By April Rinne, Collaborative Lab
On the first evening of OuiShare Fest, more than 80 people from sharing economy companies, governments, NGOs, academia and other public and private sector organizations gathered for a Sharing Economy Policy Jam session. The purpose was to explore existing and potential policy and regulatory issues affecting the sharing economy, and to brainstorm ways to address them and to proactively engage policy-makers in constructive ways.
The session was multi-faceted and included a panel presentation, small-group breakout discussions, and opportunities to share collective feedback. These learnings then were carried forth in other sessions at OuiShare Fest and beyond.
We began with asking some key questions, such as:
- What does an ideal, holistic “enabling environment” for the sharing economy look like?
- What might we do as individuals, entrepreneurs and ambassadors for the sharing economy to creatively and responsibly move a sharing economy policy agenda forward?
- How can we help both companies and governments see policy “challenges” as opportunities in disguise?
- How do we frame policy discussion to engage other parties inclusively?
- What are the key messages to convey: innovation? Quality of life? Economic benefits?
To kick off, roundtable panelists Lauren Anderson (Collaborative Lab), Helen Goulden (NESTA), Molly Turner (Airbnb), Anne-Laure Brun Bruisson (ShareLex), Javi Creus (Ideas For Change) and Daniel Kaplan (FING) offered their insights in turn.
Lauren noted that the collaborative economy is reaching a “tipping point” where new discussions are required, and that various groups in many countries – from Brazil to Korea to the US – are beginning to try to do this.
Helen focused on how “really embryonic” most governments’ knowledge about the sharing economy is today, and highlighted the need to set realistic expectations and to establish a policy environment that supports innovative new ideas that also recalibrate the marketplace.
Molly underscored that the technology community is largely naïve when it comes to policy, and that innovation is not always a good thing; entrepreneurs too often forget about digital divides and possible negative consequences of innovation. It’s important to remember that policy issues are not the same everywhere – local needs and rules vary widely – and different verticals also have different issues. Importantly, collaborative economy entrepreneurs should see policy makers as partners, not enemies – a lot of policy-makers want to promote and disseminate these ideas.
Anne-Laure took us on a journey through some of the legal and philosophical issues surrounding the sharing economy. What do we expect from the law? What is the difference between legality and legitimacy? If we share the value, how do we also share the risk? Reforming the legal system to be appropriate for the sharing economy presents a huge opportunity. One way to help this would be to take policy-makers on sharing economy “discovery trips.”
Javi focused on the relationships between citizens, big business and governments which are necessarily being redefined in and by the sharing economy. In particular, he pointed out the numerous opportunities to increase transparency across all stakeholders and make governments more efficient. In the collaborative economy, one must think about not only the business of redistribution, but also contribution. Finally, Daniel explained the many ways in which sharing is present in the digital sphere, and how open data can both democratize access to innovation (positive result) and empower those who already have power (negative result). How do we best manage the disruptive effects of the digital economy and work with those who are “outside” the current system to ensure collective benefits?
Following the panel, we broke up into six small-group discussions focused on specific themes related to policy and the sharing economy. Each group was asked to answer specific questions and provide recommendations for action-oriented next steps.
The themes and key recommendations included:
1. Government Sharing: how can the government harness its potential to be a sharing platform?
- Focus on people: there is a lot of value in government human resources and employees’ skills that could be shared both internally and externally
- Modernize the way government works: do more sharing of office/desk space and have people from different regions or departments sit with one another
- Develop incentive structures for civil servants: make sharing-based platforms attractive and feasible for government employees to use and incorporate into their daily lives
- Mix top-down and bottom-up approaches: involve government employees in co-design processes, create spaces for monthly sharing economy discussions and pilots
2. Sharing for Resiliency Planning: how can government leverage the sharing economy to create more resilient communities?
- Do asset mapping studies that identify all the assets in a community that could be shared in a crisis or disaster scenario – this includes not only tangible assets like homes (space) and goods (cars, etc.) but also intangible assets like essential skills (e.g. doctors, electricians, etc.)
- Radically re-think what public-private partnerships could look like in a disaster setting (e.g. Airbnb and NYC government following Hurricane Sandy; Ushahidi in many countries)
- Have a plan for if/when communications infrastructure is unavailable in a disaster – if online platforms are not accessible, what is Plan B? What is plan for people without smartphone or internet access? Important to have online and offline planning.
- Re-think the role of neighborhood and community governance structures. What kind of prudential regulation is needed for these? How are those leaders engaged?
3. Model Policies: how do we develop best practices and model policies as guidance for policy-makers around the world?
- Shift from “make-take-waste” model to “make-use-reshape” approach: update rules for collaborative economy and cradle-to-cradle principles
- Develop “parallel” rules for access-based transactions: ownership-based rules are fine for ownership situations, but collaborative consumption and access-based situations need a similar set of rules that work
- Use exemptions: many activities should be exempted from laws in situations where the law was not designed or intended to cover sharing-based transactions
- Substance over form and sector diversity: look at substantive form of exchange and what is going on, then determine whether policy is appropriate. Do not use “one size fits all” assumptions. Different sectors will grow in different ways.
- Encourage local experimentation and iteration: allow for policies and rules to grow and adapt alongside collaborative consumption companies.
- Think about status of new type of worker: sharing economy “micro-entrepreneurs” are growing and should be included in policy-making process.
4. Engaging Policy Makers: how should collaborative economy stakeholders engage with policy-makers to help empower them to make better decisions for the community?
- Make it relevant! Demonstrate benefits of local economic investment and jobs creation: these are the two key priorities for local policy makers (and how they get re-elected)
- See policy-makers as smart partners who need information to make smart policies: treat policy-makers as peers who are trying to do a good job. Entrepreneurs’ role is to help them do this in ways that help the sharing economy and the communities in which they operate.
- Look for opportunities – and create space – for experimentation: help policy-makers understand that this is an evolving and iterative process in which experimentation is key (and can lead to positive results). Start with small-scale pilots.
- Don’t engage too early: test the business model and demonstrate the benefits (to users and the broader community) first.
- Don’t do it alone: entrepreneurs should engage policy-makers together when possible, in order to help paint an integrated picture.
- Partnering with the Public Sector: how can public-private partnerships be reimagined in the sharing economy?
- Partnerships between P2P marketplaces and public administration: these should be explored. Government could set an example for the rest of society. Crowdfunding could be a new way to fund certain public activities as well.
- Government can directly show its support for collaborative consumption in both public and private sectors: For example, the government could set an example by showing that public transportation is a preferred option for all socio-economic classes (not just the poor). Rio de Janeiro is a good example of this.
- Potential source of government revenues: if the government sees that it could benefit from sharing some of its assets (for a fee, e.g. government car fleet for car sharing), it may be more likely to participate and amend legislation to be more sharing-friendly.
- Start local: generally speaking, local governments have more interest in trying new models and experimenting than national governments.
- Think creatively: government could create an “open forum” in which sharing economy ideas and issues can be discussed by all. The government could also craft “acceptable use” policies for collaborative consumption activities that currently fall in a gray area.
5. Digital Platforms, the Sharing Economy and the Role of Policy: how can appropriate policies for digital technologies help promote sharing?
- Ensure net neutrality and equal access for everyone: important both for infrastructure integrity and user benefits.
- Support the commons: always remember that the internet is a common resource and must be carefully treated as such.
- Nurture P2P relationships and beware of concentration of marketplace players: P2P interaction is the backbone of the internet.
- Disruption is good: policy should be set in a way that allows positive disruption. Status quo is dangerous.
These themes were echoed throughout OuiShare Fest, and many participants reported having applied the lessons learned at the policy jam in other sessions.
It was agreed that policy is one of the slowest mechanisms to change, so a certain degree of patience is required – and collaborative economy entrepreneurs and users can do many things to help expedite that process. And for those people who see policy as a challenge for the collaborative economy, we were reminded that “a challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise!”
All photos by Stefano Borghi