Consultation on the Interim Report has allowed us to refine the conclusions and recommendations that were set out on affordable access, motivating people and organisations to get online and equipping them with the skills they need to do so confidently, safely and creatively. To this we add further analysis of the picture of the digital divide in Scotland; and comment on the responsibilities of a digital society.
The Report sets out two key principles for digital participation:
1. That the Scottish Government must recognise that every individual has an undeniable right to digital inclusion and must assume overall accountability to ensure that it is available and accessible for all.
2. Governments must respect and protect our rights and freedoms online, as well as offline.
Analysis presented in the report suggests that the digital divide in Scotland is wider than previously thought. In some postcodes, more than nine out of ten households are likely to be online. But almost one in five Scottish households (18%) are in postcodes where most of their neighbours are likely to be offline. Geographic isolation accounts for some of these communities, but many more are in our cities and towns – correlating with areas already facing other factors of deprivation. If the gap between these extremes of exclusion is not addressed, the digital divide will exacerbate existing social divides.
The Report makes recommendations to the Scottish and UK Governments and their public, private and third sector partners, on the approach and actions required to ensure that everyone in Scotland can benefit from digital participation; and to support Scotland’s transformation to a thriving, fair digital society.
It calls for best use to be made of Scotland’s digital assets, whether this is the publicly-subsidised fibre infrastructure currently being rolled out across the country, or publicly-owned connections and equipment in libraries, schools and other community facilities. It highlights the need for innovative models of affordable connection to the internet, and points to pilots being undertaken in this area. And it emphasises that the effort required to make the online world accessible for people with additional needs will be on a par with that made to ensure that the physical world is accessible for everyone.
The Report recognises that the network effect will be crucial to gaining a critical mass of online participation. People are more likely to get involved if their family and friends are already online. Digital participation initiatives should be aimed at community level. Community organisations will have a vital role to play in identifying the hooks that will encourage people to get online and delivering support tailored to individual needs. However, central coordination is essential if expertise, experience and resources are to be shared effectively in order to match the scale of the challenge.
Information literacy and digital skills are required by everyone if they are to participate in the 21st Century society. The Report identifies a number of actions around the urgent need to embed these skills in Scotland’s formal education system, and to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn or refresh their skills through community and lifelong learning. It also highlights the importance of computing science, if Scotland is to benefit from a workforce that can drive digital innovation and compete on the international stage.
But Scotland’s transformation to a digital society is not only about getting everyone online. New technologies are fundamentally changing every aspect of our lives and bring risks as well as opportunities. Government at all levels must take a strategic approach to considering these impacts, if the risks of being online are not to outweigh the benefits. The globally-connected nature of the online world means that complex issues such as surveillance, privacy, data protection and copyright must be revisited and tackled at an international level. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government must take the first steps to putting in place a strategic framework that will allow it to shape Scotland’s digital transformation.
Finally, the Report sets out the evidence received on the benefits, current use and potential barriers to digital in a number of key sectors in Scotland, including stronger communities, the public sector, health and social care, learning, the economy, culture and heritage, and civil society.