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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.

Two of the ideas championed by finalists in the 2021 Challenge, are now being implemented. At the Final of the 2022 programme, the judges named Project Heyrick as the winner – awarding the team £50,000-worth of support to further develop their idea. 

Asking the experts

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.

In 2022, the Challenge received 120 ideas for how government could make better use of data. The judges chose eight to be researched and developed by interdisciplinary, cross-departmental teams of civil service volunteers. The teams then pitched their ideas to the judging panel at the Semi-Final and the Final, where the winner was selected: with £50,000-worth of technical support and the backing of top civil service leaders, the winning team is now moving towards implementation.

Our teams

When the judges have selected the eight most promising ideas, we bring together civil servants of all departments, professions, roles and grades to research them in dedicated project teams.

Working with colleagues from across government – and with the support of senior leaders, key organisations and specialist professionals – the teams investigate the ideas’ potential and viability, developing the evidence and partnerships required to make a convincing case to the judges. 

A team presenting their idea

The judges discussing the ideas

Before the judges

The teams then make their pitches to the judging panel at the ‘Dragon’s Den’-style Semi-Final, giving presentations and fielding the judges’ questions. Four teams are selected to move on to a second development stage and the Final, where they come before the judges again.

The overall winner receives additional development support from NTT DATA, and the backing of Alex Chisholm and our other programme champions – helping it along the road towards implementation.

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: 2023 programme

Monday 25 September 2023

Launch of applications

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Applications close and long list process begins

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Longlist of applications published

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Pitch event (the Semi Final)

September 2024

The Grand Final

Information for managers

All those submitting ideas or volunteering to join a team have required their line manager's permission. If you are selected to join a development team, you'll need to spend time on the project over the coming months; so if you get a new line manager, please show them our Information for line managers page. Here our sponsor, Civil Service Chief Operating Officer Alex Chisholm, explains the benefits of getting involved and asks managers to support participating staff.