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The collaborative economy’s emerging research community

Recent workshops and events show how a growing community of collaborative economy researchers are assembling to identify knowledge gaps, and better coordinate their work. Here we present some of the most pertinent questions for this community, along with an open database for collaborative economy researchers to add themselves to.

On May 19, over thirty researchers took part in the first Ouishare collaborative economy research workshop at ESCP in Paris. Co-organised by Nesta, Ouishare and partners, this event was an opportunity to meet one another, map areas of interest and consider how this community of researchers can grow and evolve.

Between research pitches, open sessions and informal chats, the workshop demonstrated that a community of research is emerging around the collaborative economy. This is particularly promising, given the abundance of unanswered questions surrounding its definition, scope and impact. But how will this network develop and forge links with practitioners, policymakers and the public more generally?

Mapping the research into the collaborative economy

We mapped the current landscape of research around the collaborative economy based on the information shared by participants and the many conversations that took place throughout the workshop.

Diverse and interdisciplinary

This burgeoning field is incredibly interdisciplinary, blending expertise from domains such as economics and marketing, computer science, geography, cultural studies, sociology, philosophy, organisational studies, management, innovation, Internet law, and urbanism and planning. Such a mix of disciplines naturally leads to the adoption of a variety of research methodologies to tackle diverse and broad research questions related to the collaborative economy. We expect these questions to become more specific as the corpus of knowledge on the topic grows.

Value, labour and capital

A number of overarching themes clearly emerged from the research projects shared by the workshop participants. There were diverse perspectives on value, labour and capital. For example, value is being discussed with regards to trust, social capital, job creation, and the creation and measurement of non-monetary value. Issues on labour are being investigated in association to capital, and new forms of work such as co-working and distributed peer-to-peer collaboration. Finally, a number of studies are investigating how the collaborative economy might redefine the notion of capital, particularly from a paradigm shift that focuses on abundance rather than scarcity.

Assessment and impact

Researchers also acknowledged the need for collaboration in order to scope appropriate assessment methods to measure and evaluate the social, economic and environmental impacts of collaborative initiatives. This is evident from the number of studies working to develop “barometers”, indexes and frameworks that can both measure impact and promote best practices.

Knowledge gaps and unanswered questions

Although research on the collaborative economy is for the most part broad, various conversations throughout the workshop highlighted current gaps that could translate into diverse types of biases. For example, while most studies focus on how “millennials” and youths perceive and engage with the collaborative economy, less attention has been paid to how these new forms of economic exchange can impact or engage older generations.

A similar gap was highlighted with regards to rural areas as more studies focus on “sharing cities” and urban neighbourhoods. Furthermore, a paucity of work seems to study the collaborative economy with regards to issues of inclusion, focusing on minorities - whether religious, ethnic or race, and gender.

Equally, practitioners still have many uncertainties and questions surrounding the collaborative economy. During the social impact session at Ouishare Fest, we asked people to identify the most pressing questions surrounding the collaborative economy’s impact. You can see the list here, and add your own thoughts. Their responses were incredibly diverse, but highlighted a few areas of particular interest:

  • Identifying and understanding different types of impact, e.g. how do we measure social impact?
  • Participation in the collaborative economy, e.g. how do different genders make use of collaborative platforms?
  • Social inclusion and equality, e.g. how does the collaborative economy affect social inequality or poverty levels?
  • Building relationships and trust, e.g. is the collaborative economy actually making people closer?
  • Transitions to sustainability, e.g. does the collaborative economy support sustainable ways of living?
  • Economy and employment, e.g. do activities in the collaborative economy lead to less production or more?
  • Applying our knowledge of impact, e.g. how do we connect impact with a future vision of what we want the collaborative economy to be?

Along with developing the field of research, a collaborative economy researcher community could play an integral role in a helping to address knowledge gaps and sharing information more widely.

Steps going forward

Although this workshop was a starting point, for this research community to flourish we need to find ways of working together and supporting one another. Like previous gatherings of collaborative economy researchers, this workshop demonstrated the existing interest and appetite to build and formalise a network, through a researcher database and ongoing mapping of research. Doing so can help to coordinate efforts to share data, funding proposals and even future workshops and events.

If you’re a researcher, please add yourself to the open database of collaborative economy researchers. There is also a Google mailing list dedicated to exchanging information about researching the collaborative economy in all its dimensions.


Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Former Senior Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Sophie was a Senior Researcher in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She is now Director of Sophie Reynolds Research & Consultancy.

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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 publi…

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Mara Balestrini

Mara Balestrini is a Human Computer Interaction expert and technology strategist. She has a track record of award winning technology interventions for community engagement in topics ra…

Elena Denaro

Elena Denaro is a PhD candidate in Sociology at London School of Economics. Her research focuses on conceptualisations of the the collaborative economy, with a particular focus on how …