UK Data Challenge launches to unearth and develop staff ideas

By on 30/03/2021 | Updated on 30/03/2021
The UK has launched an initiative to gather civil servants’ ideas for how to make better use of data.

The UK has launched an initiative to gather civil servants’ ideas for how to make better use of data, tapping into the workforce’s expertise to kick off a new set of data projects.

As part of the Civil Service Data Challenge, all central government employees are invited to submit ideas on how data can be used to improve service delivery, policymaking and operational efficiency. The most promising ideas will be taken forward by interdisciplinary, cross-departmental teams of volunteers from the civil service, with the best receiving technical support from IT services provider NTT DATA UK to put it on the path to delivery.

As a new blog on explains, teams will pitch their ideas to panels of government experts at ‘Dragons’ Den’-style events. The judges include Henry de Zoete, a former winner of the show who now serves as a Cabinet Office non-executive director. Alongside de Zoete, the final will be judged by: Alex Chisholm, the civil service’s chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary; Julia Lopez MP, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office; and Vicki Chauhan, NTT DATA’s head of public sector. Other judges include some of the most senior data leaders in government.

The programme is also sponsored by the heads of the Policy and Operational Delivery professions – Tamara Finkelstein, permanent secretary of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Peter Schofield, permanent secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions respectively.

Data with destiny

Alongside the Cabinet Office and NTT DATA, the programme is being delivered by Global Government Forum, the Office for National Statistics and the Government Digital Service. Organisers aim to unearth and develop valuable ideas for better use of data, support innovation across government, and provide new career opportunities for participating civil servants – who’ll gain new skills and contacts, plus a chance to see their ideas implemented.

“Civil servants across the workforce will have bright ideas for how we could improve our use of data, strengthening staff tools and benefiting citizens. We want to tap into the expertise and ingenuity of staff in every role, grade, profession and organisation,” said Chisholm.

“To serve elected leaders and the public, the civil service must make better use of its enormous data assets – building policies around people’s needs, cutting costs, and creating personalised, accessible public services,” he added. “We know that the most innovative organisations draw on the skills, enthusiasm and commitment of staff across the workforce, listening to employees and acting on their ideas. The Civil Service Data Challenge is an important element of our work to build a more responsive, innovative and effective civil service.”

UK civil servants have until 14 May 2021 to put forward their ideas or volunteer to join a team. During June as many as eight ideas will be selected for development. The semi-final will be held in September, after which the shortlisted ideas will go forward to a final in December 2021.

Volunteers are likely to spend up to a day a month on the project, and Chisholm urged line managers to approve people’s requests to get involved. The Data Challenge is in part “a staff development programme, providing participants with new skills, expertise and contacts,” he writes on its website. “Civil servants volunteering to join our teams will, for example, work closely with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines and organisations, gaining practical experience in fields such as digital project management and business planning.”

A dedicated website includes information such as the judging criteria and full list of judges, and includes a simple form allowing civil servants to volunteer or submit their idea.

About Matt Ross

Matt is a journalist and editor specialising in public sector management, policymaking and service delivery. He was the editor of Civil Service World 2008-14, serving an audience of senior UK officials; and the features editor of Regeneration & Renewal 2002-08, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development. He has also been a motoring and travel journalist, and now combines his role as editorial director of Global Government Forum with communications consultancy, marketing and journalism work for publishers, public sector unions and private sector suppliers to government.

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