Civil service volunteers prepare to face data ‘Dragons’

By on 05/12/2021 | Updated on 02/02/2022

A team of UK civil service volunteers will see their data project endorsed by some of government’s most senior leaders this week, securing the public support of ministers and departmental chiefs along with £50,000-worth of development assistance to help move their scheme towards implementation.

At the final of the Civil Service Data Challenge, four cross-departmental, interdisciplinary teams will pitch their ideas to the programme’s Final Decision Judging Panel in a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style event – presenting the results of five months of research and development work, and answering the panellists’ questions. The event will be held in Westminster’s County Hall on Thursday afternoon, and is open to UK civil servants.

The panel will be chaired by UK civil service chief operating office Alex Chisholm, sitting alongside Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) director Joanna Davinson; Policy Profession head Tamara Finkelstein, the permanent secretary of the environment department; Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector at NTT DATA UK; and Cabinet Office non-exec director Henry de Zoete.

The Data Challenge has been running since March, when its organisers – the Cabinet Office, Office for National Statistics, NTT DATA UK and Global Government Forum – invited civil servants across government to come forward with ideas for how the civil service could make better use of data. Nearly 200 ideas were sent in, and volunteer teams were built around the eight most promising. In the summer, the teams began testing and developing their ideas; and at the semi final in October, four were selected to go forward to this Thursday’s final event.

Innovating in search of innovation

The programme is designed to draw on the expertise and commitment of civil servants in every department, profession and grade, pulling out good ideas and providing the resources, time and effort required to develop and promote them. NTT DATA UK has invested about £250,000 in providing support and advice to the teams, which have spent the last six months gathering evidence, engaging with stakeholders, and building the partnerships required for delivery.

“The Data Challenge has reaffirmed how creative and innovative civil servants can be, when given the right environment and support,” said Sue Bateman, the CDDO’s deputy director for innovation and a judge in the Challenge’s earlier stages. “What struck me most was the variety of ideas from different organisations, and not necessarily from people from data or analytical backgrounds. As part of the National Data Strategy, we talk often about raising data literacy and awareness of the opportunities. This programme has really shown a different, project-based way of doing that.” To apply to attend the Final, please fill in the form on the Data Challenge website – where you can also read about the four remaining ideas, and track the programme’s development.

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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