Scottish local government during COVID-19

Scottish local government during COVID-19

Local governments across Scotland, like elsewhere, were at the forefront of the rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gathering information, collecting evidence, and generating intelligence have been central to how local authorities responded to the COVID-19 crisis. In turn, this has put the spotlight on data, prompting the following questions: how have local authorities identified and handled arising data needs?; how they have used and analysed data?; what related challenges have they encountered?; what innovation opportunities have they pursued?

In response, the Urban Big Data Centre carried out an in-depth analysis of data engagements by Scottish local authorities between autumn 2020 and spring 2021.

The research was developed in partnership with the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government.

Report downloads

Executive summary - Download (PDF 0.2MB)

Recommendations for policy/practice - Download (PDF 0.2MB)

Full report - Download (PDF 2.88MB)

Aims and objectives

This project was guided by the following four objectives:

  • To analyse existing and emerging data uses, capabilities and needs of Scottish local authorities;
  • To investigate whether local government’s responses to the pandemic have reshaped data governance, strengthened existing collaborations, or generated new data networks;
  • To identify emerging opportunities for public data collaborations and citizen engagement;
  • To examine whether data applications and practices informed decision-making and improved outcomes concerning the management of COVID-19.

The research was based on a triangulated design combining quantitative methods (survey) with qualitative methods (focus groups; interviews). In total, 31 out of 32 Scottish local authorities participated in the research, alongside other stakeholders (NHS NSS Scotland, Police Scotland, Scottish Government, third sector organisations).


The resulting report (PDF 2.88MB) comprises 15 key findings, and related recommendations for policy and practice, under four overarching themes:

  • Rapid response and innovation, with a focus on public sector data
  • Existing challenges amplified
  • Growing demand for cross-sectoral data sharing
  • Opportunities for joined-up data practices in the public interest

The research has had a significant impact on Scottish local government strategic planning related to data access, sharing, and reuse within the public sector and across sectors. For example, the recommendations have been used by the Data Taskforce at the Digital Office to devise an action plan looking at local government’s data-related practices and policy for 2022. The collaboration with the Digital Office is ongoing and further work will take place in the coming months to widen and assess the impacts of the research.

The research team has been invited to give a series of talks at key national and international events. This included a smart cities roundtable hosted by the European Commission, a panel on how to better share data at local level organised by the Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation, and a Cities Today Institute webinar on 'Data Driven Economic Recovery Beyond COVID-19' in European cities.

You can find more details about the impacts of the research in our case study.

Report launch event

At this event on 27 May 2021, Dr Justine Gangneux and Prof Simon Joss, the report authors, presented the findings and outlined the recommendations for policy and practice. Watch the full presentation below.

Related resources:

In the press

Related outputs


Lead: Professor Simon Joss

Jointly funded by