Leveraging digital histories of use for resource-sharing organizations: The case of the Vancouver Tool Library
Authors: Anton Fedosov & Marc Langheinrich, Università della Svizzera italiana
Country: Case based in Canada, contributed from Switzerland
Case study type: Local initiatives
Keywords: Tool Sharing, Cooperative, Interaction Design
The Vancouver Tool Library (VTL) is a non-profit tool sharing cooperative. The VTL was established in 2011 in Vancouver (BC), Canada. It is a collective community resource that is run primarily by volunteers (around two dozen) and is coordinated by the board of directors (seven individuals elected by and among members). The VTL is motivated by “a vision of our community empowered by the tools and skills needed to transform their homes and neighbourhoods into vibrant spaces that reflect a commitment to sustainability”.
The VTL is a Community Service Co-operative, which operates under non-profit practices. In order to become a member, one may purchase the one-time $20 share and pay the annual maintenance fee ($45). In addition to the individual membership program, the VTL offers group membership for non-profits, local cooperatives and small businesses. The VTL accepts donations in the form of financial support and/or tools from private supporters and organizations. Ultimately, to support day-to-day operations, the VTL implements daily rental fees for some categories of tools.
We consider the VTL an interesting example of the collaborative economy not only for their actions (e.g., affordable access to tools, DIY learning opportunities) to support all communities “including women, non-binary people, LGBTQ2S, black people, indigenous people, people of colour, low income people, people with disabilities and intersections of the above”, but also to their commitment to environmental sustainability and waste reduction.
To-date, the VTL cooperative has over 2000 tools in their possession and serves over 2000 members. The tools vary from simple hand tools for home and garden maintenance (e.g., jack plane, pipe clamps) to high-end power tools (e.g., table saws, air compressors). More unusual equipment, such as precision sewing machines and a vintage cider press, are also available. The VTL uses MyTurn (www.myturn.com), an online inventory system. It provides essential features of tool tracking and rental, as well supporting the sale of excess equipment, and is designed specifically to “easily tap into emerging Collaborative and Circular Economies”.
While MyTurn provided comprehensive statistics about the registered rental transactions (e.g., who rented the tool, when the tool was checked out and returned, and any associated fees incurred from the rental), details of the borrowers’ experiences were largely unknown to different library stakeholders. In order to help to capture the breadth of member’s tool-use experiences, and to unveil the creative potential of members, we created Roaming Objects, a mobile application that aims to support the capture, retrieval, and sharing of digital experiences with tools that “roam” from one borrower to another. We deployed the application with 16 members of the VTL. Our goal was to use the Roaming Objects application as a probe to investigate people’s attitudes toward, and perceptions of, digital records of shared tools, to support the capture and review of digital experiences with shared resources, and to explore how these experiences might shape their practices on individual and social levels. Our research methodology draws on related approaches, including technology probes and research through design.
We conducted the study in the winter of 2016 for two months. During this period, we twice observed participants for several hours at the VTL’s street level location, and used the shadowing method to follow a volunteer at the checkout desk. During these field observations, we also took note of activities occurring in the VTL (e.g., tool maintenance and organization). These observations illustrated well the lack of visibility of members’ work outside of the tool library, and the lack of accountability for the tools themselves. We took extensive notes during multiple informal, open-ended conversations with key stakeholders (i.e., volunteers and members of staff) and took accompanying documentary photographs. We also recruited 16 members of the VTL to install and to use the Roaming Objects app to annotate and share the ongoing work that they did with the borrowed tools. At the end of the two-month period, we invited them for follow-up interviews to discuss and reflect on their experiences with the app.
Our data analysis drew on various sources from our fieldwork: participant observations, participants’ reports on the rental experiences through the Roaming Objects app, and semi- structured interviews. Through encoding and sharing digital histories of tool-use, our Roaming Objects system elicited a range of self-reflections across members of the tool- sharing cooperative – from contemplations on personal relations and uses of tools, to mindful attention to the care and sharing of tools and projects.
Our findings show that the Roaming Objects system provoked members’ personal reflections about shared tools in diverse ways: from spending time learning the tool through exercising personal creativity, to representing themselves through digital capturing, sharing, and archiving experiences. We found that these shared digital “histories of use” stimulated speculations about the shared tools themselves and, over time, their value at a broader community-level. Moreover, our participants suggested several uses of the system beyond tool sharing organizations: rental-driven services such as sport equipment shops (e.g., for outdoor gear rentals) and vehicle sharing platforms (e.g., car or bike sharing) could further benefit from the histories of use that accompany the experience with the shared resource.
Our full study report (see below) makes two contributions. First, we describe the design of the Roaming Objects system and list the findings of our eight-week deployment study in the Vancouver Tool Library. Second, we propose design opportunities that facilitate sharing both physical objects and digital information about their use, thus offering insights into how technology could better support resource sharing co-ops and collectives.
For full details, see:
Anton Fedosov, William Odom, Marc Langheinrich, and Ron Wakkary. 2018. Roaming Objects: Encoding Digital Histories of Use into Shared Objects and Tools. In Proceedings of the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1141-1153. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3196709.3196722
Solidarity powered via social media: Migrant solidarity grassroots groups in Hungary
Author: Anikó Bernát, TÁRKI Social Research Institute
Case study type: Local initiative
Keywords: migration, solidarity, grassroots, civil activity, social media, Facebook
Migrant solidarity grassroots groups emerged from scratch in some major Hungarian cities during the summer of 2015 as a response to the migration and refugee crises in a hostile political and public context. Hundreds and thousands of refugees and migrants were crossing and temporarily staying in Hungary at that time (as one section of the Western-Balkan migration route towards their target countries, Germany and Sweden) without sufficient provisions and aid reflecting to their immediate needs. State and municipality organizations as well as major NGOs and charities were not responding sufficiently to the unmet needs of migrants and refugees which became highly visible when hundreds of them started to “live” on central public spaces in downtown Budapest, mostly around major railway stations. Local civilian individuals with no organizational ties started to provide aid to migrants and refugees, mainly only due to express solidarity and provide immediate relief. Soon these independent actors contacted on Facebook and various types of Facebook groups started to connect individuals who wanted to help in some way.
Social media platforms, predominantly Facebook in Hungary used at an intensity and with an effectiveness never witnessed before in Hungary during humanitarian activities, both by asylum seekers and helpers, played an eminent role during the crisis, and this was one of the most relevant lessons that Hungarian civil society learnt. For the volunteers Facebook was the core platform for establishing their groups, and it had a central role in sharing information, developing contacts and groups, organizing activities, and collecting and distributing donations during the entire crisis. Moreover, Facebook, through the groups’ official pages, represented a way of communicating with a larger audience. For refugees and asylum seekers Facebook, Twitter and a number of new and old user-driven mobile phone applications were extremely helpful in their course of flight: call and chat software programs and other information applications directly targeted migrants, while electronic maps and other practical applications created radically different opportunities compared to those available during previous waves of migration. All in all: without Facebook, the other social media platforms, and mobile applications the whole story and its intensity would have been completely different.
As for social media activity of the volunteers, the number of members of the Facebook groups of grassroots organizations markedly increased in June and July 2015. Until the reduction in the significant presence of migrants in Hungary, the larger groups, Segítsünk Együtt a Menekülteknek – Let’s Help the Refugees Together (SEM), and Migration Aid (MA), based their operations in Budapest and had an online membership of 10,000 in closed Facebook groups that were established to help active members organize operational work. The open page of MA, which initiative was the easiest to join, and was designed to provide a floor for discussing pro-migrant opinions had amassed 35,000 ‘likes’ within a few months. The closed operative groups tied to specific aid locations usually had a few thousand members: the closed groups of Migration Aid dedicated to the three largest Budapest railway stations were MA Keleti (2,500 members), MA Nyugati (2,900 members) and MA Déli (1,200 members). One of the main MA bases outside Budapest was MA Debrecen (600 members). The largest grassroots group outside the capital, MigSzol Szeged, was founded at the end of June 2015 as the first such grassroots groups on Facebook during the Hungarian phase of refugee crisis in the summer of 2015 and had around 2,500 members. Membership of the individual groups rose remarkably fast until October 2016 (when the borders of Hungary have been ceased and the migration flow decreased significantly), despite the fact that there were overlaps between the groups.
The Hungarian migrant solidarity grassroots groups have been fast shrunken after the migration crisis bypassed Hungary and started to decrease or complete the migrant focused activity or shifted their attention towards local vulnerable groups, but except for Migration Aid, most groups finished or minimalized any other kinds of activity due to several reasons.
Key themes of this research case study include solidarity, grassroots groups, migration, migrants and refugees, social media, Facebook, and mobile applications practical for migrants and refugees. The research was undertaken from September 2015 to January 2018 in Hungary (in Budapest, Szeged, & Debrecen). Methods included interviews with leaders of grassroots groups, focus groups with volunteers, and a general population survey on attitudes.
In response to the research question – how new forms of solidarity and Hungarian solidarity grassroots groups emerged from scratch very rapidly and operated effectively by using social media (mainly Facebook) and various practical applications – the key finding is that social media platforms, predominantly Facebook, made the formulation and operation of volunteer grassroots groups with no organizational history of independent individuals extraordinary fast, effective and influential, at a level that has never experienced in a humanitarian crisis in Hungary before. The inevitable role of social media, especially Facebook, was among the most important tools in the evolution of the movement as the grassroots groups popped up on Facebook, as well as organized and promoted their daily activities using this site.
For full details, see:
Bernát, A. (2016): Hosts in Hostility: The new forms of solidarity and the role of volunteer and civilian organizations in the migration crisis in Hungary. In: Simonovits, B., Bernát, A. (ed).: The Social Aspects of the 2015 Migration Crisis in Hungary, TARKI Social Research Institute, Budapest. 2016, pp 72-100, http://old.tarki.hu/hu/news/2016/kitekint/20160330_refugees.pdf
Bernát A., Kertész, A., Tóth, F. M. (2016): Solidarity reloaded: Volunteer and civilian organizations during the migration crisis in Hungary, Review of Sociology of the Hungarian Sociological Association, vol. 26, (2016) 4. http://www.szociologia.hu/dynamic/29_52_veg.pdf
Community-supported agriculture in Croatia – Grupe solidarne razmjene (GSR) and Solidarne ekološke grupe (SET)
Author: Olga Orlić, Institute for Anthropological Research
Case study type: Local initiatives
Keywords: community-supported agriculture, solidarity economy, grassroots’ initiative, alternative food network
The community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement has been developed variously (and often simultaneously) in different parts of the world. It appeared under the name of Teikei (meaning collaboration, cooperation) in 1971 in Japan and in 1978 under the name of Jardins de Cocagne in Switzerland. After that the initiative “moved” to USA where the initiative got the most accurate naming: Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). Different naming the same initiative (that is not necessarily limited to food exclusively) is present all over the world: Agriculture Soutenue par la Communauté (ASC) in the Quebec region of Canada, Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (AMAP) in France, GAS (Gruppo d’Acquisto Solidale) in Italy and Groupe d’Achat Solidaire in Belgium. Also, although they are all based on a similar principle, each case has its own special features.
The initiative was transferred to Croatia in 2009, with the help of enthusiastic “gasisti” (members of the GAS from Italy), who organized a visit of enthusiasts from Croatia, who then transferred the initiative into Croatia. In Croatia the initiative became familiar under the name of Groups of Solidary Exchange (Grupe solidarne razmjene (GSR)) and developed in two rather different directions. One was in Istria where the development of the community-supported agriculture was linked with the NGO Istrian Ecological Product (IEP). This meant that all the farmers included in the CSA in Istria had to be members of IEP, which meant that they had to have a certificate of ecological production. This was not the case in other parts of Croatia, where CSA were organized. In these cases the emphasis was put on a trust between farmers and consumers and mistrust into the process of certification (as a possibly corruptive one). Therefore, in these cases groups are strongly opposed to the certification and any kind of a state control.
However, the Istrian case showed it was possible to provide internal control of producers, mainly because of ecological farmers, that in the Istrian cases were also members of the group and were willing to perform a control (quantity of products must correspond to the land a farmer has in possession) in order to protect their own, certified, status. The result is exposing the fraud, if and when it appears. They consider it to be important feature of their organizing principle and therefore decided to change their name into Solidarity ecological groups (SET) in order to differentiate from Groups of solidary exchange (GSR). They continued with their regular activities (delivering food to group members on a weekly basis, without a middleman), and they have become strong enough to lobby at the city administration to allow them to organize a farmers' market 2 hours per week (for example in Pula, on Tuesdays, from 16-18, in Šijana) where they sell their products, though for non-members at higher prices. This markets spread into other cities in Istria. In this way, the producers are able to sell more of their products, and at the same time they try to attract people to become SET members, that would allow them to buy at lower prices. The city administration provides incentives for farmers who want to turn to the ecological production (under 3-years monitoring period). In these cases, SET group members would also perform internal monitoring, buying simultaneously from these farmers their products, but not allowing them to sell at farmers' markets.
The group does not have any specific digital platform, they operate online, use social network as well (such as Facebook). The existence of the regular farmers' market on the weekly basis (in Istria) enables individuals familiar with the time schedule of the market to appear and buy product without previous orders (and the farmers always bring some extra quantities!)
The collaborative aspect of this case study has been stressed since beginnings of the initiative (in Japan 1971, the name of the movement is teikei (meaning collaboration). It is about collaboration between producers and consumers in a production/consumption circle. In conventional consumption circle very often both producers and consumers are tricked. Producers get the minimal earnings, while the middleman gets the most. Farmers are then also interested in maximizing the profit, without thinking about the consequences. The conventional agriculture does not take care about the environment and is recognized as one of the major polluters. Also, consumers do not know how the food is produced and at the same time they want to eat healthy. The market for ecological products has been growing in past years, but prices are also higher. In this practice collaboration is exercised by mutual commitment of both sides (farmers are committed to producing ecological food without frauds, while consumers are committed to be regular buyers of this products, regardless of the seasonality of the products). In return for ensured market, the farmer has more time to devote to farming processes, and can offer lower prices. In some cases consumer pre-finance the farmer for planting or buying some special equipment, (therefore he does not have to borrow money). In the case of SET, if a consumer loses his/her job, s/he can work at the farm and in that way “earn” the food. Transparency from both sides (regardless of problems) leads to mutual trust and enhances solidarity.
Initiative is sustained by enthusiasm and volunteering efforts of many individuals. However, the business model proved to be successful, since the farmers were able to live of their work. The initiative (possible due to a change of the Public Procurement Law in Croatia in 2017 made possible a future more intensive collaboration between farmers (co-operatives) and a competitiveness on more regional or national level). This issue has to be followed in the future, to see what will be the results of the change.
CSA has a positive impact on environment, especially because of farmers that are now much more interested in ecological farming. It has a positive impact on economy as well, enabling farmers to live from their work. The impacts of eating ecologically produced food are also assumable, though this requires a longitudinal research to be carried out.
Key aspect of this research is directed on the collaborative i.e. solidarity aspect of the activity – i.e. the transformative power such grassroots initiatives have, not only on individual’s, but on society in general. Key themes include solidarity, collaboration, community-supported agriculture, ecological farming, group dynamics (problems within the group and the methods of resolving it), economic and environmental impact, food culture, and food sovereignty.
The main research questions are:
- What is the motivation of actors of solidary/collaborative economy?
- What are the problems that CSA actors face?
- How the groups did overcame the problems. Why some groups have failed, while others have not? What makes one group more successful than other?
- What is necessary to make solidarity/collaborative economy more widespread? (if actors consider it is worth spreading).
- What is the immediate impact actors can feel due to participation in one such a movement?
- Examining the role of ecologically and locally produced food in everyday life of CSA actors.
The research that has been undertaken since 2013 until today, mostly in Zagreb (including surroundings) and Istria (Pula, Rovinj, Novigrad). The methods used were mainly classical anthropological qualitative methods such as ethnographic observation, participant-observation, semi-structured interviews with various actors (farmers, consumers, organizers (admins), non-ecological farmers (in order to see what would be their incentive to turn to ecological farming) and some state officials.
I have been following the group dynamics from 2013 until now, with different intensity. Results show how the same initiative develops differently in different contexts and how individuals and their worldviews influence the development. Group dynamics show how often the success or failure depend on several “stronger” individuals and how when their life circumstances change, the initiative can take totally different direction. The PR done for the initiative is extremely important because it makes the authorities keener to finance and support such grassroots initiatives.
This local initiative makes a significant contribution to efforts on reversing certain environmental trends, in boosting solidarity economy and in the struggle for food sovereignty.
For full details, see:
Orlić, Olga. 2018. “Could this be the end of the world as we know it?” Community-Supported Agriculture in Croatia and the Building of Ecotopia. Utopian Encounters: Anthropologies of Empirical Utopias / Maskens, Maite ; Blanes, Ruy (eds.). Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien: Peter Lang, 123-147.
Orlić, Olga; Bokan, Nataša. 2017. Prakse održivosti: tko radi ono o čemu mi maštamo?. Koga (p)održava održivi razvoj? Prinosi promišljanju održivosti ruralnih područja u Hrvatskoj. Bušljeta Tonković, Anita; Holjevac, Željko; Brlić, Ivan; Šimunić, Nikola (eds.). Gospić: Institut društvenih znanosti Ivo Pilar, Područni centar Gospić, 109-129.
Orlić, Olga.2015. Grupe solidarne razmjene kao pokret za postizanje prehrambenog suvereniteta. Vrtovi našega grada: Studije i zapisi o praksama urbanog vrtlarenja. Rubić, Tihana; Gulin Zrnić, Valentina (eds.).Zagreb: Institut za etnologiju i folkloristiku, Hrvatsko etnološko društvo, Parkticipacija, 231-240.
Orlić, Olga. 2014. Grupe solidarne razmjene - počeci ekonomije solidarnosti u Hrvatskoj. Etnološka tribina, 44(37), 72-88. Doi:10.15378/1848-9540.2014.37.02 https://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=193025
Co-Creating the workplace: Participatory efforts to enable individual work at the Hoffice
The self-organizing network Hoffice – a merger between the words home and office – brings together people who wish to co-create temporary workplaces. The Hoffice network was founded in Stockholm, Sweden, in the beginning of 2014, with the main intention to facilitate the collective use of private homes as shared offices. The Hoffice concept entails a co-working methodology, and a set of practices inherent in opening up one’s home as a temporary, shared workplace, with the help of existing social media platforms, particularly Facebook. Hoffice is an interesting example of the collaborative economy because it is a local initiative that relies on commonly available tools (such as Facebook) and volunteer efforts of its members who come together in a flexible manner to address a shared need for a workplace and a work community. Hoffice is also interesting in that it aspires to co-create an alternative social model that encourages trust, self-actualization, and openness.
Hoffice is connected to the broad visions of the sharing economy. These visions have been heavily critiqued over the past years, but if we return to the early, community-oriented versions of what the sharing economy could encompass, then Hoffice clearly connects to narratives about sharing. With its emphasis on opening up private homes for collective use, Hoffice encourages co-creation of sociable events that seek to make use of underutilized resources while, perhaps more importantly, fostering values such as care.
The Hoffice network relies on its members’ joint efforts to improve their own and each other’s work lives, and participation is entirely voluntarily. The co-working methodology – providing a rhythm of silent work sessions and social breaks – along with the practices, norms, and values that underlie the facilitation of Hoffice events characterize the workplaces that Hoffice participants co-create. Hoffice is an attempt to recreate a supportive social setting to make isolated professional lives more bearable, and even enjoyable. It can serve both as an alternative and a complement to “traditional” workplaces and office arrangements, as well as to the home offices of remote workers.
For this study, we set out to create a grounded understanding of how the local Hoffice community functions and how Hoffice workdays are arranged and attended in practice: How do people agree and coordinate where, when, and with whom co- working takes place? What is the role of the Hoffice work structure and how do attendees experience its proposed rhythm of silent work sessions and social breaks? Moreover, we wanted to understand why people are attracted to the community, what makes participation worthwhile and, equally importantly, what might hinder getting involved, or lead to lessening one’s involvement. To address these questions, we conducted fieldwork in the Hoffice community in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 2016 to October 2017. We collected data through interviews, participant observation, and workshops.
Through our study, we have gained an understanding of the reasons for organizing Hoffice events and attending them, as well as of how the resulting practices can be interpreted as a sustainable alternative to contemporary forms of flexible work. Enacting and maintaining sustainable workstyles is central to Hoffice members. Attending Hoffice events creates both the physical space and the time to work on activities that are meaningful to the individual participants. Sharing a home with collocated Hoffice attendees enables individuals to accomplish their (work) goals with the support of others, rather than on their own. Some attendees regarded participation as paramount to self-actualization and to being able to work on unpaid yet deeply meaningful tasks. The participatory practices inherent in Hoffice are an example of an alternative social model – a departure from the contemporary status quo of knowledge work. The idea of bringing about an alternative has its roots in how Hoffice was initially conceived and instantiated by two people who were struggling to carry out their independent work in the isolation of their homes. Our study highlights how participants valued practices that help establish boundaries around work and recreate the sociality of work. Participating in Hoffice events provides a setting and the means to pursue these goals, thus contributing to the attendees’ sense of agency, empowerment, and well-being.
Hoffice is an interesting example of the collaborative economy in part because of the non- monetary arrangements of co-using domestic spaces that it encourages. Perhaps more interestingly, though, shifting the focus from sharing in terms of co-using material resources like homes to sharing as an act of caring and being together broadens our analytic possibilities. This point connects to the political nature of Hoffice as an alternative model of co- working. Hoffice is political in that it is concerned with the production of alternative workplaces that foreground togetherness and support, rather than solely profit or individual productivity. It embodies the effort to question a particular social situation (the experience of self-employment), the existing order of things (how individual, freelance work is carried out and accomplished), and the reconfiguration of social relations and boundaries (encountering others through the temporary sharing of a domestic space).
The impact of Hoffice is primarily social – despite its informal nature, Hoffice already making change for its members as a grassroots approach to creating alternative ways of organizing nomadic work and navigating non-traditional employment arrangements. Hoffice can provide a context for more sustainable work styles, particularly with respect to the challenges emerging from flexible work arrangements (e.g. self-managing work load and schedule, the lack of a social context, flexibility in hours and income, etc.). It can be thought of as a model for a workplace that values self-care and care for others, building on the politics of care, instead of – or as a complement to – connectivity, profit, and productivity.
For full details, see: Rossitto, C. & Lampinen, A. Co-Creating the Workplace: Participatory Efforts to Enable Individual Work at the Hoffice. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (2018). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-018-9319-z
Examining the ethics of the sharing economy: A multi-level perspective on Airbnb in London and Barcelona
Country: United Kingdom
Case study type: Airbnb and alternatives
Keywords: Airbnb, collaborative economy, digital disruption, sharing economy, policy
The principles of the sharing economy, initially linked with ethical consumption (sustainability), are the base for new Internet business models. Yet our understanding of behavioural patterns that match the ethical and individualistic motivations when participating in this type of exchange, as well as the wider implication of the sharing economy in society, remain an understudied field. In particular, this project examines the ethics of the sharing economy, focusing on Airbnb as a case study, in two major European touristic cities: London and Barcelona.
By using qualitative (focus groups and interviews) methods, this research project explores the impact of Airbnb at a macro-level (social, economic, legal and ethical) and at a micro-level (guest, hosts and non-users). It also analyses to what extent Airbnb is considered as part of ethical consumption within the wider sharing economy. This study will inform local and EU policy makers and beyond.
Within sharing economies there can be monetary exchange (e.g., Airbnb, BlaBlaCar), or the exchange can be altruistic (e.g., Timebanking, CouchSurfing). John (2013) differentiates between sharing economies of production (e.g., Wikipedia, Linux) and sharing economies of consumption
(e.g., BlaBlaCar, CouchSurfing, Airbnb), which have also been defined in terms of “collaborative consumption” (CC) (Germann Molz, 2014; Hamari et al., 2016). Following Botsman and Rogers (2010), Germann Molz(ibid.) explains that CC is based on access to goods and experiences rather than ownership and emphases the role of new media to facilitate the exchange of material goods. Likewise, Hamari et al. (2016, p. 2047) argue that CC is “a peer-to-peer-based activity of obtaining, giving, or sharing access to goods and services, coordinated through community- based online services” where access over ownership is the most common type of exchange and participants can be consumers, providers, or both. Green consumption and other sustainable behaviours, according to Hamari et al. (2016), are important drivers in the context of CC. In their study they found that perceived sustainability is an important factor in the formation of positive attitudes towards CC, but economic benefits are a stronger motivator for intentions to participate in the sharing economy. They point to future research directions in relation to whether consumers indeed show different behaviour patterns that match the ethical (sustainability) versus individualistic (economic benefits) motivations when participating in the
One argument that sharing economy companies often use to promote their sustainable ethos relates to the empowerment of individuals to generate revenue with existing assets. For
example, Airbnb (2017) states in its website: “Airbnb is unique in that we are actively democratizing capitalism– that is to say we’re creating opportunities, growing markets, and
empowering people to generate income utilizing an asset they already have, their home”. On the other hand, Pasquale (2016) posits that the neoliberal narrative of platform competition lionizes currently dominant sharing economy firms, such as Uber and Airbnb, which takes them far away from the initial sustainable ethos of the sharing economy. One of the main controversies is the framing of platforms where monetary transactions take place as ‘sharing’ economy (COST, 2017a).
The rise of the sharing economy in Europe has experienced an overwhelmed grown from €10 billion in 2013 (EU Environment, 2013) to €28 billion in 2015 (European Commission, 2016a). In order to analyse the sharing economy ethos, the European Commission has set a European
agenda for collaborative economy. In 2015, five key sectors facilitate the revenues of the sharing economy in Europe (short-term letting, passenger transport, household services, professional and technical services, collaborative finance). Within this context, peer-to-peer accommodation gained in 2015 the 2nd place in popularity (PwC, 2016). Of course, consumer interest is indeed strong, mainly based on the relationship between platforms and respondents (European
Commission, 2016b). Some of the concerns related to the sharing economy revolve around the lack of regulations and quality standards (COST, 2017a). Regulatory issues have been a concern for both the European Union and the cities where Airbnb operates. Incidents reported for hosts
and users lead companies and governments to regulation (Codagnone and Martens, 2016). As a matter of fact, we could mention the recent controversy between Airbnb and Barcelona’s city council that concludes with the closure of illegal accommodations (Rodero, 2017) or the 90-day
annual limit for London hosts (Booth and Newling, 2016).
The purpose of this research is to explore the impact of Airbnb at a macro level (social, economic, legal and ethical) and at a micro-level (guest, hosts and non-users) in London and Barcelona, and to examine whether the Airbnb model can be considered ethical consumption within the wider conceptualisation of the sharing economy. The study will use both quantitative (e.g., reports about housing pricing or Airbnb host activity per city) and qualitative (focus groups and interviews) methods, where appropriate stakeholders will be consulted (hosts, guests, non-users, rental apartment companies, local authorities). It will consider the workings and the delivery of Airbnb, and provide frameworks and tools that can inform usable policy. The following research objectives are derived from the main research aim:
- To examine the social and economic implications that arise from the use of Airbnb in London and Barcelona.
- To identify the motivations of hosts and guests to use Airbnb.
- To determine the convergence between the motivations to use this service and the ethics underlying the sharing economy.
- To contribute to the development of sharing economy policies related to Europe 2020 objectives.
This project adopts a comparative approach to researching issues that surround the sharing economy, by using Airbnb as a case study. The city based case study (London and Barcelona) reports on the experiences and views of the relevant stakeholders in the Airbnb sphere: host,
users, Airbnb public policy managers, rental apartment companies, council representatives and other local authorities. The barriers and opportunities for ethical practice will also be identified and reported according to the views of these stakeholders. Qualitative methods (interviews and
focus groups) were used to identify the different ways that diverse stakeholders perceive and understand Airbnb as a driver of ethical consumption and its impact on the economy and society. A total of four focus groups were run (a focus group with guest and another focus group with hosts in each city). 10 interviews (4 in London and 6 in Barcelona) with representatives from Barcelona and London city councils, Airbnb public policy managers, rental apartments
associations, hotel association, market and competition authority, and Sharing UK and Sharing Spain professional bodies were undertaken to provide richer more qualitative insights. The fieldwork in Barcelona took place between January and May 2018, and the fieldwork in London
took place between July and November 2018. Although 12 interviews were planned, the lack of response from UK Hospitality and CMA did not allow the research conducted in Barcelona to be mirrored 100% in London. The data collected through interviews and focus groups is currently
being analysed by the research team by using thematic analysis. One of the main project’s impact is its suitability for policy makers.