Gabriele Huller -

Civil Service Data Challenge announces longlist of ideas to improve data use

Dragons’ Den-style Civil Service competition to elicit ideas to improve data use in government has whittled a list of 200 down to eight. Four will be chosen in December for delivery

A Civil Service competition to encourage civil servants to submit ideas to improve the current use of data within government has announced a longlist of proposals.

Called the Civil Service Data Challenge and sponsored by Julia Lopez MP, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office, and three top civil servants, the initiative was launched in March 2021.

Nearly 200 submissions were received, and have been whittled down to a longlist of eight. These include automating Vehicle Excise Duty discounts and driving licence approvals for PIP (Personal Independence Payment) claimants, gathering better statistics on the distribution of UK citizens abroad, and deploying artificial intelligence to protect and enhance peatlands.

In addition to Lopez, the sponsors are Alex Chisholm, Civil Service chief operating officer and permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, Tamara Finkelstein, head of policy profession and permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Peter Schofield, head of the operational delivery profession and permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions.

The longlist of ideas will now be tested for viability, potential benefits and any obstacles to delivery. Just four ideas will make it through to the live presentation final in December 2021. Of these four, the best ideas will receive both technical advice and development support worth £50,000 from IT service management supplier NTT DATA UK, and the backing of senior civil servants, to help these ideas become reality.

The final judges will include Cabinet Office non-executive board member Henry de Zoete, an entrepreneur who in 2018 won Dragon’s Den with his partner Will Hodson – securing the best cash-to-equity deal in the show’s history for their business, Look After My Bills. Alongside de Zoete, the final will be judged by Chisholm, Lopez and Vicki Chauhan, Head of Public Sector at NTT DATA UK.

Chisholm said: “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. 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.”

Chauhan, for NTT DATA UK, added: “The response to the Civil Service Data Challenge has been fantastic. It’s providing a platform for civil servants to share their ideas for using data to directly improve services for the public, and see those ideas brought to life. We are looking forward to working with the judges and civil servant teams to help these ideas realise the potential of data within government.”

Other ideas on the shortlist are: creating a Civil Service “geographical capability map”, tracking medicines stocks and movements to safeguard future supplies, improving levels of prisoner social contact to support rehabilitation, using synthetic data applications to improve policy-making and service planning, and improving detection of benefit and tax fraud through richer data exchange between the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and UK Visas and Immigration.

The map, a spokesperson for NTT DATA UK, said is "about creating a tool to improve coordination and collaboration of civil servants nationwide, with more civil servants working remotely and in offices outside London after the pandemic and as lockdown lifts".

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