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How Amsterdam is developing a collaborative economy that works for everyone

On 1st November at ShareLab we brought together over 200 people from government, business, academia, the third sector and the collaborative economy to explore how we can harness collaborative platforms for social good. We spoke to Femke Haccoû and Nanette Schippers from the City of Amsterdam, and Pieter van de Glind from shareNL, about their work making the Dutch capital a truly sharing city.

Cities, with their abundance and proximity of people and assets, are fertile ground for collaborative platforms. 

Amsterdam has long led the way on the collaborative economy, often being mentioned alongside Seoul in South Korea as a model for cities to follow and adapt. With its Action Plan for the Sharing Economy, launched this year, Amsterdam is demonstrating how cities can take a strategic approach to working with collaborative platforms.

Amsterdam is part of a growing sharing cities movement and its 'Action Plan on the Sharing Economy' states that it is taking a “proactive attitude towards the sharing economy”, encouraging activities that will benefit “innovation, social inclusiveness, entrepreneurship and sustainability”. Importantly, it notes that it welcomes disruption, “wherever this strengthens the city and can benefit its inhabitants”, but that the city will intervene if “unwelcome situations arise as a result of particular initiatives”.

This balance between taking an open and welcoming approach to the sharing economy on the one hand, but being attentive to unintended consequences, has been key to Amsterdam’s success as a sharing city, says Femke Haccoû, who works in the Amsterdam CTO’s innovation team.

“We have always approached new trends with an open mind in Amsterdam, even if they are very disruptive,” she says. “We don’t automatically see them as a threat - we see them both as a challenge and an opportunity for the city."

"We instantly knew the sharing economy could make Amsterdam a better city and benefit its inhabitants," adds Nanette Schippers, from the City's Economic Affairs Department. "But, as with any new trend, we’re also aware of possible negative effects.”

"We see new trends as both a challenge and an opportunity for the city."

Part of this open approach has meant trying to work with collaborative platforms as much as possible, developing a network of platforms big and small and engaging them to understand “what’s going on, what the platforms’ goals are, and how their business models can work with the city’s priorities,” says Schippers.

The city’s approach also meant taking a broad, cross-sectoral view of the collaborative economy; the team working on it sits across the city government, rather than being limited to, for example, economic or social affairs.

Much of the work developing a strong network in the city has come by working with independent agency shareNL. Founded in 2013, shareNL works with start-ups, corporates, government, research institutions and individuals to understand the collaborative economy and run practical projects.

“I was doing a masters’ on Sustainable Development back in 2011,” says Pieter van de Glind, co-founder of shareNL. “While I was lucky to be inspired by some of the world’s leading sustainability and policy professors, most of them believed the world was doomed.

"Most of my professors believed the world was doomed. The collaborative economy means people can behave more sustainably by making better use of their assets."

“When I learned about the collaborative economy I got super excited because I saw that people who don’t necessarily care about sustainability can behave in a more sustainable way by making better use of their assets.”

Inspired by the trend, and after finding that 84 per cent of citizens were willing to take part in the collaborative economy, van de Glind and his partner Harmen van Sprang founded shareNL.

Today, it has brought together over 60 stakeholders ranging from start-ups to corporates and from local public services to Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands’ largest airport. shareNL runs the Amsterdam Sharing City project and works closely with the city government to further research, build the network of collaborative economy stakeholders, and try to co-create a more sustainable and better Amsterdam. Other projects include creating a national Sharing City Platform and running classes in libraries to help people develop skills to use collaborative platforms.

Back at City Hall, the sharing economy team draws upon its own work and shareNL’s research to understand the effects of the collaborative economy and implement its own policies to increase its positive impact and manage its negative impact.

"Amsterdam is committed to making the most of this new form of economy." (Action Plan)

The city’s Action Plan outlines five actions the city is taking on the collaborative economy:

  • Stimulating the sharing economy - for example, by supporting pilot projects with carsharing platforms to address the challenge of parking in Amsterdam.
  • Leading by example - for example, launching its own pilot project for citizens to access city assets such as vehicles, office space and other tools free of charge.
  • A sharing economy for all Amsterdam residents - for example, working with organisations like Thuisafgehaald (meal-sharing) and Peerby (asset-sharing) to connect sharing platforms to the city pass (Stadspas) so that 180,000 more residents - many elderly or on low incomes - can benefit from the collaborative economy.
  • Rules and regulations - for example, regulating the home rental market and preventing the emergence of monopolies or cartels, working with national and European government where necessary.
  • Putting Amsterdam on the map as Amsterdam Sharing City - for example, by drawing together cities around the world for the first Sharing Cities Roundtable and working with the New York Mayor’s Office to develop a regulatory approach to the home-sharing market.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not all plain sailing. But what makes Amsterdam successful, says Schippers, is that it works with platforms rather than against them when problems arise. In Amsterdam, resorting to legal action is a last resort.

“I’m very proud of our approach to holiday rentals,” she says. "It started with a quick – and positive - response to the new trend of sharing your home. In 2014 our policy was settled: yes, you can rent out your home to tourists. The city worked with Airbnb to make sure those renting their properties were informed about the rules and regulations in Amsterdam. Airbnb also helps us with enforcement and they collect tourist taxes on behalf of the hosts. 

“We work closely with them, but we also have a strong policy. People know what they can and can’t do, and our enforcement team is strong. It works because we have policy, agreements and enforcement all in place.”

There are a number of other challenges to fulfilling the potential of the collaborative economy to benefit citizens in Amsterdam. For van de Glind, the biggest challenge is taking the step from ambition to action, while for Haccoû and Schippers it’s making the collaborative economy tangible and real for citizens and existing organisations. “For many people, it’s still new, it’s still scary. There’s a long way to go to convince everyone of the opportunities,” Schippers says.

"For many people, it's still new, it's still scary. There's a long way to go."

But Amsterdam is optimistic for the future. The city government is committed to being a leading light in the sharing cities movement. “We know a lot of cities are looking at how we do things, and we want to learn from them but also to support them,” Haccoû says. We want to stay ahead of the game and pilot projects which other cities can then learn from.”

shareNL, meanwhile, is looking to grow the Sharing Cities network, aiming for 100 new recruits who can learn from and support each other. “The collaborative economy is a driving force of a new era, and it could lead us to a more social, sustainable and economically sound society,” says van de Glind. “But the only way to achieve our goals is by collaboration.” 

Image credit: Amsterdam street. Image via Creative Commons 2.0, Copyright Moyan Brenn


Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Senior Researcher, Government Innovation

Matt was a senior researcher working on the collaborative economy and digital social innovation.

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