Transparency and access to public data are key priorities for this Government, which has pledged to be the most transparent and accountable government in the world. The belief, as put forward by the Government’s open data and transparency tsar Tim Kelsey, is that freeing up big data could improve public services and lead to better government. But deriving such benefits from big data is not straightforward and, although its importance is broadly recognised, the route to take is not.

The Data Dividend identifies the major opportunities presented by big data and the obstacles that must be overcome to realise them. Big data can play a crucial role in holding public servants to account, but public servants themselves must also be part of the story, incorporating big data into the way they work. While it has been widely assumed that the rise of big data would lead to an increase in public participation in government through ‘armchair auditing’, a further stumbling block is that much of the public presently lacks the requisite skills to do this.

The report recommends a radical change to the way government collects and collates data. The benefits of big data cannot be attained merely by improving existing methods: the approach must be transformative rather than evolutionary.