A grassroots idea from inside the Civil Service on how to use data to better combat modern slavery is on its way to being adopted by the Crown
That’s in the shape of ‘Project Heyrick’ – named in honour of 19th century English philanthropist and campaigner against the slave trade, Elizabeth Heyrick. Developed from an idea by David Vinnicombe, a tax compliance officer at HMRC, Project Heyrick will now receive £50,000-worth of support to produce a proof of concept for the Home Office commissioning board. The proposal beat out other three close competitors in a special competition sponsored by vendor NTT DATA.
In 2021, that firm created the first of what now hopefully is an annual competition inviting civil servants to come forward with their own ideas on how to best use data to improve public services – the Civil Service Data Challenge.
This second run of Data Challenge was first kicked off almost a year ago, in early June 2022, backed by NTT DATA as well as the Cabinet Office, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Global Government Forum.
The idea was to repeat the 2021 exercise, when close to 200 ideas from across the Civil Service were received.
As we reported back then, Civil Service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm was impressed with the quality of proposals put forward, noting they had been “truly impressive”.
Chisholm was again happy to champion the 2022 Challenge, which culminated in what sounds like a deliciously tense ‘Dragons’ Den’ project beauty contest last week in County Hall.
There, after extensive evaluation of the 2022 total of 119 proposals received, four final teams pitched their ideas on how to improve the use of data within the Civil Service to a panel of judges.
The winning team was up against proposals for creating digital environments to experiment with policymaking, connecting datasets across government to improve levels of compliance for child maintenance payments, and the implementation of AI and automation to improve digital mail services across HMRC.
Close indeed – but David’s idea of running advanced analytics tools over data from across both Government and open-source data sets to surface undetected victims of modern slavery clinched it on the day.
Using data like this, said his team, could then lead to proactive intervention targets, and support enforcement departments (such as policing, the Home Office, or the National Crime Agency) more effectively identify potential cases of modern slavery and intervene without the victim needing to present themselves.
As Data Challenge 2022 winners, this idea will now receive funding, technical advice and development support from the UK and Irish arm of the vendor, plus the backing of senior Departmental managers to bring it all to fruition.
Commenting on the competition’s outcome, for Chisholm, ““All the finalists showed fantastic teamwork, and we were particularly impressed with the winner as they had to form a cross-government collation of people. Moreover, it is using data in order to be able target a very hard to find community of people.”
And for Vicki Chauhan, head of public sector at NTT DATA UK&I, “As with last year’s event, deciding a winner for this second year of the Civil Service Data Challenge has been incredibly difficult; all the pitches were really strong.
“However, alongside my fellow judges I am very much looking forward to working closely with Project Heyrick to develop the idea and turn it into reality.”