The Scottish Government launched a digital platform as part of a public engagement exercise in which it sought public input on the approaches and principles that would guide decision-making related to transitioning out of the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown arrangements.
Problems and Purpose
The digital platform represented one of the means of dialogue between the national government and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was designed to meet the immediate need for public engagement on decisions that would need to be made concerning the lockdown and other restrictions. Based on this engagement, the Scottish Government may develop tools and habits of discourse that can be adapted to inform the longer-term recovery and renewal process to come.
Background History and Context
The Scottish Government published their COVID-19 Framework for Decision Making on 23 April. The document sets out challenges Scotland faces and outlines the approach and principles that will guide the government as they make decisions about transitioning out of the lockdown arrangements. This was followed on May 21 by the “Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis” that focused on the next phase of public engagement.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The platform was organized by the Digital Engagement Team of the Scottish Government. Supporting the platform involved the participation of around 100 people, including moderators, researchers, digital engagement team members, and policy researchers.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The platform employs an open call for participants. As a result, respondents are self-selecting and do not represent a random sample of the population of Scotland. Participants registered in the platform but were not required to provide any demographic information.
Methods and Tools Used
The exercise was hosted on Dialogue, a digital platform for discursive conversations. Dialogue is made by Delib.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The First Minister of Scotland launched the digital platform at her briefing on May 5th, 2020 for immediate engagement. The platform was available from 12:30 a.m. on May 5th until 10:00 p.m. on May 11th and was advertised through social media via Twitter and Instagram. It also received media attention.
The platform allowed registered users to submit ideas. Participants were encouraged to provide a title for their idea and to explain ‘why the contribution is important’. Users could rate any of the ideas on a five-star scale, and/or provide comments. All contributions to the website were pre-moderated in accordance with the platform's moderation policy before appearing on the site.
The Scottish Government Digital Communications Team ‘pre-seeded’ eight ideas in order to encourage people to engage with the themes in the Framework and the 'Test, Trace, Isolate, Support Strategy.' The government also posted two broad questions to prompt users to identify their key concerns: "What one change to the current restrictions would have the most positive impact on your life?" and "What could help enable people to comply with the lockdown restrictions?"
Users were encouraged to join an existing discussion on an idea similar to their concerns, but they were also free to add their own ideas. Moderators locked discussion on ideas that seem to be duplicating something already on the site, and signposted contributors to comment on the existing idea instead.
All ideas and comments published on the platform are available to view here.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The platform attracted 11,692 registered users, 3,274 of whom submitted a total of 4,122 ideas and 17,966 comments. 132 ideas were rejected due to being in breach of the moderation policy. In addition to using the platform, members of the public submitted 136 emails that were also included in the analysis.
All ideas were analysed and categorised and fed back internally to ministers as well as to policy teams. The public's submissions directly impacted decisions that were taken after the platform closed. 
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Throughout the challenge, social researchers produced daily analytical notes. Once the website was closed for submissions, researchers continued to analyze the framework themes and the ideas that received the greatest number of comments.
The researchers used a rating system to identify the ideas that received the greatest amount of attention from registered users. They discovered that ‘visiting other households,’ ‘continuation of the lockdown measures,’ and the ‘reopening household waste/recycling areas’ gathered the highest ratings. In terms of comments, the ideas with the most engagement referred to ‘quality of life,’ ‘return to school,’ and the current restrictions.
 "Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making." (2020, April 23). Scottish Government. https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making/pages/2/
 Scottish Government’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/scotgov
 Scottish Government’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/scotgov/
 "Moderation policy." (2020). Scottish Government. https://www.ideas.gov.scot/moderation_policy
 "Coronavirus (COVID-19): Test, Trace, Isolate, Support." (2020, May 4). Scottish Government. https://www.ideas.gov.scot/covid-19-a-framework-for-decision-making/test-trace-isolate-and-support
 "Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - overview of public engagement." (2020, May 21). https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making-overview-public-engagement/
 Topaz, D. (2020, Sept 22). The wisdom of crowds, Part II: from conversationto policy. Delib. https://blog.delib.net/the-wisdom-of-crowds-part-ii-from-conversation-to-policy/
Digital Engagement Team blog (more info on the Dialogue and other related online engagement will be published here https://blogs.gov.scot/digital-engagement/)