Digital Developments: the Scottish Perspective

The Scottish Parliament has recently developed a variety of digital working practices that are designed to transform current approaches to many of the organisations core business activities. The main aim is that anyone will be able to consume services digitally, enabling them to connect, communicate and collaborate more successfully with others.

A number of recent innovations are already in place aimed at realising some of the core benefits of the ‘digital by default’ philosophy not least of which is the Open Data project, now in its first phase.   The objective of the Open Data Project is to open our parliamentary business data so that you can freely re-use it with no restrictions other than attributing it to the Scottish Parliament.   The Scottish Parliament Open Licence enables you to do this and the approach to opening our data is consistent with methods applied by the UK Government as set out in the Open Data White Paper.   The ultimate objective is that parliamentary information can be linked to other third party data allowing for participation through multiple online channels. It is hoped that this approach will eventually lead to the publication of parliamentary business in an open, standardised, machine readable format in a way that means it can be easily linked to other data and used in new and innovative ways.

Underpinning the standardisation of this information is the development of a common data model which the data architecture project has recently put in place.   This, in turn, enables consistent, good quality information that can be used across business systems and rendered to different platforms including mobile. The Official Report (the substantive verbatim account of plenary and committee business) is a good example of how a core business publication has benefited from digital functionality with extra features that allow convenient ways for people to share links to parts of the OR on social media. The Official Report PDFs now have clickable links on the contents page and bookmarks which make searching quicker and easier. Research briefings have also become more graphically interactive, with the recent Commonwealth Games briefing specifically designed in an ebook format.

As in many organisations, mobile working is certainly a major focus for the Scottish Parliament; and a move towards facilitating this reflects behavioural changes across society. The ‘self-service’ approach for the submission of Motions, Questions and Answers introduced in 2012 enables a much more accessible, transparent and ‘real time’ overview of current business. Anyone can get accurate and up-to-date information using the MAQA search facility on the website; and the extensive filtering options enable the end user to search in a variety of ways that suit them. Other digital services are completely new such as Live Chat managed by the visitor services team which offers the chance of instant interaction. Not only does this offer members of the public an additional way to engage with the Parliament in a real time context, it acts as a measure of how important it is to facilitate access that helps to circumvent the limitations that sheer geography would have hitherto presented. People from all over the world have been asking questions (from Edinburgh to Delhi to Toronto) about the Parliament on all types of topics; from parliamentary motions to questions about the Parliament’s architecture and some simply messaging to say hello.

Digital consumption is certainly high on the agenda for government departments, agencies and parliaments alike, and the Scottish Government service MyGov.Scot is a high profile example of this approach to service development., launched earlier this year, is a place for people in Scotland to access public services that are easy to find and simple to use. Available 24/7 via the device of your choice whether that be a tablet, mobile phone, laptop, games console or desktop computer, the site even hopes to offer motion sense technology for mapping and exploring content. The transactional services it provides such as paying a fine or registering a birth completely replace traditional face to face interactions, and present cost effective benefits both for the organisation and the end user.

Offering digital first has many benefits. Decreasing paper consumption has contributed significantly to the Scottish Parliament achieving its environmental targets. But a move towards a print on demand service also ensures that those who choose not to use digital for whatever reason are not excluded; and inclusiveness, at all levels, remains at the heart of service delivery.

Helen Costello, Information Officer, Scottish Parliament 

This article originally appeared in Refer 31 (2) Summer 2015