The EU Policy Lab is currently running a foresight project on the “sharing economy” to explore its possible future developments in a comprehensive, open and imaginative way. Through a qualitative and participatory approach, we will generate insights for the development of a European agenda for the “sharing” or “collaborative” economy by  the European Commission. In the context of this project, we organised the first of two workshops in Brussels on 10th December (the second one planned for 25-26 February 2016) to bring a wide range of experts and stakeholders together. The main goals of this first workshop were to create a common understanding of the “sharing economy” and its prevalent transaction models, and to identify critical drivers of its future development of the EU “sharing economy” up to 2030.

ShEco discussion

Striving for a diversity of views, sectors and stakes on the topic, we had a total of 45 participants from:
• platforms: Uber, BlaBlaCar, Timebanking UK, Streetbank, Autolevi, Refugees Welcome, Madewithlove, What a space, Peerby, ShareNL, Sardex and Ethereum
• universities, research centres and institutes: Institut du developpement durable et des relations internationales (IDDRI), Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) of Autonomous University of Barcelona, University of Sussex, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development of Utrecht University, Agenzia Lama, Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP)
• national government: Danish Ministry of Business and Growth
• international bodies: International Labour Organization (ILO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC), European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound)
• European Parliament (Directorate General for Internal Policies of the Union and European Parliamentary Research Service)
European Commission: Secretariat General, DGs and agencies (DG GROW, EMPL, RTD, CNECT, JUST, MOVE, EAC), and JRC’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) and Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC)

One day, different sessions and visual tools

In one day we combined a series of sessions with diverse materials and visual tools, in order to stimulate conversations between participants and to ask for their valuable insights on the complex “sharing economy” phenomenon. We structured the day through:

• Open discussion: we proposed a broad categorisation of the “sharing economy” activities by types of transactions that are facilitated or enabled by platforms in terms of selling of goods, selling of services, lending money and facilitating investment, renting and lending of assets, barter of goods and services, co-operation, and giving.

• Design exercise of a “sharing economy” initiative: for each type of transaction, participants were asked to develop a concrete “sharing economy” platform and to identifiy the roles, motivations and challenges from the point of view of users, providers and platforms, as well as the implications (positive and negative) for the public interest.

• Future oriented brainstorming: participants described a set of relevant drivers that shape the evolution of sharing economy initiatives explored in the previous exercise, that is, which drivers would affect the long-term evolution of each initiative, how these drivers would affect the initiative and what possible impacts could be generated.

Key issues

The many insights and discussions coming out of the workshop will be fed into our on-going project and into a final report in the spring of 2016. Some of the key themes from the workshop were:

• challenge of going beyond the usual discussion of what is and what isn’t “sharing”, or further on agreeing or combining existing categorisations of the “sharing economy”
• mismatch between many disagreements/controversies around it and solid empirical evidence on its social economic and environmental impacts
• differences and similarities between “sharing economy” and traditional economy (e.g. how is a “sharing economy” platform different from a classic e-commerce platform?)
• changing paradigm of work and production, e.g. lifetime vs part-time work, flexibility vs interchanging, independent workers/self-employment vs employee, labour law vs commercial law
• growing importance of new forms of benefit/value/profit beyond financial, e.g. social value, benefit for communities, environmental impact, social capital, offline relations, altruism
• potential for “sharing economy” to complement public services and as source of public sector innovation, e.g. through creation of social and practical support networks
• concern over data protection, privacy and transparency

We wish to thank all participants for their time and valuable contribution! We captured the diversity of views in the workshop through a series of short interviews conducted by our team – you can check them below!


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