People must feel empowered to engage with digital society - Michael Sturrock

After some time settling into offices old and new, parliamentarians turn once more toward shaping Scotland’s future. In the data and digital sphere, there is great work to build on from the last Parliament, which saw the launch of the AI Strategy for Scotland and the updated Digital Strategy.

The Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy aims to create a 'shared vision of a modern, digital and collaborative government, designed around people'.

Widely lauded by academics, policymakers and experts across the world, the AI Strategy for Scotland has set the bar for policy dealing with the functional and ethical issues intrinsic to technological development.

Indeed, at the launch event for the AI Strategy, Professor Stefaan Verhulst of NYU’s GovLab noted that “most AI Strategies are motivated by the urgency to stay on top. Scotland's strategy is as much informed by the need to help humanity itself, and that is to be applauded.”

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The Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy, of which the AI Strategy is a pivotal component, is similarly humanity-focused. It aims to create a “shared vision of a modern, digital and collaborative government, designed around people”.

This focus on people – both collectively and individually – is about empowering everyone to be part of and engage with digital society. On a broad level, this means improving access through education and skills training, as well as tackling inequality and inequity, which the strategies aim to do.

More granularly, this means developing policy in a way that prioritises data privacy and makes the relationship between the individual and the digital infrastructure as trusting and fruitful as possible.

This is an issue with which countries and organisations across the globe are grappling. While there are no silver bullets, the DMA has been working through its global sister body, GDMA, and DMAs from over 30 countries on five continents to develop Global Privacy Principles.

The seven principles are aspirational commitments for organisations and governments to create digital and data ecosystems that serve people with fairness, transparency and respect for privacy, with the overall aim of bettering society and the economy.

While, as of now, countries and organisations across the world have hugely varying data standards, there are few better examples of a government embracing and promoting these principles than in Scotland.

The GDMA Principles and the Scottish Digital and AI Strategies share a direct focus on ethical data use, privacy, accountability, transparency, security, accountability. They understand the need for innovation and growth. Above all, they ensure that people are now at the centre of the technological development from which, previously, many have been alienated.

Scottish industry has a role to play, too. DMA Scotland’s Value of Data campaign has been pushing ethical and people-focused attitudes to data in Scotland’s growing data and digital sector. Increasingly, organisations are aligned in the understanding that ethical and commercially successful approaches are one and the same. This is a truth that needs to be spread much further. Nonetheless, with the exponential growth of Scotland’s data and digital sectors, the opportunity for exporting the Scottish approach – and for digital and data trade – is enormous.

For both government and industry, however, the work is not done. This next parliamentary term, Parliamentarians and the Scottish Government must work with the people of Scotland and organisations across the country to push these strategies and initiatives to deliver as best they can.

Success will not only transform Scotland for the better: it will create the blueprint of a thriving digital nation to be replicated around the world.

Michael Sturrock, Head of Public Affairs, DMA

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