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Digital transformation is disrupting the way we work in the public sector and changing citizens’ expectations of how we should deliver services however, each council has a different starting point for digital transformation and different levels of ambition. In 2018, we developed a Digital Maturity Leadership Model to assess the digital maturity of local authorities within the Scottish Local Government Digital Partnership. The Model aims to be an important catalyst for reflecting on the culture, leadership and skills required for digital transformation, although participation in the Maturity Assessment is voluntary, the model is recognised as best practice with Audit Scotland siting the Model in their recent report on Digital Progress in Local Government. The assessment consists of interviews with the local authorities’ senior leadership team, and a survey to the wider workforce which is designed to provoke an honest and healthy discussion around the Council’s ambition for digital transformation. The Assessment is finalised with a full confidential report produced by the Digital Office. The first version was tested by Glasgow City Council and has since been utilised by 19 Councils with a number still in progress. Jenny Sime, Senior Project Manager for the Digital Office Leadership Programme recently presented at Digital Leaders Week on the Model and was joined by Bernie Mulligan from Audit Scotland who presented on their recent report findings on Digital Progress in Local Government. You can catch-up on this session on our YouTube Channel


Reflecting on Digital Maturity Assessments of various Scottish Local Authorities since 2018, there are several recurring themes as people give an honest account from their perspective on how their organisation measured up when it comes to digital progress. 

Digital Skills and Culture

Leaders across the sector have acknowledged the skills gap which exists across councils. It is evident nationally that digital literacy among the workforce although a priority it is not well understood where the gaps are in relation to the future workplace; only 23% of leaders across councils have a clear understanding of how the skills of the workforce will be affected by digital.


Transformation is about changing the cultural DNA of a council to become more open, adaptive, collaborative and experimental. There are some recent examples of significant cultural and behavioral shifts occurring across councils including:

·       Some councils have restructured to combine human resources and organisational development with change and transformation teams. This has the real benefit of addressing the required cultural shift for transformation through the reform of workforce related policies e.g. flexible working, use of Video Conferencing, travel and subsistence, changes to work patterns and changes to performance review;

·       West Dunbartonshire actively listened to staff on a continual basis and changed policies and procedures in response e.g. they modernised the performance review process to move away from form filling. Managers also hold “Be the Best” conversations with staff to discuss how they are getting on and identify areas for development. The HR/OD team monitored how staff are feeling using barometers and they track their feelings before, during and after any sort of change project to learn lessons on the best way to implement change. This is a constant process, and they can quickly sort any areas of concern.


Respondents from many councils have also stated that they believe Council leaders should not over-prioritise budget savings and instead should be focusing on redesigning services to make them easy for citizens to use and so that staff can respond to change quickly. By adapting to a new transformative way of working, skillsets across the various Councils could be enhanced; better equipping staff for the challenges of the future.

The best business models for developing capacity for transformation bring together different service areas into one team. This may include staff from IT, change, digital services, HR, communications, improvement, PMO, data, performance and improvement. There is an emerging trend of including change and transformation within the remit of HR and OD and this has advantages of ensuring the necessary cultural change is in place before or at the same time as technology is implemented.  Fife Council and Glasgow City Council are 2 of the exemplar models for best set ups for change.


Citizen Centric Design

One of the key principals of good digital transformation is user centred design. The Digital Office Digital Maturity Model targets Managed and Measured “Digital” and Optimised “Smart” local governments. Outlining that to meet this level Council services are systematically designed around the customer across partner organisations; New “smart services” are enabled that are more targeted, proactive and personalised that enable early intervention/prevention.


The new Digital Strategy for Scotland also has citizen centric services integral to the vision for Scotland:


As we become a truly digital nation, the nature of government, at a national and local level, will change. The people we serve expect services that are responsive and tailored to their needs and they expect to hold us to account for the quality and efficiency of these services. This requires us to both re-think how we design and deliver services and change the operating model of the organisations that provide them. 


Nationally, our Digital Maturity Assessments highlight that Councils have neither the tools nor sufficient staff with the skills required to carry out user research and involve users in service design. Change is often implemented off the side of the desk, on top of the day job with stretched resources in change and IT which has progressively worsened from 2019 to 2021 (36% said they did not have enough resources in 2019 with this stretching to 57% by 2021). Only 19% of those assessed as part of DMA stated there was enough change resources to deliver digital transformation. Skilled resources are usually focused on efficiency and budgetary savings and often this is tinkering change rather than truly citizen focused transformation. The top 3 Barriers identified nationally through the Maturity Assessment are time, capacity and resource cost to deliver on change & innovation.


There are good examples of customer centred Service Design and use of data within Glasgow City Council at the Centre for Civic Innovation in the Tontine Building. A key priority should be to build on these foundations, grow the skills of the workforce, continue to use data to drive decision making and design innovative solutions for the citizens of Glasgow. 



Digital transformation is about changing business models and processes with technology as an enabler. This understanding has not yet cascaded through all parts of Local Government yet with some staff viewing Digital and Information Technology as the same thing with technology perceived as just an add on to existing service provision. “Digital is not a thing, it is a way of life” is how one respondent described technology, in which their view was that “young people are shocked at how behind we are” when it comes to digital transformation as councils are “slow to transform compared to the private sector”.


To tackle these digital challenges, it is crucial we understand how technology changes the conditions under which business is done and in ways that change the expectations of customers, partners, and employees. So, understanding that it is all about accelerating transformation of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully implement the changes.



Not enough employees feel that they have a voice in decision-making across Scottish Local Authorities, based on a number of responses within assessments. There were calls for organisational reform to be introduced so to move away from conservative hierarchical structures and instead introduce a support network in which Digital Champions and mentors can enable the more skilled and experienced professionals to help their colleagues.


It is clear from reflecting on assessments that councils where their senior management team have embraced modern ways of working and reduced the bureaucracy associated with traditional organisation models have been much more successful in delivering transformation. Key to success for organisations to become modern workplaces will be by developing the right leaders across services who adopt modern behaviours, act as clear role models for change and enable them to facilitate transformation.


The Coronavirus Effect

In recent assessments there has been huge praise for how digital has played a pivotal role in supporting effective service delivery and the role of technology has become more significant during pandemic home learning and remote working indicating that digital platforms will continue to shape Council delivery in the long-term. March 2020 saw the coronavirus pandemic lockdown have a major impact on digital transformation across Scottish Local Authorities. Given the drastic need for a fast transition to digital public services, councils were suddenly working under new strenuous circumstances, with thousands of employees now needing to work from home. This created a massive challenge as IT teams worked tirelessly to set up staff with the necessary digital infrastructure to work remotely. New digital platforms had to be created to support vulnerable children, volunteering services and such like. Schools were forced to quickly accommodate home learning for pupils as schools were temporarily closed, in which children and teaching staff had to adjust a whole new digital world of learning through Microsoft Teams among other innovative platforms.


Financially, local authorities were - and still are - strategically using funds to protect public services whilst also trying to make workplaces as safe as possible amid planning for the return to offices when it is safe to do so. In rapid response to the wide range of challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic, the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government has played a crucial role to support remote working by accelerating the existing Microsoft Office 365 workstream and products to enable the continuation of council business. A new shielding and vulnerable data application called ‘Helping Hands’ was created and used by 7 councils. The Digital Office was also one of the key partners behind the pioneering £43 million Connecting Scotland programme, which enables Scottish councils to get 50,000 people online. Aimed at low-income households and young people in care, this initiative provides 12 months of unlimited data per household along with technical support through a ‘Digital Champion’ who provides six months of training over the telephone. Alongside SCVO, the Digital Office rolled out 9,000 digital devices to vulnerable people and worked with Scotland Excel and the Crown Commercial Service to procure an extra 45,000 digital devices with connectivity to vulnerable children. A Cross Sector Data Task Force for Local Government was created to include Digital Office staff, academic figures, COSLA, among other public sector agencies. The aim of this team was to centralise requests for data and utilise available resources to tackle challenges created by the pandemic. This initiative was subsequently picked up and run by the Scottish Government.



In response to the pandemic, senior leadership agree that a reform agenda should be accelerated so to bring communities closer together through a digital inclusion programme in which citizens can have a greater say in the decisions that councils make in their area e.g. participatory budgeting.


Now, as councils plan for a post-pandemic future, this feedback can play an important part in redrawing the blueprint on how local services should be delivered; to the ultimate benefit of communities across Scotland.

With the recent release of the Audit Scotland Digital Progress in Scottish Local Government Report and the refresh of the Digital Strategy for Scotland, the Digital Office are  also working hard to produce guidance and materials which will support local authorities to deliver against the key objectives of these strategic documents.



Digital Maturity assessments for all 32 Scottish Local Authorities are expected to be completed by the end of 2021. An assessment usually takes around 6 weeks to complete and there is no charge for Councils in the Partnership to receive an assessment. To book your Digital Maturity assessment please contact