To improve city economies and make cities better places to live and work, more city level data is needed. This will allow identification of the opportunities and weakness individual cities face, which in turn will allow for more effective and efficient policy development to improve the way in which cities function and deliver economic growth.

As the case studies show, open data and big data can be used to deliver a range of benefits, from reducing congestion and pollution to improving service response times and safety. However, currently the UK is not fully exploiting these methods.

The Government holds a range of data that could improve city performance but which is not currently made publicly available. While the Government’s move towards an open data agenda is welcome, it needs to do more to ensure the highest possible benefits from pursuing such a policy are realised. This isn’t just about the release of more data. It’s also about encouraging its use through engaging with organisations and individuals to promote awareness of what data is available. As illustrated in the US, Hack Days that offer funding to turn strong proposals into practical projects and services can be a good way to raise this awareness.

Cities are also in a position to improve their own functioning and to reduce their costs by doing so. Organisations within cities, such as universities and private companies, already collect information that if shared and linked together could give new insights into the challenges faced by cities. Cites can also organize to collect their own data, through, for example, the use of sensors. Despite this, it is only cities that have received funding from a third party that are making use of city level big data in the UK. Emphasising the savings big data generates in the long-run through improving existing systems without the need to invest in any major re-developments, may encourage uptake.

The UK needs to learn from other countries and expand its investment in and use of government data and big data. This will generate cost savings and allow for the development of targeted and efficient policy, improving the operation of cities and UK economic performance.

Policy recommendations

In order to improve understanding of cities:

  • Central and local government should prioritise the release of data they hold on city economies in order to provide cities with the information needed to enhance their economic performance and meet the needs of their citizens.
  • Central government and cities should set up a series of ‘Hack Days’ to encourage new uses of the data that they are releasing and secure funding from sponsors to turn ideas into functional products.
  • Cities should set up special interest groups to explore what existing public datasets can be used and combined to provide new insights, savings or proto-types reflective of their city’s needs.
  • Cities should look to share the big data they already collect by setting up on-line platforms that allow organisations to upload their own data and use the data of others.
  • Cities should lead on collecting new data in their own economies and identifying uses of big data that could lead to long-term savings.