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Impact in the collaborative economy – time to check assumptions

Questioning impact does not make you a cynic. If anything, a bit more careful evaluation and constructive critique could really benefit the collaborative economy...

We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about the collaborative economy that teeters between enthused interest and more evangelist tones. Among other things, we’re told the collaborative economy will not only disrupt most sectors, but also lead to a more equitable and sustainable world. Occasionally, these claims are backed up by some statistics, or an illustrative case study. Any reservations or attempts at critical engagement are often met with an uncomfortable mix of confusion and subtle frustration.

Personally, we think there’s immense potential for organisations in the collaborative economy to substantially benefit the UK. But just saying so doesn’t prove anything. Not everyone in the collaborative economy is working towards the same goals. Equally, different organisations and platforms in the collaborative economy will affect our societies, communities and economy in different ways.  We might wish for these changes and begin to notice them unfold in the world around us, but that still doesn’t constitute sound evidence.

Whether you’re championing the collaborative economy or looking to manage its risks, evidence of impact is remarkably absent from the debate. This is regrettable for several reasons. First, it means we’re not identifying best practice or learning from failed attempts. Consequently, legitimate benefits risk going unnoticed, or being drowned out by empty promises and hype. If this occurs, we may soon find the collaborative economy loses traction and buy in from important stakeholders – including governments, regulators, funders and the public.

That’s not to say we face an absolute dearth of research into the collaborative economy. Some organisations (like Airbnb) have taken steps to measure and demonstrate their impact publicly. Likewise, researchers interested in different facets of the collaborative economy are also forming groups and beginning to publish dedicated research into this area.

Still, more could be done to improve the evidence base and impact within the collaborative economy. Other organisations can test and demonstrate their claims – and be transparent with the results. Likewise, it wouldn’t be insurmountable to create standards of evidence for the collaborative economy or connect research students to organisations looking to take part in research or evaluation exercises.

The collaborative economy may have grown considerably in recent years, but it’s still emerging and its future is by no means certain. Responding to constructive critique and systematically testing assumptions can only help organisations improve their likelihood of realising grand aspirations. How can we make clarifying and demonstrating impact a priority going forward?

Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing several blogs considering impact and evaluation in the collaborative economy. To start, we’ll consider the various kinds of impact the collaborative economy could be having. Next we’ll review how different collaborative economy organisations are already evaluating their impact, and what they’re finding. Finally, we’ll discuss when and why some organisations choose to use impact measurement as a strategy for growth, and highlight the great opportunities, and the challenges, of doing so.

Do you know of great examples of impact measurement, or the use of evidence in the collaborative economy? Get in touch!

Author

Zoe Jacob

Zoe Jacob

Zoe Jacob

Intern, Policy and Research

Zoé was a policy research intern. She worked with Madeleine Gabriel in the Public and Social Innovation team.

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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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