Open Data: Britain leads the world

The UK economy is doing well. Even so, it is not often that we are placed unequivocally at the top of a world ranking of any kind.  But a team of economists led by Nicholas Gruen of Lateral Economics in Melbourne has done just that. In their recent report on the economic potential created by the concept of open data, it turns out that the UK government has been leading the world.  On the Open Data Index, we score 100 compared to America’s 93.  There is then a big gap to the next group, Australia, Canada and Germany, placed in the high 60s.

Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available for everyone to use as they wish, without restriction.  So what?  Well, scaling some previous work carried by the McKinsey Global Institute, Gruen and his team estimate that open data has the potential to increase output in the G20 economies by no less than $13 trillion over the next five years.  This could even be a substantial underestimate.  The feedback loops between data provision and the value created by open analysis are strong.

Open data comes in many forms.  Public sector information, such as outcomes in the health service or the spending of local councils is an important example.  The ability of people to access and analyse this data creates pressure for improvement in the provision of public services.  A GP who routinely prescribes expensive branded medicines rather than the generic products which are just as good, can be identified.  A council with a very expensive refuse collection service or with large numbers of highly paid bureaucrats, can be exposed.

Research or science data which is publicly funded is an area where much more can be done.  About twenty years ago, a leading American economics journal attempted to replicate the results of influential articles on applied monetary economics.  Some had had a direct and powerful impact on policy.  Most of the results could not be repeated, some dramatically so.  But the effort involved in discovering this was huge.  Now, if the data were placed on the web and made freely available, a graduate student could do the work in a couple of days.  The replication of results is something which is all too often lacking in academic work, especially in the social sciences.  Open data makes it much easier to carry out, and so reduces the chances of shaky, or even outright bogus, results surviving.

As the economy and society become more knowledge-based, data are core assets, creating value in their own right and driving social and economic innovation, growth and development.  Open data is yet another example of the vast potential for innovation which has been created by the technology of the internet.  Just as with the steam engine in the 18th century, genuinely revolutionary technologies may take many years to reveal their full economic impact.  Fashionable worries about the slowing down of innovation are completely misplaced.  And Britain stands to be a major beneficiary.

As published in City AM on Tuesday 22nd July

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.