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Sharing insights about how to support the collaborative economy with a social purpose

The collaborative economy mostly gets attention for its disruptive impact its had on established and mostly also highly regulated markets such as hotels, taxi services and the freelancers job markets. This end of the spectrum of the collaborative economy holds opportunities and challenges, which are seen and enabled very differently across European member states.  At the same time, a slower revolution has been brewing, based on the same digital technologies: the collaborative economy with a social mission. From crowd-funding, to the way resources are shared and dealt with at neighbourhood and city level, from elderly care to emerging solutions to reduce foodwaste, the collaborative economy is increasingly also proving to be a catalyst for social and environmental change.

Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, organized a high-powered 1-day conference in London on the 1. November 2016, called Sharelab. ShareLab brought together over 200 policymakers, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers to better understand how public services, civil society and the private sector can engage with, develop and harness collaborative platforms for social good.

Whilst we are defining and identifying what the existing network(s) in the collaborative economy for social good looks like and to identify unusual suspects, it’s interesting to note what kind of network actors attended this conference:

  • Foundations
  • City and council representatives
  • Impact hubs & co-working spaces
  • Investors & funders
  • Policy makers

Particularly striking were two aspects about the attendees – firstly the interest of cities and councils but the number of cities with clear strategies and goals in relation to the sharing economy for their social and environmental goals, as well as secondly the breadth of attendees generally, supporting the theory that collaborative business models will have potentially revolutionary impact across a huge number of social sectors and social purposes.

Another interesting perspective is to look at what themes were covered: We looked at areas ranging from finance to healthcare, from education and skills to knowledge and the commons, and from future technology to the role of existing mainstream collaborative platforms.

Here are a few key ideas of relevance to the collaborative economy that were discussed on the panels and in between sessions:

  • Public sector experimentation (and therefore supportive procurement rules or pre-procurement mechanisms) are key to support, grow and stimulate the emerging uses of collaborative business models for social good. Much stronger linkages between emerging solutions and public actors across all levels of government and across all relevant sectors are needed.
  • The potential of digital – particularly the rise of IoT and 5G as well as other key emerging technologies could be gamechanger for collaborative business models. A particular call was made to think through standards particularly for data management and privacy protection for collaborative solutions with social purposes at city level.
  • The rise of platform co-operatism alongside start-ups with social purposes and the open commons to drive the collaborative economy with a social purpose. This in particular makes it very clear how pluralistic the collaborative economy with a social purpose is and what different types of actors and ecosystems are currently working on very different solutions.

One corridor chat particularly struck a cord: A lot of emphasis in the social innovation community is being put on funding and financing along with enabling policies, whilst the key to enabling the collaborative economy with a social purpose may be to enable access to markets effectively and with a view to test models that then may grow.

And finally, even if access to market were to be enabled, sharing according to a number of speakers is a rather middle class phenomenon. “The poor value ownership”. Hence it will take a bigger revolution than merely enabling the right kind of business model, it will actually require a cultural revolution.

To read more about the collective economy in Europe, see featured blogs here

Gwendolyn Carpenter, DTI