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Digital Landscape Research

Following our earlier Horizon Scanning work to understand existing and emerging technologies, we partnered with a number of organisations to run a series of research projects, exploring three different aspects of the current digital landscape in more detail. These ‘Pathfinder’ projects focused on:
  • Data: the data landscape within planning and how it might be used more effectively
  • Planning technology: new and emerging planning technology
  • IT landscape: technical readiness for digital transformation within local authorities

The findings have been used to inform the Digital Strategy for Planning as well as prepare the ground for the wider transformation programme. The key outputs from each of the research reports have been summarised in the sections below.


Improvement Service and British Geological Survey were commissioned to carry out a comprehensive review of data - including volume, quality, standards, and governance across the Scottish planning sector.

The review was undertaken in summer 2020 and looked at data use across all planning authorities and related agencies to build a clear picture of the data landscape. This was also informed by analysis of, and insights into, the use of environmental datasets in the development planning process.

The review concluded that:

  • There is a complex landscape with a vast amount of data influencing planning
  • There are limited data standards in use
  • Governance of data should be improved
  • Planning data is a strategic national asset and should be managed as such

Although these issues are true for many sectors reliant upon data, not just the planning system in Scotland, the review has highlighted the fundamental role data plays in planning. It noted the significant effort that will be needed to ensure the right data standards and governance are implemented.

Our approach to transforming data is a fundamental component in the Digital Strategy for Planning.

Planning technology (PlanTech)

Scottish Futures Trust and Connected Places Catapult were engaged to explore the new and emerging technology in use across the planning sector. To do so they looked at technologies currently used across the planning sector both in the UK and internationally, and looked at how the market for new and emerging technology is continuing to grow.

In order to focus the research, they were asked to consider four key challenges which face the stakeholders in the planning sector, namely:

  • “Do I need planning permission”
  • Reducing invalid applications
  • Visualisation of planning data and applications
  • Addressing current issues with payments

They found that the planning technology marketplace continues to evolve and has seen significant investment and research to develop new innovative solutions. The review identified the potential for planning technology and the innovative use of data within the planning system to improve efficiencies, facilitate better engagement with communities and industry, and ultimately help to support inclusive economic growth.

The research also highlighted the importance of ensuring the interoperability of the technology we implement in a future planning system. This interoperability forms a key consideration in our strategy.

IT Landscape

The Local Government Digital Office (LGDO) carried out a review of the IT landscape across Scottish authorities, and their readiness for digital transformation.

This involved surveying and interviewing planning authorities to map the technologies used in Development Management (handling planning applications) and Development Planning (planning for future development).

The review helped to identify some of the challenges and opportunities in digital transformation and highlight where we should begin. For instance, it noted that Development Planning technology presents a great opportunity for transformation in particular, and this is reflected in the early deliverables set out in the strategy.

The research also highlighted the innovation already taking place in planning authorities and the clear appetite for willingness to embrace change. Maximising the benefits from a more consistent approach across Scotland is a key consideration of the Digital Strategy for Planning.

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National Planning Framework 4

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Last Updated: 07 Jun 2023