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Lessons from winning the GovTech Catalyst grant fund

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Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation
Minister Oliver Dowden announcing the GovTech winners at Sprint 18

I was at Sprint 18 last week, where I got some good news: Defra has won a slice of the £20 million GovTech Catalyst (GTC) grant fund.

There will be 3 more opportunities for public sector teams to apply to the GTC for a slice of the fund - the first of those opens for applications on 21 May 2018 and closes 1 month later.

I thought it would be useful for me to share what I learned about making a successful application to the fund. Then those other public sector teams might be better equipped when the time comes for them to write their own bids.

Lesson 1: start early

I got involved 13 working days before the submission deadline. My brief was to submit 1 good bid and work with Alex Knell, my Defra colleague. We got it done, but it would’ve been less stressful if we’d started earlier. Email the GTC team in the Government Digital Service (GDS) and check when the next round opens and closes.

Lesson 2: get help

Defra works with 33 agencies and public bodies. It’s a complex organisation. Alex and I had to quickly reach out to colleagues from right across the Defra family to find out how they work and what they needed. We had lots and lots of conversations and captured lots and lots of needs, and as a result of that, we were able to draw out several compelling themes and zero in on those to arrive at a preferred Defra Challenge candidate. In the end, it was a real Team Defra effort with many people helping to shape the final bid.

Lesson 3: the GTC team are happy to help, so ask them for help

Alex and I were both new to GTC. We had questions. I called, emailed and visited both the GDS team and the contacts in H.M.Treasury. GDS were great for understanding the process. HMT gave guidance on the content of the application.

Lesson 4: make things open, it makes things better

Last year I worked with the GDS Government as a Platform team to source some information from Defra. I used our internal social media tool to great effect. I basically threw out a question on the main channel which has over 5000 Defra employees on it. This worked wonders. However, I didn’t use this for the GTC bid. If you have internal channels that you know work, use them. Be as open as possible about what you’re doing; it helps bring people along on the journey.

On Monday 19 February 2018 at 4:12pm, I submitted our bid via email. 2 months went by and on Thursday 12 April GDS called me:

Me: “Is it good news or bad news?” (no pleasantries, straight to the point)

GDS: “What d’you think?

Me: “Good news”

GDS: “You’re right”


Lesson 5: warm up the comms team

Once I’d received the call from GDS, it largely became a comms issue. This is so that press releases can be arranged, Ministers alerted and dates set to make announcements. I eventually hooked up the Defra, GDS and HMT comms teams and mostly left them to it. However, it took some time to find the right internal comms person. So find this person early. Let them know what to expect.

What we're going to use the money for

The focus of our bid was Smart Waste Tracking. Defra needs the ability to track waste movement and waste levels in real-time. We need to do this without placing additional burden upon Waste Carriers or Waste Companies. In a future blog post, we’ll go into more detail about the content of our bid, the scores we received and how we can do better.

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