Skip to content

Our response to the BIS Sharing Economy Review

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:

  • Experimentation: An experimental approach to growing the collaborative economy could include: enabling hyper-efficient use of government assets, experimenting with new models of service delivery and how the principles of the collaborative economy can be applied in new markets, or at a city-wide level to greatest effect. A Lab running experiments would provide quantitative evidence as to its impact on economic growth, public service reform, cities and places.
  • Financing: At present the collaborative economy remains embryonic in the UK, dominated by a handful of large US-based platforms. Providing (different forms of) finance to scale the best ideas within the UK would help support diversity within the global collaborative economy and contribute to UK economic growth.
  • Intelligence & Research: building on platforms like www.collaborativeconsumption.com, a Lab would provide up-to-the-minute, freely available market intelligence and insight alongside in depth research. This would be independent, demand-led and examine long term trends, offer greater levels of detail on evidence of impact and scaling individual collaborative economy ventures in the UK, provide future economic forecasts and undertake ‘deep-dives’ into specific issues (e.g. regulatory, behavioural) identified as being necessary to driving sustainable economic growth.

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.

Author

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Senior Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Sophie worked across a number of Nesta’s public services innovation programmes, as a Senior Researcher in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She lead on Lab Notes – a monthly digest b...

View profile
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...

View profile
Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Helen Goulden

Executive Director, Innovation Lab

Helen was an Executive Director at Nesta and lead our Innovation Lab. The Lab’s mission is to support and scale innovation for the public good; working with partners to run innovatio...

View profile