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Defining the Collaborative Economy – how do we do it, and why?

This blog has been authored by Lauren Anderson of Collaborative Lab, and Kathleen Stokes and Emma Clarence of Nesta.

From small community groups to major multinational corporations, a large and diverse community of businesses, organisations and groups has assembled under the banner of the ‘Collaborative Economy’ in recent years. But what ties them together and, more importantly, how do they understand this Collaborative Economy?

Nesta and Collaborative Lab have partnered together to undertake research on the Collaborative Economy in the UK and Europe.

As part of this research, we want to better understand how the Collaborative Economy is currently defined, and we would like your help. 

Bringing together many existing definitions (and some of the recent developments in this space), we have created an updated definition of the Collaborative Economy and all its related concepts and want to hear from you about it.

In theory, any economic activity is inherently collaborative – or, at least, it would be difficult to find something where no form of collaboration takes place at all. So what is different about this kind of activity, and why are so many people taking painstaking efforts to define it? We believe it’s because we are at a societal turning point, and something significant is happening.

Lately, there has been an increasing number of efforts to define (or redefine) the Collaborative Economy, its elements and its constituent parts – not to mention how similar terms like the Sharing Economy, the Gift Economy, the Mesh and the Access Economy fit into the mix. The terms we use to describe the Collaborative Economy have multiplied to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of the space, and accommodate the different organisations, business models and sectors which now play a part. As a result, defining and distinguishing between these terms has become increasingly challenging, and yet precision is important to strengthen the identity and impact of this disruptive economic activity.

When we define something, we are giving it meaning. Defining is supposed to be an exercise in drawing meaning from what’s already taking place; however, new definitions can also suggest and influence activity. For the collaborative economy to retain meaning, we need to pull back the layers on the terms being used in order to balance a description of the activities themselves with the, arguably more important, common motivations which underpin them. This is how we will start to make sense of the movement as a whole.

So have look at our definitions and let us know: how do they fit with your understanding of this movement? Is anything missing, incorrect, or unclear? Please take a moment and share your feedback in the comments stream below, or in Collaborative Consumption's community forum on Quora. Your feedback will help us to produce an updated version of the definitions in our forthcoming report, and contribute to creating an even stronger global understanding of this important socio-economic shift and what it means for the future of our society.

Author

Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Senior Researcher, Social Innovation

Kathleen was a Senior Researcher leading on Nesta’s policy and research work in digital education and the collaborative economy. At Nesta, Kathleen researched and written various pub...

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Emma Clarence

Emma Clarence

Emma Clarence

Principal Researcher, Social Innovation

Emma was a Principal Researcher on Social Innovation in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She joined Nesta in April 2014 and worked on areas including the collaborative economy and s...

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