UK civil service showcases crowdsourced ideas to improve data use

By on 03/08/2021 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Almost 200 ideas were pitched from officials as part of the Civil Service Data challenge. Credit: Hugo Rocha/Unsplash

The UK civil service has unveiled eight grassroots ideas on how to make better use of data in government.

The projects make up the long list of the Civil Service Data Challenge, an initiative which launched in March this year. The competition encouraged central government employees to submit their ideas on how to make better use of data to improve government efficiency, policy making and public services.

Civil service and industry experts reviewed almost 200 ideas pitched as part of the competition – of these, eight will go to the semi-final. The longlist includes an idea to protect the UK’s peatlands by identifying where moorland drains are using artificial intelligence so they can be blocked to stop the areas drying out. Another is to link datasets in certain departments – including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and the Home Office – to detect fraud and error more effectively.

“The competition so far has clearly demonstrated how valuable our civil servants’ ideas are and highlights the importance of bringing different minds together to explore how current business practices can be improved,” said Alex Chisholm, the civil service’s chief operating officer, permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office and a sponsor of the competition.

“We’ve seen extremely innovative ideas submitted that have a real chance to improve and influence staff tools, policy making, and enable us to deliver a greater service to the public,” he added.

Stiff competition

Alongside the two ideas noted above, other projects on the longlist include:

  • Creating a map of civil service capabilities to support relocation plans
  • Linking information from the DWP to the vehicle licensing agency to improve processing road tax deductions for people who claim personal independence payments
  • Building a dashboard to show the number of citizens abroad to support consular services
  • Monitoring medicine stocks and supply chains to get ahead of any gaps
  • Improving data collection and collation of prisoners’ social contact to help reduce reoffending rates
  • Developing synthetic datasets to allow departments to test ideas and policy proposals.

The Civil Service Data Challenge is a collaboration between the UK Cabinet Office, the Government Digital Service (GDS), the Office for National Statistics (ONS), NTT DATA and Global Government Forum.

The competition is supported by senior government officials. Alongside Chisholm, it is sponsored in government by: Julia Lopez MP, parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office; Tamara Finkelstein, head of the policy profession and permanent secretary of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Peter Schofield, head of the operational delivery profession and permanent secretary of the DWP.

Next steps

The eight ideas on the longlist will now face further analysis regarding their viability, potential benefits and obstacles to delivery. They will then head into the semi-final, due to be held in early October.

The semi-final round will be judged by a range of senior government and industry professionals. This includes: Henry de Zoete, non-executive board member of the Cabinet Office; Sue Bateman, deputy director of policy and innovation at GDS; Joanna Davinson, executive director of the Central Digital and Data Office in the Cabinet Office; Alison Pritchard, deputy national statistician and director general for data capability at ONS; Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector at NTT DATA UK; Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX; and Daljit Rehal, chief digital and information officer at HMRC

From there, four projects will be selected to go through to the final in December this year. The final judging panel includes all the sponsors – Chisholm, Lopez, Finkelstein and Schofield – alongside de Zoete.

The winner will receive support from NTT DATA UK and senior civil servants so that it can be rolled out. “We are looking forward to working with the judges and civil servant teams to help these ideas realise the potential of data within government,” said NTT DATA UK’s Chauhan.

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected].

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