In the context of our foresight project on the “sharing economy” we carried out a second workshop on 25-26 February. Building on the relevant drivers of change identified in the 1st workshop in December 2015, a set of four future scenarios was developed to be further enriched and used as a basis for discussion. About 40 participants from “sharing economy” platforms, academia, international organisations, trade unions, agency work industry, think tanks, and Commission Services shared their views and ideas about future platform-mediated labour markets, a sector of the ‘sharing economy’ with potentially strong implications for the future of work, and the focus of this workshop.

Future scenarios

To know who is in the room participants were asked to prepare a punchy newspaper headline capturing the gist of how the “sharing economy” could look like in 15 years’ time. These were put forward while briefly presenting themselves. Views ranged from rather critical (e.g. ‘Share your job – what will you earn your money with today?’) to positive and optimistic (e.g. ’20 year celebration – The clever policy initiatives that made the sharing economy boom’ ‘Sharing economy breakthrough – Time is the new currency’).

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The views and expectations of the participants regarding possible future developments of the sharing economy were then challenged with a set of four future scenarios, shaped by the JRC using the drivers of change identified in the first

workshop 2 months earlier. The four different worlds developed for 2030, reflecting very different pathways towards 2030, provide the future economic and governance frameworks for discussing the possible implications of the platform-mediated labour market in each of them:

Scenario 1: local community-based governance in an EU context with society favouring a cooperative, open-source approach
Scenario 2: strong EU governance provides the framework for a cohesive, welfare-minded society to move towards a circular economy
Scenario 3: an increasingly deregulated EU in a globalised world emphasises entrepreneurship while limiting public expenditure in an individualistic society
Scenario 4: weak EU and national governance with eroded public services gives room to businesses and interest groups to shape the economy and policies

A platform-mediated labour market

After having played through each scenario in terms of “What would I be doing in this scenario in 2030?” in world café mode, participants were introduced to the platform-mediated labour market, our focus for the rest of the workshop.
In scenario groups, participants were invited to develop the working life of four different personas in their specific scenario: Daniel, 23 years, untrained school leaver; Anika, 25 years, university diploma in IT; Ahmed, 43 years, recently lost his job as an administrator; and Anna, 63 years, a primary school teacher on early retirement. How do they make a living, manage their working life and social and economic risks? What are the working conditions and what qualities and skills do they need to thrive? And what does all of this mean for work in the scenarios – what are the opportunities and challenges platform workers meet?

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Below some examples of the results:

Anika in Scenario 2: She gets good quality jobs via platforms. This gives her flexibility and she can test different areas of application of her skills, and gain more experience. However, she might be getting a bit worried about settling down and having a family: will she get a mortgage to buy a house with this type of work? Who would pay her maternity leave?
Ahmed in Scenario 1: Having recently lost his job, he follows now his preferences for walking and social interaction and works on-demand as a “sensor” using his natural senses and technology to record his environment while e.g. walking his kids to school. He tops that up with P2P delivery services, guiding tourists and storytelling for kids. His income usually paid in cash, often in a local currency is just about enough to get by, depending also in his physical fitness. He enjoys his life and is economically covered by peer insurance schemes and the community but in the longer term would like to have a stable job again.
Daniel in Scenario 3: In addition to his ‘traditional’ part-time Amazon warehouse job he makes additional income working on-demand for a delivery platform during evenings and nights. While his employee status provides a certain security, he put forward a wrong ID to avoid paying taxes for his platform work. He has currently no ambitions to advance his career, but also is not offered any possibilities to do so.
Anna in Scenario 4: She is living a very modest life making a living out of mentoring / coaching children of ambitious parents. It is difficult to get by for her in this scenario. She is forced to work nearly full time as her pension is minimal, she is vulnerable and the environment is very competitive, given the robotic learning facilities that support workers’ children. She does not know how she will provide for herself in the next 30 -40 years given the low social security and basic healthcare but she is saving while she can. Trust mechanisms have broken down in society and platforms are amplifying a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of working conditions.

 

Key issues

The key points coming out of the different sessions and emphasised in the final discussion were the following:
• Control and portability of personal data & reputation across platforms – Future service providers in most of the scenarios will use multiple platforms simultaneously and will be faced with the challenge to build-up and maintain many separated profiles.
• Fair conditions for workers in platform-mediated labour markets – In all scenarios, platform-mediated work is expected to increase in the future with possible risks related to e.g. reduced social security, limited income security, lack of career development opportunities and employer-sponsored training.
• Better preparation to cope with platform-mediated work – Increasing reliance on work mediated by digital platforms requires a set of entrepreneurial and informal skills and the need to maintain one’s competiveness.
• A diverse “sharing economy” for social innovation – The facilitation of community building and bottom-up involvement of citizens by sharing economy initiatives as present in some of the scenarios could contribute to social innovation.
• Future privacy needs – In the future, with more activities envisioned to be carried out via online platforms, more information on individual private and professional activities will become public, and professional and private life will increasingly blur.

An ongoing project

The project will continue and the next aspects of the “sharing economy” to be investigated will be discussed with the relevant services in the European Commission. Many thanks again to all participants for their time and constructive contributions!

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