Supporting the Scottish Government’s aspirations to becoming an Ethical Digital Nation

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Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence, and a spotlight on the governance and ethics of technology more widely, have prompted governments around the world to think about how to best protect their citizens against digital harms. 

In 2021, the Scottish Government expressed its ambition to become an Ethical Digital Nation, ahead of many others. Its Digital Strategy, sets out a vision for a society “where people can trust public services and businesses to respect privacy and be open and honest in the way data is being used. Where digital technologies adopt the principles of privacy, resilience and harm reduction by design and are inclusive, fair and useful.”  

To support the Scottish Government in realising its vision, we’re delighted to have worked in partnership with the Digital Citizen Unit in its Digital Directorate. Initially, we conducted regulatory and best practice mapping to understand what actions could be taken to most effectively advance Scotland’s Ethical Digital Nation ambitions. We then looked at how the Scottish Government could further support the digital rights of citizens, including by introducing a National Digital Guardian - helping to map the existing landscape and explore at the possible scope for such a service.  

The challenge 

The Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy, A Changing Nation: How Scotland will Thrive in a Digital World sets out eight principles of a digital nation, the first of which is that it should be “Inclusive, Ethical and User Focused”. The strategy recognises that, “to be confident, digital technology users need to trust that their rights and privacy are protected, that the technology is reliable and secure, and, critically, that service and product providers are truthful, transparent and can be trusted. An Ethical Digital Nation must go beyond the protection of individual data and privacies which are existing legal rights and engage fully with all sectors and citizens to understand their concerns and the trade-offs and choices they are prepared to make”. Through the strategy, the Scottish Government seeks to encourage innovation while increasing community engagement and maintaining “Scotland’s reputation as an ethical place to do business” (p38).  

An expert group was commissioned to develop recommendations and a framework of digital ethics for Scotland, which was published in 2022 as Building Trust in the Digital Era: Achieving Scotland's Aspirations as an Ethical Digital Nation.  

This set out the importance of mapping the complex legal, ethical and regulatory landscape surrounding digital, and the need to create a National Digital Guardian to whom the public can turn when something goes wrong.  

To help carry out this critical work the Scottish Government’s turned to Sopra Steria as its trusted digital partner. In addition, the Digital Directorate was also keen to better understand how it could better influence ethical behaviour surrounding digital technology across both the government and public sector. 

The solution 

Our Ethics & Sustainability practice conducted a 12-week discovery project, consisting of desk research that informed regulatory and best practice mapping, as well as stakeholder engagement across a number of Directorates- to better understand how the Ethical Digital Nation ambitions could be realised across the entire government.  

Our experts then produced a prioritised action plan and a roadmap to achieve the vision, taking into account the existing initiatives across Scotland that the Government could build upon. Through the close engagement with senior stakeholders, we successfully captured the key challenges across different areas of government and to ensure a joined-up approach.  

The Scottish Government said:

Public trust in the use of data and digital technologies is paramount for delivering societal, environmental and economic benefits for the people of Scotland. We are committed to delivering programmes that enable the Scottish Government to position the citizen at the heart of digital services and encourage ethical and trustworthy use of data and digital technologies. Working with Sopra Steria has allowed us to consider a prioritised action plan with tangible outcomes and a roadmap for a clear direction on Scotland’s ambitions as an ethical digital nation.


The recommendations have enabled the Scottish Government to consider measurable and proportionate actions to progress against its roadmap to becoming an Ethical Digital Nation. It will mean that people living in Scotland have a better understanding of their rights and routes for redress, increasing their trust and subsequent adoption of digital solutions. The focus on building expertise and education will help the Scottish Government build resilience throughout communities and across the government. 

Our focus on stakeholder engagement meant we were able to identify and build on pockets of existing expertise, preventing the duplication of effort and resource, enabling quicker realisation of benefits for the Scottish Government and its citizens.

Overall, this is a fantastic opportunity to bring Scotland’s Digital Strategy to life through achieving the vision of an Ethical Digital Nation and providing support to Scottish citizens. 

Find out more

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