You told us how to make better use of data

The Civil Service Data Challenge was a collaboration between Cabinet Office, Global Government Forum, NTT DATA and the Office for National Statistics.

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Grid of partners logos

The winning team, with judges

Read the finale event summary

The winning idea: Deploy AI to protect and enhance our peatlands

At the Final on 9 December, 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.”

For more information, see our event report and learn about the shortlisted ideas.

You’ve helped us to build a better Civil Service

Through the 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.

Entries closed on 14 May, with nearly 200 ideas submitted by civil servants in a wide range of grades, professions and organisations. At the first judges’ meeting, eight ideas were selected for further development, at the Semi-Final, they chose four to move forward to the Final; and at the Final on 9 December, the winner was announced.

Thank you to all those who volunteered or submitted an idea!

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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

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, DCMS.

Photo montage of our judges

Our sponsors and judges

The 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, chose the eight ideas to develop within the programme, and 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, 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


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