Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


How long does it take a government to do an economics study?

In today’s Guardian Technology we’ve looked at the strange case of the recommendation made in the Treasury’s Spending Review of 2000 that it should investigate the effects of lower pricing – perhaps even zero pricing – of government data.

And what did the authors find?

“The evidence is that certainly not all demands for government information are price sensitive,” the document, on the economics of government information, notes. “The government produces and sells value-added as well as raw data for which consumers are prepared to pay a premium while in other areas such as mapping and meteorology the government does much more than meet its needs.” That is, some of the data generated is surplus to the running of government; it’s simply there to generate profits, to offset the running costs of various departments.

…But the authors then admit it’s unclear how government-generated data should be priced. After discussing pricing models, they note the suggestion “that demand would grow rapidly in response to lower prices … and as basic information is repackaged in innovative ways. The issue needs further empirical work.” That is, an economist should see whether cheaper data boosts the economy.

And has anyone carried out that empirical study? Six years on, no, they haven’t. The Treasury says this is because there has been so much disruption in the public information economy, caused by the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act last year.

But we discovered that there is, meanwhile, a new OECD study on government data pricing (660KB PDF) – readers’ comments are welcome.

And we’re still trying to figure out what “marginal social cost” (see previous post) actually means in the real world.

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