You’ve helped us improve our use of data

The Civil Service Data Challenge is an organisational improvement and staff development initiative, run in 2021 by the Cabinet Office, Global Government Forum, NTT DATA and the Office for National Statistics.

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The winning team, with judges

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Read our news report on December’s Final

Read our article on how the Data Challenge turned one civil servant’s “vague possibility” into a live project

Watch the finalists giving their presentations and answering the judges’ questions in the 30-minute videos below

The 2021 Winner

Deploy AI to protect and enhance our peatlands

At the 2021 programme Final on 9 December 2021, four teams presented their ideas to the Final Decision Panel – who picked as the overall winner a plan to train AI systems to identify peatlands drainage channels, supporting work to restore these sensitive environments. Panel chair Alex Chisholm, the Cabinet Office permanent secretary and civil service chief operating officer, called the scheme “outstandingly innovative” and noted its potential to reduce CO2 emissions, cut public spending, reduce flood risk and generate intellectual property.

However, Chisholm was clear that all eight of the semi-finalists’ ideas would be taken forward. “Every single one of those proposals we absolutely loved,” he said. “We want all of them to go forward; every one of the shortlisted ones… we are absolutely determined that they should happen.”

Deploy AI to protect and enhance our peatlands

Track prisoners’ contacts to support rehabilitation​

Construction industry benefit fraud and error

Gather better statistics on UK citizens abroad

You’ve helped us to build a better Civil Service

Through the 2021 Civil Service Data Challenge, we sought ideas from civil servants on how government can improve its use of data – and volunteers to work with senior leaders and technical specialists on taking forward the best ideas.

Nearly 200 ideas were submitted by civil servants in a wide range of grades, professions and organisations. Eight of these were researched and developed by interdisciplinary, cross-departmental teams of civil service volunteers, and the winner was chosen at the Final event on 9 December.

Thank you to all those who volunteered or submitted an idea. We are currently developing plans for a 2022 Challenge: watch this space!

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Alex Chisholm photo

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

Alex Chisholm

Chief Operating Officer, Civil Service, and Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office

Vicki Chauhan

“The Civil Service Data Challenge is a fantastic way for central government to rethink the way it uses data, by giving civil servants a chance to present these ideas directly to senior leadership. By prioritising data and putting it at the heart of everything it does, the government is putting itself in a strong position to excel in the years to come.”

Vicki Chauhan

Head of Public Sector, NTT DATA UK

Stephen Barclay

“Using data to modernise public services is a top priority. This innovative project shows the civil service at its best and I’m excited to hear about how it drives CO2 reductions.”

Steve Barclay

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, on the 2021 winner

Julia Lopez photo

“I’ve found civil servants full of ideas on how to realise the Government’s objectives. Now we want to apply that inventiveness and expertise to one of the most fundamental challenges facing the civil service: that of realising the potential of our huge data assets.”

Julia Lopez MP

Minister of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Photo montage of our judges

Our sponsors and judges

The 2021 Civil Service Data Challenge was sponsored by four very senior figures, giving the project reach and influence across government. The seven judges, who included top data specialists from the Cabinet Office, ONS, HMRC and NTT DATA, selected first the eight ideas to develop within the programme, and then the four that would progress to the Final. There, they were joined by Cabinet Officer permanent secretary Alex Chisholm and Tamara Finkelstein, permanent secretary of Defra and the head of the policy profession, to select the overall winner.


The benefits for staff

Joining interdisciplinary, cross-departmental teams, the 2021 participants developed their skills in project management, business planning, digital technologies and partnership working, before showcasing their work to panels of top leaders. We wanted to find implementable ideas to aid the work of public servants and improve public services – but this scheme was also designed to boost the skills and career development of participating civil servants.

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A team presenting their idea

Timeline: 2021 programme

Monday 29 March 2021

Launch of programme

Friday 14 May 2021

Applications close and long list process begins

16 June 2021

Data Challenge session at CS Live

5 July 2021

Longlist of applications published

7 October 2021

Pitch event (the Semi Final)

9 December 2021

The Final