Towards a Fairer Sharing Economy - RSA

Blog: Towards a fairer sharing economy

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  • Picture of Brhmie Balaram
    Brhmie Balaram
    Associate Director, Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing (family leave)
  • Economics and Finance
  • Technology

Today, the RSA is launching an exploration of the ‘sharing economy’ globally.

We define the sharing economy as a sector wherein users – both consumers and workers – create communal value through capitalising on their individual assets or resource, typically using online platforms to enable access to goods or services. There are of course other businesses, for profit and not, in the sharing economy that operate locally in a physical space rather than globally through online platforms; however, the boom in sharing activity relates to its scale, which we can attribute to the vast networks that technology allows users to tap into. The focus of our research is thus on online platforms in the sharing economy.

As technology seemingly evolves at an ever quicker pace, the RSA is interested in how we as a society collectively pull together to make sense of and support one another through ‘disruptive’ times.

We see a lot of potential in sharing economy models, especially as there is a looming imperative for us to adopt new approaches to finite resource. There will be over 8 billion people on this planet by 2025.

However, there needs to an honest and open dialogue about the trade-offs that the sharing economy presents for different interests and spheres, including consumers, workers, communities, the state, the economy and the environment. There are opportunities here, but also a number of challenges we all must confront.

We want to stress that these are not challenges that can be easily solved through relying on our legal and political institutions, both of which have failed to keep pace with the progress of the sector. Our politicians must also negotiate trade-offs (in their case, seemingly between supporting innovation and appropriately regulating the sector), which is why there has been no uniform approach to sharing economy platforms among governments in the UK, wider Europe and the US.

A more collaborative and consultative approach to governing and regulating sharing economy platforms is needed.

Users, both consumers and workers (who are ultimately one and the same), should be at the centre of this, but we can also draw on the expertise and lived experiences of investors, entrepreneurs, community organisers, policy makers, insurers, and designers. We’re beginning this process of engagement through our own platform, the RSA website, where we have identified trade-offs and included some provocations. However, we want this process to be more participatory, so we encourage you to get involved through contributing your own observations and questions in the comments section of our Stakeholders page.

Our next aim is to present a new frame for understanding the sharing economy so that we can more easily reimagine cooperative approaches to its governance and regulation. We will introduce this frame in early December.

Throughout this exploration, we will be guided by experts in the sharing economy. So far, this includes global ambassador for the sharing economy Benita Matofska of Compare and Share, as well as the initiator of ‘The People Who Share’ movement; renowned peer-to-peer theorist Michel Bauwens, Director of P2P Foundation; Neal Gorenflo, co-founder of Shareable; and Shelby Clark, CEO of Peers.

We will be exploring the sharing economy through the lens of three cities in particular; our case studies will be Amsterdam, London and San Francisco.

We are already promoting problem-solving from different corners through the RSA’s Student Design Awards, a 90-year old competition inspiring design for social change. The ‘Fair Share’ brief in this year’s competition prompts student designers to contribute their ideas for moving towards a fairer sharing economy. It’s just one way we hope to inspire a wider shift in thinking about who has the power to shape the sharing economy.






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  • The sharing economy is by definition person centred in design and whilst many platforms, facilities and resources are becoming available they have yet to adopt a truly person centred approach to the challenges of portable privacy friendly identity, trusted data exchange including the consent management and the frameworks needed for trust in such sharing ecosystems.  If we do not address the need for a systemic level trust framework for such activities we leave individuals and society open to further explosion of walled gardens where the data generated and relationships formed are trapped inside platforms whose principle motivator whilst outwardly appears to be for the good of everyone actually drives a commercial and monetisation agenda built on mining of data, behavioural insight and access to communities. There is a better way, sharing is inherent social in its design but it needs to remain open for all