January 31, 2022

October 20, 2023

The Safety Tech Challenge Fund (STCF)

Partnering with DCMS to operate the UK’s first Safety Tech Challenge Fund - a groundbreaking grant programme aimed at empowering safety tech innovation to enhance child online safety

Open Innovation Programmes
Security & Online Safety


In 2021, PUBLIC embraced the challenge of overseeing the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) Safety Tech Challenge Fund, a groundbreaking government grant programme. Its mission was to award grants of up to £85,000 each to five organisations tasked with developing proof of concepts (PoCs) dedicated to ensuring the safety of children in end-to-end encrypted environments, all while preserving user privacy. This initiative was particularly sensitive due to its focus on privacy-preserving technology and the critical issue of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. The challenge was multifaceted, demanding meticulous fund administration, cross-sector and cross-Whitehall collaboration, engagement with stakeholders from diverse domains, and adept management of a high-stakes government programme.


We played a pivotal role in crafting a multi-stakeholder project that effectively navigated complex governance structures. Key stakeholders included the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS,) Home Office, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the National Crime Agency (NCA), and the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (REPHRAIN).

We executed a meticulously planned series of phases over an eight-month period to ensure the success of the Safety Tech Challenge Fund, including:

  1. In-Depth Discovery: The journey began with an initial discovery phase that entailed interviewing 24 online safety stakeholders. These interviews were instrumental in shaping the challenge statement and programme objectives.
  2. Strategic Public Engagement: We launched a public campaign, in coordination with multiple government clients, designed to engage a wide array of stakeholders, including innovators, press, policymakers, investors, privacy organisations, on a global scale. Our campaign resulted in substantial social media engagement, media coverage, and a public virtual supplier webinar that saw active participation from over 40 attendees.
  3. Thorough Assessment: Proposed solutions underwent a rapid, government-compliant technical and financial assessment. This step ensured that selected projects had the potential to deliver impactful results.
  4. Supportive Programme Implementation: To facilitate the development of proof of concepts (PoCs), a comprehensive programme of support was provided to the five selected project groups. This step was critical in nurturing innovation and solution development.
  5. Educational and Interactive Events: We hosted a series of webinars and events to offer a platform for stakeholders to gain valuable insights and engage with the subject matter in a dynamic and actionable manner. This approach aimed to support Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) in achieving key objectives, particularly the development of innovative approaches to online safety and the establishment of effective product-to-policy feedback loops in anticipation of forthcoming regulations, such as the Online Safety Bill.
  6. Efficient Grant Management: An efficient and compliant grant management process was established to allocate funding to successful organisations, including international suppliers. This ensured that the awarded funds were used effectively and transparently.


This initiative empowered safety tech innovation and created a collaborative environment dedicated to enhancing child online safety. It facilitated the development of PoCs that can significantly contribute to the prevention of online child sexual abuse and exploitation while upholding user privacy. The programme’s educational and interactive aspects furthered knowledge dissemination and encouraged cross-sector cooperation, fostering a safer online environment for children.

DCMS Client Testimonial

The most impressive support I think I’ve experienced in my (many) years in the civil service. We couldn’t have wished for a more supportive, committed, responsive, professional, and insightful team.


Photo by the author

Chiara Carlini

Deputy Director of Startup & Challenge Programmes

Photo by the author

Alexa Sheldon

Former Team Member

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