The Collaborative or Sharing Economy – and the many other umbrella terms used to describe the rise of digital marketplaces for people to transact and share skills, assets and money – is fast becoming an object of fascination.
From poster kids like AirBnB and Uber that directly challenge the traditional ways in which we take a holiday or hail a taxi - to cities like Seoul and Amsterdam professing to become ‘sharing cities’ - expectations are running high.
We are in myth-making mode, envisioning the Collaborative Economy as the next wave of innovation that will transform our economy and society. And when we glimpse its disruptive potential, it’s easy to see why. But how do we cut through the hype, and get a much better sense of what’s really happening?
There is certainly an increased focus on research into this area, and the recent announcement of the Government Review into the Sharing Economy is timely and very welcome.
It’s also just the start. This is a phenomenon that is fluid and changing; even the boundaries of what it does and doesn’t cover is changing.
We can put a stake in the ground and say ‘today, these are the positive ways in which we might shape the collaborative economy’ or ‘today these are the regulatory issues we need to crack’, but as surely as real-life activities and insight often outpaces research (and certainly outpaces regulation), we need an ongoing, live, independent testing ground for not just accelerating our understanding about the social, environmental and economic impact of the collaborative economy in the more developed sectors such as mobility and hospitality, but also to anticipate and test its arrival and growth in other sectors and places.
It is important to remember that the collaborative economy is not a ‘sector’, in the same way that ‘digital’ is not a sector, but completely cross-cutting. That fact – that it is as relevant to a local council delivering a ‘meals on wheels’ service, to a multi-national corporation making cars, to a community group wanting to be self-sufficient, to an individual wanting to earn a bit of extra cash, is the key to understanding its potential and its possible power to change dominant ways of working, living, travelling and consuming.
While still in its infancy, the collaborative economy could address wider social, economic and environmental challenges - if the right incentives for its development are put in place.
Nesta submitted a number of policy responses to the BIS review, but how should we support and incentivise the collaborative economy in the longer-term? How can we know what works?
A Lab for the Sharing Economy could play a critical role in the development of the sharing, or collaborative economy in the UK.
It would do this through:
As the collaborative economy grows and develops there will be both opportunities and challenges, the BIS review is a good first step, but it shouldn’t - can't - be the last. Supporting the growth of the collaborative economy requires longer-term actions that will both accelerate our understanding - enabling us to act with insight, intelligence and impact.