Canada’s Public Service Data Challenge opens for entries

By on 24/10/2023 | Updated on 24/10/2023
A picture of Stephen Burt speaking at AccelerateGov 2023
Stephen Burt speaking at AccelerateGov 2023

Canada’s second Public Service Data Challenge has today opened for entries, with public servants across the workforce invited to send in their ideas for how government could make better use of data.

The challenge is an innovation and staff development program, drawing on the workforce’s expertise and inventiveness to improve the public service’s data capabilities. It is open to federal officials working in all kinds of roles, disciplines and organisations, including those without any professional data skills or experience. And you don’t even need your own idea: broad-based teams are created to research and develop the most promising concepts, so the challenge is seeking volunteers with a wide range of skills – from project management to policymaking, from commissioning to communications.

As Canadian government chief data officer Stephen Burt told the audience at the AccelerateGov conference in Ottawa earlier this month, participants will “get to work in an interdisciplinary team with people from across the public service, build skills and contacts in a field that’s becoming ever more important to public service delivery, and present your ideas to our judges’ panel of senior digital leaders”.

Asking the experts

The challenge is designed to push the best ideas forwards into delivery, Burt explained, and works on the basis that nobody knows the opportunities and weaknesses within government’s operations better than the public service workforce. “You are the real experts in the systems and datasets we use every day, and I know that many of you have ideas for how they could be improved,” he said. “Like all innovative organisations, the government wants to empower you, our colleagues, to put forward your ideas, and to take the most promising ones forward into implementation.”

After the 6 December closing date, up to eight ideas will be selected for development in January and bespoke teams formed around them – each bringing together staff with relevant skills, experience and contacts. Following two phases of research and development, the teams will pitch their ideas to a judging panel of senior data leaders at Semi-Final and Final events. The best ideas will receive the support of the program’s champions – including some of the government’s most senior data leaders – as they move forward into delivery.

This is the challenge’s second year: last year “the winning idea, put forward by Jay Conte of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, involved applying AI to help employees, people and businesses find relevant public services,” explained Burt, noting that Conte’s plan is well on the way to implementation: “This idea is now being put into action by our colleagues at AgCan.”

Access advice before entering

The challenge is organised by Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Global Government Forum, and participants will receive support and guidance from data experts and the judging panel throughout the program. If you have an idea but want to test and strengthen it before completing the entry form, you can join the Idea Development Workshop being held by Statistics Canada’s Innovation team between 14 and 16 November. At this workshop, individuals or small groups can accelerate your idea development with support from mentors who will provide helpful guidance and advice. Participants will benefit from networking opportunities, brainstorming and design-thinking workshops, and will receive meaningful feedback to craft an impactful idea.

To enter, you only need to provide a few details about yourself and write a short text telling us what you’ll bring to the challenge. If you have an idea, you’ll also need to outline this; no research is required. Before entering, please read the Get Involved page of our dedicated website; you’ll also need to secure the approval of your manager.

“The data challenge is designed to put you in the driving seat and help you to develop your skills and careers while improving services and the tools available to public servants,” concluded Burt. “Whatever your role, profession, employer or seniority, we want to hear from you.”

To learn more about the Public Service Data Challenge, visit the dedicated website The closing data is 6 December 2023.

About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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