Where do you start when tasked with delivering social security benefits to an entire country?
With Merative, The Scottish Government established a new government agency to dispense social security benefits digitally to 1.8 million people.
Designed with and for the people of Scotland, the Scottish Government established a new agency to deliver social security benefits to low- income citizens. But finding the right partner to build a modern, secured and flexible platform with a user-centered design was only one of the challenges.
In 2016, the United Kingdom Government began transitioning responsibility for delivering benefits for low-income Scottish citizens to the Scottish Government. It was one of the most significant devolutions of powers to Scotland in more than two decades. The Scottish Government embarked on an ambitious initiative to establish a new agency to manage social security benefits for the people of Scotland in just two years. The effort centered around the core principle of treating everyone with dignity, fairness and respect, and delivering benefits (once fully operational) to the 1.8 million people who rely on them1.
The Scottish Government puts people first
The path to a citizen-centered agency, person-centric processes and user- focused technology can be long. From the outset, the Scottish Government focused on the needs of citizens as it defined the new agency, processes and technology. It was imperative to move quickly and also create a system that could support future growth. The Scottish Government set out a “cloud first” approach with desire to embrace cloud adoption from the outset and lead the way in the Scottish Public Sector.
Following a thorough technical evaluation, they chose to create this new platform using AWS Cloud with an automated “Infrastructure as Code” principle. This was done to embrace the latest standards, automate wherever possible and reduce recovery times in the event of service interruptions or difficulties. To meet the deadlines required for delivery of the hosting platform, Social Security Scotland chose to partner with Merative, formerly IBM Watson Health. This allowed them to create a hosting platform which will scale and expand with future demand.
User-centered feedback to improve design
Over the course of two years, the teams engaged with users and stakeholder groups at every stage of development. More than 2,400 people participated as experienced panel members, including individual citizens, agency advisors and diverse stakeholder groups. Stakeholders included survivors of domestic abuse, minority and ethnic groups, young parents and users with disabilities. The teams held hundreds of sessions in more than 40 locations to help identify the needs of diverse groups and test concepts with different communities across all areas of Scotland.
“The huge take-up of this new benefit in its first three months highlights just what can be achieved when you design a service with the people who will actually use it3.” - Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary, Social Security Scotland Social Security Scotland
Meet Social Security Scotland
Through this collaboration, the Scottish Government established the new Executive Agency, named Social Security Scotland. Between 2018 and 2019, it successfully launched seven benefits, including money to help parents at key stages in their child’s life, funeral support payments and young carer’s (support for teens caring for anyone receiving a disability benefit).
In the first phase of launching its modern, flexible platform to deliver benefits, Social Security Scotland paid out more than £190 million to nearly 100,000 households. In 2020, the Scottish Government earned recognition in the Management Consultancy Awards for “Change and Transformation in the Public Sector.”
According to a Social Security Scotland news release, the agency credits the significant roll-out and take-up of the new benefits to designing the service for people who will use it, noting the simplified application process and multiple ways to apply.
Social Security Scotland received the Management Consultant Award for “Change and Transformation in the Public Sector”2.
For example, the Scottish Government paid £3.5 million in the first three months of their new Pregnancy and Baby Payment to low- income families across Scotland3.
Advantages of using a "Cloud First" approach
Technology implementations are often more successful when they are one component of a strategic, comprehensive vision. In this case, the Scottish Government aimed to create a single case management platform for all social security benefits, delivering a common user experience for the agency, reducing siloes, and eliminating the needs for customer training on the system.
To help accomplish this vision, the Scottish Government developed a self-described “Cloud First” approach and built an open, flexible health and human services platform designed to accommodate several technologies. This hybrid cloud approach can also enable growth with the flexibility to replace some initial platforms with more strategic solutions over time.
The Scottish Government’s journey to the cloud to deliver benefits to its citizens is a great example of applying design thinking principles for user-centered digital transformation. With more than 30 years of experience in working with health and human services organizations, the Merative Social Program Management team and platform will continue to help clients realize their vision for better experiences for the people they serve.
Discover more Merative health and human services successes for government agencies at /social-program-management.
1. Social Security Scotland. Our Charter. (Accessed 13 Oct 2022)
2. MCA Consulting IBM Services with the Scottish Government. 20 January 2020. (Accessed 22 June 2022.)
- Social Security Scotland News release: Nearly 10k families receive Best Start Grant
Pregnancy and Baby payment. 29 Apr 2019. (Accessed 1 Aug 2022)
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