The sponsors of the Civil Service Data Challenge - a new campaign to unearth ideas on how to make better use of data - have written of the entrepreneurship that the Government is looking to encourage through this initiative. Entrepreneurship is not traditionally a widely-used term across the Civil Service, but the ability to spot an opportunity and run with it will be one of the main characteristics of the eventual winner. Since I’m not judging the Civil Service Data Challenge I’m impartial, but I’ll be leading a team of expert advisors to the finalists as part of NTT DATA’s support to the programme.
I couldn’t trace the origin of the word ‘Datapreneur’ but it’s one of those portmanteaus where it’s easy to guess at the meaning. Successful Datapreneurs are well known for being some of the richest people in the world, but what of Civic Datapreneurs – those who seek to use data to push forward public services or the open data agenda? It is my hope to meet some examples of this rare breed. Here are some of their characteristics:
A desire to make the best use of colleagues’ time
Civic Datapreneurs challenge the status quo and ask questions such as:
- Why are we guessing at policy priorities when we collect data that would bring answers if properly harnessed?
- Why are we looking at cases or referrals based on when they happened, rather than data attributes that signify priority?
- Why are we spending time creating spreadsheets that could be automated?
A recognition that government doesn’t stand still
Civic Datapreneurs seek adaptable solutions so that the data automatically creates a course correction. They are interested in:
- Solutions that adapt to how the public are using services and pro-actively target those in greatest need
- Enabling the wider economy to be successful by finding solutions which allow business to flourish with the help of well-structured open government data
- Using data to support changing political priorities in Westminster
A level of data literacy
In some ways this goes without saying but Civic Datapreneurs arise when teams on the ground gain a level of data literacy that they can apply to the problem domain in which they are expert. (This is why I’m a strong advocate of data literacy). The Civil Service Data Challenge is helped in this case because NTT DATA can provide the support to take a datapreneurial idea and turn it into reality. However, one of the aspects which makes the campaign exciting is that the judges are looking for ideas which are technologically innovative, which raises the bar in terms of understanding the state of the art in areas such as cognitive analytics, image processing and supervised machine learning. In case that sounds like a tall order, potential entrants should bear in mind that this is just one of six criteria on which each idea will be considered – and of course the definition of ‘innovative technology’ depends on where you start from.
A knowledge of the data landscape
The data landscape is the holistic view of the data that a department collects or is able to make use of. The ‘Deliverability’ judging criteria for the Civil Service Data Challenge is partly about the data to drive the idea already being to hand and usable from a legal, ethical and cost standpoint. Data quality can prove to be a challenge in the execution but we can come to that later…
A passion for their idea
Datapreneurs are no different to entrepreneurs in this respect. One of the Data Challenge judges, Henry de Zoete, is a non-executive board member at the Cabinet Office but he’s best known as the Datapreneur who won Dragon’s Den in 2018 with Look After My Bills. Henry and his co-founder were ultimately motivated by a social conscience about the power imbalance between consumers and providers of energy.
Come and join the club. #datachangeslives.