Home » About the Data Challenge and entry criteria

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 2021 programme’s winning idea is now benefiting from £50,000-worth of development work, while we develop plans to run the programme again in 2022.

Thank you for your ideas

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 gather your ideas for how government could make better use of data, and form teams of civil service volunteers to research and develop the eight most promising concepts. These teams pitch their ideas to the judging panel in a Dragon’s Den-style Semi-Final, where the best four are selected to move forward to the Final event.

The winning idea in the 2021 Data Challenge – a plan to apply AI technologies in support of peatlands restoration work – is now being further developed with £50,000-worth of assistance from NTT DATA UK, putting it firmly on the road to implementation.

Learn more

Our teams

In 2021 we brought 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 – they investigated the ideas’ potential and viability, presenting their concepts to panels of top civil servants at Semi-Final and Final events. With the backing of civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm, all eight ideas are now being further developed.

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.

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…

People shaking hands icon

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

Graph icon

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

Hoisting flag icon

Deliverable, with likely obstacles assessed and addressed?

Brain and neurons icon

Innovative and exemplary in its use of data and technology?

Jigsaw icon

Replicable and scalable, with potential applications across government?

Rosette icon

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

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