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An Innovation Lab for the Sharing Economy

Today saw the launch of the Sharing Economy Review, a very welcome process that has brought together many different conversations, demands and ideas that have been bubbling away for some time; including those that were kick-started at Number 10 last year. The review covers a  wide set of recommendations; everything from supporting innovation and growth, insuring risks, tax, sharing government assets and the need for industry representation. 

In 2012, I talked about the coming challenges for sharing economy platforms that start to scale and challenge incumbent industries and government regulation, and over the last 12 months we have seen a range of responses from governments and cities across the world; some hugely positive and progressive (like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Seoul) and some far less positive responses; with some governments finding it very difficult to take anything other than a reactive, punitive stance to the arrival of the sharing economy on their doorstep.

While this review is just a first step; it's a hugely positive and thoughtful response to a phenomenon that presents as many challenges as opportunities. There’s no doubt in my mind that those governments and politicians who actively support, experiment and engage with what the sharing economy means in terms of environmental sustainability, economic growth, efficient use of public, civic and household resources and the future of work and entrepreneurship, will be those who will positively shape its future.

In contributing to today’s sharing economy review, Nesta recommended that a lab should be created to provide finance, space for experimentation and the development of useful evidence and research to support the growth of the sharing economy in the UK. We’re delighted that this recommendation has been taken up. Good ventures need investment to grow and scale; policy makers need good evidence and data; potential adopters of collaborative/sharing principles (like cities, local governments) need to understand how, when and what works - a lab could help deliver this.

As the review suggests, I think that an industry or trade body for the sharing economy will be crucial to help it develop, set standards and improve conditions for businesses and consumers alike. The capacity to bring together a credible group to work with each other, with regulators and with policy makers will depend on this broad church that is the sharing economy coming together; not splintering apart. That will mean some letting go, and allowing others to lead.

We also need to hang on tight to the fact that just as the rise of the sharing economy represents opportunities for businesses and economic growth, there are equally profound opportunities for public services, local government, charities and groups of communities. The fact that the principles that underpin the sharing economy are as relevant to a council delivering a meals on wheels service, as to a global car manufacturer, or to an individual wanting to earn some extra income as to a community wanting to create or purchase energy is key to understanding its potentially far-reaching and transforming effects.

Debbie Wosskow's review is timely and very welcome. And there is still a huge job to be done in raising awareness of the potential and possibility of the sharing economy to encourage more efficient, elegant and intelligent use of the many under-utilised assets that surround us, as well as supporting a new wave of digital businesses in the UK. I hope the Government’s interest in the sharing economy persists well into the future and we find ourselves leading the way in unlocking its potential in every sector, every household.

And if you want a little light, but revealing reading, take a look at our six future scenarios for the sharing economy.



Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Executive Director, Innovation Lab

Helen was an Executive Director at Nesta and lead our Innovation Lab. The Lab’s mission is to support and scale innovation for the public good; working with partners to run innovation …

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