CivTech® Scotland

CivTech is the Scottish Government’s challenge programme for innovation. The programme pioneers a smarter, faster approach to public procurement to harness entrepreneurial tech innovation and citizen engagement, improving public service delivery, creating economic development opportunities and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset within government.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

In a world where technology moves quickly, the problem for public sector organisations is this: how can they procure what they don’t know exists? A new approach is needed, one which shifts from a place of closed prescriptive tendering to that of open challenge based questions. And with that shift a move away from the traditional method of procurement that favours larger supplier companies who can afford the time and money to navigate their way through the complex public procurement process and open ourselves up to small, talented tech companies, who have rarely been engaged by the public sector.

In 2016, the team devised the CivTech Innovation Flow, an end-to-end project methodology - a six-stage, nine-month process, from challenge definition to delivery of a minimum viable product with ongoing pre-commercialisation support. This model encourages the rapid development of innovative, cost-effective solutions.

From a pilot in 2016, to a successful consolidation in CivTech 2.0 in 2017, CivTech 3.0 is now underway, and the programme continues to evolve. Across the three cycles, CivTech has collaborated with challenge sponsors from a wide range of Scotland’s public services:
•Scottish Government - Justice, MyGov, Cyber Security, Digital, Planning
•Public bodies - Transport Scotland, SEPA, Cairngorms National Park, SNH, Historic Environment Scotland, NHS NSS & NHS, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Housing Regulator, the Scottish Anti-Illicit Trade Group
•Local authorities - Glasgow City Council, Stirling Council
•Third sector – YoungScot (working with Young People)

To date the team has run 26 challenge-based procurements on behalf of 20 organisations over three cohorts comprising between 7 and 11 eleven challenges.

Challenges are varied: how can we improve flood warning capability for communities; how can we improve access to NHS data; how can we prevent illicit-trading; how can we use data to improve social housing standards; how can we help young people start a conversation about mental health?

CivTech empowers challenge sponsors to take a less risk-averse attitude towards procurement and to benefit from exposure to cutting edge thinking and innovation. Phased contract sizes (£3k (Exploration), £20k (Accelerator), <£220k (post-accelerator) with break clauses in the process ensure that any delivery failure is captured early and, if necessary, terminated. Once shortlisted, up to three teams are selected to work with the Challenge Sponsor for three weeks to refine their proposed solution. With that initial funding, companies have produced better quality applications, for example delivering 3D print outs of flood warning capabilities, or buying a car and strapping an iPhone to the dashboard to use the "accelerometer" data to grade the quality of roads. This vital ‘Exploration stage’ gives sponsors a better idea about the cultural fit of the applicant teams, which in turn leads to a better selection decision. One company is selected for the accelerator to develop their product in collaboration with their Challenge Sponsor, and with citizen participation in a four-month product development cycle. Included in this Accelerator stage are 40 workshops on product, business and personal development led by providers who have built, sold or crashed their companies. An additional benefit to companies is they keep 100% of their IP and their equity. All this activity takes place in a co-located studio within CodeBase, Edinburgh, supporting the cross-pollination of tech, skills and expertise, not just amongst the companies, but amongst the sponsors. At the end of Accelerator period, the Challenge Sponsor has the opportunity to continue the contract with the participant team under a pre-commercial contract and thereafter is eligible for a royalty-free license. By virtue of the CivTech process, challenge sponsors understand public service problems better through ongoing interaction with tech innovators, citizens, innovation centres and academia. During CivTech 2.0 we tested an Intrapreneurship Leaders Programme for challenge sponsors, to enable them to learn alongside the companies in the workshop programme. For CivTech 3.0 we have responded to feedback and developed this to a fully immersive programme with more public service tailored content to give public servants the tools and confidence to spot opportunities and create public value within their own organisations. Also for CivTech 3.0 we have innovated again. Two challenges include elements of direct citizen engagement starting right from the definition of the challenge - in these cases involving young people. As these go through the CivTech accelerator process, the citizens will work with the company selected to develop solutions which best meet their needs. Testing this new model of citizen-sourced challenges opens up the potential for future innovation in citizen commissioned and selected products and services.

Innovation Description

Innovation Development

Innovation Reflections

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Year: 2016
Level of government: National/Federal government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:


  • Letter to Scottish Government CivVic Accelerator (CivVic) collaboration - 23.08.18 Letter from Premier of Victoria State Government to First Minister of Scotland regarding CivTech® Programme
  • The Herald - Intrapreneurship Conference coverage - Wednesday, August 29 On August 28th 2018, Glasgow, Scotland's first conference on Intrapreneurship was held. The CivTech® Programme headlined with a keynote by Katy McNeil (CivTech® Intrapreneurship lead) and a panel discussion including Alexander Holt (Head of CivTech®)
  • 180621- Digital Scotland 18 CivTech CivTech® Programme presentation made at Digital Scotland Conference 21st June 2018
  • RSA blog - Driving daring and innovation in the public sector - Alexander Holt 31.07.18 The RSA report published last week, ‘Move Fast and Fix Things’, featured the work of the CivTech® Programme as an approach to driving innovation through the public sector in Scotland. Part of the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate, its mission is to “drive daring and innovation in the public sector by collaboratively solving challenges that make people’s lives better”. CivTech® brings together public sector expertise and private sector creativity to solve real problems, develop new products, and deliver better, faster and easier services for citizens. In this guest blog CivTech® founder, Alexander Holt, speaks to what has made this award-winning programme successful.

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