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The Data Challenge facing government

Government has huge data assets, but often fails to make best use of them. Under the Civil Service Data Challenge, we gather the ideas of civil servants across the workforce on how to improve our data systems and tools, and take the best ideas forward in project teams of civil service volunteers. The 2022 programme is now underway, while 2021’s winning idea is benefiting from £50,000-worth of development work.

We need your ideas

Have you ever dreamed up an improvement to one of the data systems that you use – perhaps a new function that would save you time or improve public services?

We believe there’s huge potential to use data better in government, strengthening staff tools, saving taxpayers’ money and improving outcomes for citizens. And nobody knows how to address our weaknesses and realise our potential better than the civil servants who manage, maintain and use our current systems. So we want your ideas for how government could make better use of data: we’ll help you form teams around the best, and find out whether they can be delivered.

The winning idea in the 2021 Data Challenge – a plan to apply AI technologies in support of peatlands restoration work – is currently being developed with £50,000-worth of assistance from NTT DATA UK, putting it firmly on the road to implementation. So send us your ideas, and let’s see if we can make them happen!

Learn more

Our teams

After the closing date, we’ll bring together civil servants of all departments, professions, roles and grades to form teams around the best ideas. Working with colleagues from across government – and with the support of senior leaders, key organisations and specialist professionals – you’ll investigate the ideas’ potential and viability, presenting your concepts to panels of top civil servants at Semi-Final and Final events. The winning idea will receive the backing of civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm, and additional support and resources to move it towards implementation.

The benefits

A team presenting their idea

The judges discussing the ideas

How it works

The Civil Service Data Challenge is a competition and staff development programme open to all civil servants. We gather ideas for improvements to government’s use of data, and form teams of volunteers around the eight best. At the end of the first stage of development, those teams present their ideas to the judging panel at the Semi-Final; four teams move on to a second development stage and the Final, where the overall winner is selected.

You will need your line manager’s approval in order to participate; please ask them to read our Information for Line Managers page.

More details below…

The process

Stage 1

Applicants put forward ideas on how to use data more effectively. Ideas need not be well-developed or researched: just set out your concept in our simple form, and we’ll identify those with greatest potential and help you take them forward.

Stage 2 

We help applicants to form small teams to further develop your ideas, assessing viability and assessing the potential costs and benefits. This stage culminates in a shortlisting event, where your team presents its idea to the judging panel.

Stage 3 

The four shortlisted teams further develop and refine your data use cases. This stage closes with a Final event where the teams pitch your ideas to a Final Decision Panel, and an overall winner is chosen.

Judging criteria

To what extent is the idea…

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Likely to improve the lives of public service users or the tools used by civil servants?

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Likely to generate a high return on investment, with the benefits for citizens, civil servants and taxpayers substantially greater than the costs?

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Deliverable, with likely obstacles assessed and addressed?

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Innovative and exemplary in its use of data and technology?

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Replicable and scalable, with potential applications across government?

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In line with the goals of civil service reform, departmental priorities and the Data Ethics Framework?

Timeline: 2022 programme

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Launch of applications

Friday 21 July 2022

Applications close and long list process begins

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Longlist of applications published

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Pitch event (the Semi Final)

Thursday 23 March 2023

The Final

Before you apply

It's easy to submit an idea; no research is required, and the form asks only for an outline concept. Whether you have an idea or want to join a team, you’ll need your line manager’s agreement: please show them our Information for line managers page, where our sponsor, Civil Service Chief Operating Officer Alex Chisholm, explains the benefits of participating and asks them to approve requests.

We hope that all those whose ideas are selected for development will join a team to develop their ideas. We ask line managers to give staff the flexibility to join meetings and commit some of your working hours to the project. 

Submit idea