2022 Civil Service Data Challenge finalists revealed

By on 22/12/2022 | Updated on 23/12/2022
A picture of the Civil Service Data Challenge prize trophies
Civil Service Data Challenge trophies

From policy experiments in virtual worlds to data dashboard to improving child maintenance compliance: 2022 Civil Service Data Challenge finalists revealed

The finalists for the 2022 Civil Service Data Challenge have been revealed, with four groundbreaking ideas to improve the use of data in government now set to be developed by experts.

A collaboration between Cabinet Office, the Office of National Statistics, NTT DATA UK, and Global Government Forum, the challenge received over 120 submission of ideas from officials, from which eight ideas were longlisted from the selection in October.

Those eight ideas last week set out their ideas before a panel of experts in a Dragon’s Den style session. The judges – who include Sue Bateman, interim chief data officer, Central Digital and Data Office, Cabinet Office Simon Bourne, Chief Digital, Data and Technology Officer in the Home Office, Aydin Sheibani, chief data officer, at HM Revenue and Customs, Henry de Zoete, non-executive board member, Cabinet Office, and Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector, NTT DATA UK – then shortlisted four ideas covering:

  • Using open source software and artificial intelligence to refine Digital Mail Service in HM Revenue and Customs to better handle customer inquiries.
  • Developing a data dashboard to identify and tackle modern slavery by combining a wide range of datasets would reveal locations and organisations with an elevated risk.
  • Using online gaming technology to conduct policy experiments in virtual worlds, such as macroeconomic policy.
  • Improve levels of compliance for child maintenance payments through connecting datasets across government.

The shortlist was revealed on GOV.UK, and these ideas will now be developed further by civil servants, ahead of a final next March. The winning idea will receive £50,000 cash funding, as well as both technical advice and development support from NTT DATA UK, and the backing of top civil servants to bring the idea to life.

From last year’s final, three ideas have been implemented. Read more about how the how the Data Challenge empowered civil service innovators to think afresh and address the key challenges of government.

Read more: A license to think afresh: how the Data Challenge empowered civil service innovators

Shortlisted Civil Service Data Challenge 2022 ideas

Use machine learning to improve the flow of correspondence across HMRC

HMRC receives 15 million items of customer correspondence annually. Often, the journey of each piece of correspondence to the required team is not a direct one: items may spend weeks or months sitting in the wrong queue before being forwarded on, and be redirected many times before arriving in the right hands. However, we have both a vast dataset of scanned items, and data on their ultimate destination – making this problem an ideal candidate for the application of Optical Character Recognition and machine learning technologies. Trained using historical data on the final destination of each item of correspondence, a ML algorithm would vastly improve the distribution of mail across the organisation: getting correspondence directly and rapidly to the correct team would save civil servants’ time, speed up casework, and provide a better service to the public.

Build a data dashboard to help detect modern slavery

Incidents of modern slavery in the UK are typically discovered by public servants working in a wide range of fields, who then make referrals to the police. But data exists to support a much more targeted approach to this crime: a dashboard combining a wide range of datasets would reveal locations and organisations with an elevated risk of modern slavery. These datasets would cover topics such as visa overstayers, high-risk NHS self-discharges against medical advice, and the home areas of offenders convicted of modern slavery or trafficking. Detection and investigation work would then focus both on areas where several risk factors combine, as well as those where gaps in the data may indicate that activity is being hidden from public authorities.

Test macroeconomic policies in the world of multi-player gaming

The fast-growing availability of data has much improved our understanding of the impacts of individual policies and services – but much of this information can’t help us to improve macroeconomic policy, where interventions have complex effects reaching across society. We do, however, have a set of ready-made test beds: thousands of people participate in online games, which could be used to test out economic policies. Following experiments to understand how players’ responses may differ from their behaviour in the real world, this initiative would see civil servants work with game developers and operators to explore people’s responses to changes in areas such as pricing, inflation and subsidies – providing a unique and valuable set of data to inform macroeconomic policymaking.

Share data on self-employed parents with the Child Maintenance Service

The Child Maintenance Service is responsible for tracing parents who try to evade their responsibilities, and securing maintenance payments. But while its Searchlight system includes data on benefits recipients and the employed, it does not cover the self-employed: the CMS currently maintains a long list of untraced parents, regularly conducting searches for each of them, even while these people complete annual tax returns and report their income to HMRC. Routinely sharing information between HMRC and the CMS would reduce delays, cut administrative costs, bring down the benefits bill, and help prevent parents from evading their duty to contribute to their children’s upbringing.

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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