Beyond profit: social value in the collaborative economy
You suffer a cardiac arrest in London on your way to work. A passer by calls 999. An ambulance is dispatched, making its way through the rush hour traffic. At the same time, an alert is automatically issued to the three nearest qualified first aiders. One responds and is at the scene in two minutes.
Congratulations. Your chances of surviving have just gone up 50%.
What just happened? You were the beneficiary of a collaborative economy that can make a real difference to people’s lives. You drew from an invisible, connected network of people who had something you needed, and were nearby when you needed it. You didn’t need a drill or a bed for the night or a car ride; in this scenario you needed someone who had the skills to save your life - and you needed them quickly. GoodSAM is now live in London, and Nesta is very proud to have supported its development.
This is an example of what we mean when we talk about growing the collaborative economy to generate more social value and public benefit.
The commercial sector has been highly creative in thinking about applications for the collaborative economy, with billions being pumped into platforms and marketplaces to share and rent a thousand different things. (Five years ago, who knew there would be a market for sharing dogs?)
But there are also a thousand different ways that digital infrastructures and platforms could be used to tackle very different kinds of needs: the needs of people, families, communities and local governments. And not just in times of crisis.
Despite some social enterprises and local governments coalescing around this idea, and some existing large scale platforms showing how their networks of users can deliver social value (such as Airbnb’s Disaster Response), the opportunity remains vastly underexplored. We think that needs to change.
To draw attention to the potential of the collaborative economy to drive social and environmental value, in November Nesta will be hosting ShareLab, a one-day event bringing together over 200 policymakers, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers to better understand how public services, civil society and the private sector can engage with, develop and harness collaborative platforms for good.
Joined by politicians and practitioners from across the UK and Europe, ShareLab will highlight the key opportunities, showcase exemplar initiatives, and debate some of the challenges and questions. Here is a taste of what we’ll be exploring...
How are different cities across Europe developing strategies to understand and exploit the collaborative economy?
The collaborative economy holds the potential to deliver public services in cities differently, make more efficient use of a city’s resources and support increased participation in civic activities and democratic processes. Some cities like Amsterdam and Seoul have developed ‘Sharing City’ strategies, with many other cities thinking expansively about the ways in which new digital infrastructures, networks and platforms can tackle local priorities. At Nesta, we have adapted our CITIE framework to provide an idea about how this might be applied to the collaborative economy, and debated how these solutions can help cities deliver on the promise of a 'smart city'.
At ShareLab, Helen Goulden will be joined by Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London, Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna and Antoinette Guhl, Deputy Mayor of Paris to debate the ways in which the collaborative economy and open digital platforms can deliver public benefit in their cities. We’ll also hear from Mara Balestrini (Ideas For Change), Finn Williams (GLA), Femke Haccoû (City of Amsterdam), Liz Corbin (Institute of Making), and Duggs Carre (Kirklees Council) and their work to foster more digitally enabled, collaborative and peer to peer activities across the cities in the UK and Europe.
How can the collaborative economy deliver better health and social care, and education and skills development?
Chaired by Nesta Health Lab’s John Loder, ShareLab will also be exploring what the collaborative economy means for the provision of Health & Social Care, talking to a range of social enterprises who are developing new networks to support people who are ageing, ill or vulnerable. Often these platforms have benefits not just for those in need of care, but also for the carers - GoodGym, for example, lets people improve their local community and help older people while also getting exercise, and with Casserole Club anyone can get feel the pleasure of cooking for a lonely neighbour.
As mentioned, the collaborative economy isn’t just about exchanging and sharing things and money. It can also provide innovative ways of helping people build new knowledge and skills. We will discuss how online platforms like Zooniverse are improving the accuracy and speed of scientific research with the power of the crowd, and how place-based collaboration in makerspaces like MAKLab and asset-sharing spaces like Library of Things can be used to develop skills and educate local people.
What’s the role of existing platforms?
There are some good examples of where companies like Airbnb are thinking creatively about how their networks of users can help in times of crisis. ShareLab will explore the boundaries and opportunities for more commercial platforms to drive public benefit, and what social purpose platforms can learn from the more commercially driven platforms.
We won’t be shying away from questions about the challenges with existing platforms, such as bias - and the risk of increasing inequality, subjects which will be discussed by academics Professor Michael Luca from Harvard and Dr Boyd Cohen from EADA Business School. They’ll be joined by internationally-respected collaborative economy expert Alex Stephany and Patrick Robinson from Airbnb, possibly the world’s most successful collaborative platform.
How will further innovation in technology deliver more social value, and how can we enable civil society organisations and social enterprises to make the most of these opportunities?
The collaborative economy has been possible because of mass participation in digital and mobile technologies, allowing plenty of creative destruction and disruption within some industries. But it would be foolish to assume that that this technological revolution is over. ShareLab delegates will be led in a debate by chaired Izabella Kaminska from the Financial Times, to understand the real risks and opportunities of new technologies like blockchain that will generate a new wave of innovation within the collaborative economy.
While the constant innovation in technology presents many opportunities for the collaborative economy, it also risks creating a long tail of organisations that aren’t equipped to make the most of these. Julie Dodd will chair a panel debate with Karl WIlding (NCVO), Tom Steinberg (BIG Lottery Fund), Paul Miller (Bethnal Green Ventures) and Pieter Van Der Glind (shareNL) on building the skills and capacity to enable society organisations and social enterprises to make the most digital tools and collaborative platforms.