6.0 Social Value in the Collaborative Economy
The work of the expert panel focused, rightly, on some of the key challenges, issues and opportunities posed by new market entrants into the commercial sector; chiefly in the field of accommodation and transport. However, there was also a strong focus on the relevance of the collaborative economy in supporting a more inclusive and socially responsible economy; and the relevance of collaborative platforms to communities and the third sector.
Last November, a survey of UK adults found that while just 9% of Brits used a 'sharing economy' platform for 'a good cause' in the last year, nearly a quarter (22%) would be interested in using one in in the future.  This shows that there is an appetite for digital, collaborative platforms that do more than just get you a cab ride or a bed for the night.
We also see a rise in the number of collaborative platforms focusing on the provision of care. This is a crucial issue in a time of an ageing population when families often live far away from ageing relatives and there has been a reduction in state provision of care – alongside a scarcity of quality in-home care workers. One pioneer in this space is TrustonTap – a platform that bypasses the traditional care agency model and connects self-employed care workers with people in need of care in Oxfordshire. Another example is ShareSomewhere, which applies the 'Airbnb' model to sharing underused community spaces. This initiative is hosted by Youth United, a network of the UK's largest and most established voluntary and volunteering youth organisations.
Commercial ride-sharing platforms that dominate the media tend to crowd out the very real opportunities for scaling community transport through more socially-oriented business models. LiftShare, for example, looks at access to transport from a very different angle and is now testing how a variety of community transport services in the Norwich area can collaborate; working together to fill empty car seats, serve more routes and, in doing so, help make more journeys available; reducing social isolation felt by vulnerable people.
These are just a few of the examples. There is no shortage of creative thinking around alternative ways to approach social challenges - and many more opportunities for innovation.
There is also no shortage of an ecosystem to support the development of an inclusive collaborative economy. Scotland has a rich and proud tradition of collaboration at community level although has not yet fully realised the potential of new technologies in support of this. The principles and potential of co-operation at the community level runs deep, and has been accelerated by provisions made in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and activity funded through the Scottish Government under its responsibilities and programmes for Community Empowerment, Regeneration, the Third Sector and Equalities. There are firmly rooted community sector networks; a publicly funded network of support for the voluntary sector and a well-developed eco-system of support for social enterprise and support available for employee ownership, collaborative business models and a growing number of community co-operatives. All of this is fueled by responsive forms of finance.
More recently, there has been an emerging interest in how best to support socially responsible and mission-led commercial business activity, although any movement is still nascent and needs further encouragement.
However, despite strong roots, inspiration from proven online models and the availability of investment and support, there has been relatively limited experimentation in the collaborative economy to create social value.
There does not yet appear to be an appetite for putting the idle capacity of vehicles, land, equipment, buildings etc. into collective use (where these are used infrequently, the costs of purchase or maintenance are high, and outright ownership isn't essential); or pooling or exchanging resources such as staff skills, time, money, and services (where these are relatively easy to share or distribute).
Scotland's Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-26 includes a specific action to bring forward new approaches to support peer to peer connections between social enterprises using collaborative technologies. This panel underscores the need for that action.
In consideration of the above, the recommendations are as follows:
- Incentivise providers of social investment to provide finance to mission-led businesses and social enterprises exploiting digital, collaborative platforms to deliver positive social impact.
- Set up an incubator and accelerator specifically for increasing the supply of investable, mission-led businesses into the collaborative economy.
- Take a thematic approach to this work, such as the provision of care, private sector accommodation letting agencies, temporary work agencies, etc.) with an explicit focus on supporting scale of successful ventures to reach more people.