, the third sector and the private sector.

Example: Clackmananshire Council is working with local partners

Clackmannanshire Council has identified opportunities for the digital transformation of social care services through its Clackmannanshire and Stirling City Region Deal partnership, working with the University of Stirling and the private sector.

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Technology and data enabled icon

Technology and data enabled

What should I expect to see?

Technical considerations

A technical architecture that allows data and information to be shared securely and easily between services. This could involve more joined up and cloud-based systems, replacing legacy systems, and reusing common solutions where appropriate.

Example: North Lanarkshire Council are centralising their technical architecture

North Lanarkshire Council is seeking new products or systems to align with Digital NL’s aims, to maximise the reuse of existing solutions and integrate with the council’s digital platform. The Enterprise Architecture Governance Working Group has been established to make sure that the right decisions are made.

Use of data

A greater focus on how data can be used to inform decisions and better understand user and community needs, including an understanding of what systems and skills are needed to make data more accessible and usable.

Example: Glasgow City Council's innovate use of data to increase update of school clothing grants

Glasgow City Council redesigned the delivery of school clothing grants to increase uptake from families living in poverty. The project used data-matching technology to merge data sets held across the council, to identify those eligible for a grant and give them automatic entitlement. The numbers of people receiving the grant increased from 22,000 to 30,000 as a result. This approach is now being developed on a Scotland-wide basis to maximise the take-up of benefits and address child poverty.

Data governance

A data governance framework in place that covers data standards, data ethics and cyber security. Collaboration with other councils and the Scottish Government to develop common standards and approaches.

Example: The Scottish Government is developing a framework and draft ethical digital Scotland strategy

The framework and draft ethical digital Scotland strategy are scheduled to be published in July 2021. This will outline how Scotland will use digital technology, data and AI in ways that protect privacy, enhance security, and promote accessibility, inclusion and diversity.

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Innovative icon


What should I expect to see?

Culture and space to innovate

Leadership setting the tone and creating a culture that gives staff the space and time to explore new digital solutions, to try doing things (delivering services) differently and to take calculated risks – a ‘fail fast, fail forward’ ethos.

Example: Clackmananshire Council has innovation as a corporate value

Clackmannanshire Council has ‘Be the innovator’ as one of its corporate values. This sets out a commitment to ‘look outwards, be proactive about improvement and strive always for innovation and inclusive growth’.


New or adapted processes and methods being used to support digital transformation and innovation - for example agile, open innovation, service redesign and problem-based procurement.

Example: A growing number of councils have set CivTech challenges to find innovative solutions to problems they have faced

CivTech is a Scottish Government programme launched in 2016. It aims to bring the public sector and innovative businesses together to develop solutions to public sector problems. The Digital Office featured examples of such challenges, including the case of Stirling Council, in a webinar it hosted.

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