Winning idea was chosen for its potential to help contribute to the net zero emissions and nature targets

A project that will use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to support peatland restoration projects was last week announced as the winner of the Civil Service Data Challenge.

The “Dragon’s Den” style challenge invited civil servants to pitch ideas on how government can make better use of data and was run by the Cabinet Office, Global Government Forum, NTT DATA and the Office for National Statistics.

The winning team will receive technical advice and support from IT services NTT DATA to the value of £50,000 to help develop and implement the project. A first design could be deployed within just three months.

The peatland project won thanks to its potential to reduce flooding risk, boost carbon sequestration, and contribute towards the UK’s net zero emissions targets. It was also commended for its potential to be scaled up in peatlanmd habitats across the world.

The winning team was picked from three other finalists by a panel of judges, including representatives from NTT Data, DEFRA, and the Cabinet Office, at a live final last Thursday.

The four final ideas were chosen for having the greatest potential to return investment and being the most feasible to realise. The other finalists included a project to improve identifying construction industry benefit fraud and error; improve data on UK citizens abroad; and better track of prisoners’ social contacts to support rehabilitation.Eight semi-finalists were shortlisted from nearly 200 applicants.

Alex Chisholm, the Civil Service’s chief operating officer and permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, announced the winners and said that the organisers of the competition were eager to work on all eight of the shortlisted ideas.

“This challenge attracted a wide variety of truly inspiring submissions from our innovative and creative civil servants, making it a challenge to narrow down the finalists to just one winner,” he said. “As a result, we’re determined to bring all of the eight semi-finalists’ projects to life and the civil service will be sponsoring these to make this a reality. However, there can only be one winner and the peatlands restoration project is incredibly important as it benefits the UK government and its fight against climate change. Moreover, it’s outstandingly innovative and can be replicated across a number of other industries, including in infrastructure and healthcare. We feel very proud of what this team has achieved and are now excited to see this project come to life and improve our public services.”

Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector at NTT DATA UK, said: “Using data effectively is crucial to the future of the Civil Service and its success. The Civil Service Data Challenge was created to reflect this importance, as well as give Civil Servants an opportunity to demonstrate their vision and see their ideas brought to life.”

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