Anti-food waste app wins government innovation prize

Written by Beckie Smith on 10 February 2020 in News
News

Cross-government team wins Reimagine Challenge

A proposal to develop a mobile app to track food thrown away that its creators hope will spark a “food waste movement” has scooped this year’s Reimagine Challenge prize for innovative answers to policy challenges in Whitehall.

A cross-government group of officials from the Ministry of Justice, HM Revenue and Customs, the Office for National Statistics and the Cabinet Office, as well as KPMG experts, beat similar groups of competitors at the Reimagine Challenge finale, held at the Royal Institution, by impressing judges including civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni, Department for International Development permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and Department for International Trade perm sec Antonia Romeo.

The team was one of four who took on policy challenges set by permanent secretaries for this year’s competition. The victorious officials (pictured above) were tasked with finding a way to improve people’s access to healthy, affordable food while also improving the environment. They discovered seven million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK each year – including 2.5 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables – costing the average family with children around £70 a month.

Their project aims to tackle the problem by cutting waste at the household level, using a programme anchored around a mobile app setting out four stages to behavioural change: track; act; share; and reward.

Taking inspiration from step counters that many people have installed on their mobile phones, the app the team has designed would help users to get a better picture of the scale and impact of their monthly food waste and encourage them to change their behaviour.

As users record each item of food they throw away, the app keeps a running tally of the mass and value of the wasted food to help households to understand its financial and environmental impact.

But the winning bid noted that “awareness by itself rarely leads to long-lasting change”. 

Users would, therefore, be encouraged to act by looking up tips on specific items of food in their fridge that are about to expire, leading to personalised suggestions in future.

“This is where WastePad differs from a plethora of carbon footprint calculators – in addition to tracking waste, it helps users to manage and ultimately reduce their food waste through offering practical tips, observations on the most wasted produce and linking external resources,” it said.

The proposal also set out plans to enable users to share their progress via social media platforms and compare themselves to others using the app. They could also collect points based on their progress that could be translated into prizes such as vouchers or achievement badges.

The other challenges sought ways to increase the public’s digital skills; increase the number, diversity and status of volunteers in law enforcement; and find opportunities to use the UK’s aid budget to trade and invest in developing markets.

Each team had six months to work with public and private-sector bodies to come up with creative and realistic ways to tackle their assigned challenge.

In the digital skills category, a team worked with digital inclusion charity The Good Things Foundation on a proposal to leverage the Social Value Act to bring together voluntary and social organisations, government and suppliers to support community-based programmes to improve the skills of people who are digitally isolated.

The entrants for the law enforcement challenge aimed to introduce a more flexible way for professionals to volunteer with the police and change perceptions within forces to ensure their skills are used effectively.

The trade and aid team meanwhile came up with a proposal to work with innovation hubs around the country, which would award Overseas Development Assistance grants to develop innovations to meet the needs of target communities, engaging with diaspora networks for on-the-ground expertise.

Announcing the award, Manzoni said the competition was “whisper close”. 

"We were all, in different ways, using the convening power of government across multiple sectors," he said.

 

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.

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