ShareLab - addressing city challenges sessionJust 9% of British adults used a ‘sharing economy’ platform for a good cause in the last year, according to new research announced by innovation foundation Nesta. The nationwide survey, carried out by TNS Global, gauged user behaviour in mainstream and social purpose platforms and, for the first time, assesses the level of appetite for social purpose platforms in the future.

The collaborative economy is defined as using digital technologies to access goods, services and knowledge from people-powered networks and marketplaces. The sector is often referred to as the ‘sharing economy’, with much of the mainstream debate focussed on commercial considerations and less attention being placed on how these technologies and business models can drive social and environmental value and change. The survey findings were revealed at ShareLab this week – a one-day conference where experts gathered to showcase and debate the social impact of collaborative platforms and marketplaces.

The research confirms that uptake of social purpose platforms is low across the country and reveals which groups are most likely to engage with them. While nearly a third of 16-34 year olds have used a collaborative economy platform for ‘a good cause’ in the past 12 months, only 6% of all British adults surveyed accessed support for themselves, or community, from someone else in this way. Also, when it comes to the use of such platforms for health and care support, only 3% of adults aged 55+ have used one. As 87% of people have not used a collaborative platform to access support from someone else or to offer support to others, the survey shows that some 45 million Britons are not yet aware of the potential benefits.

Helen-GouldenHelen Goulden (pictured right), executive director of the Innovation Lab at Nesta, said: “The popularity of sharing economy platforms like Airbnb and Uber remain undimmed, with billions being invested into digital commercial platforms that enable people to access the things they need in different ways. While these disruptive businesses raise important issues, we’ve become utterly fixated with an incredibly narrow definition of the sharing economy. But entrepreneurs from across the sectors are now showing us new, exciting ways of harnessing the sharing economy to meet societal, not just consumer, needs. That nearly a quarter of the population have an appetite to engage in new platforms that deliver real social impact is heartening, to say the least.”

To drive experimentation and awareness in this space, the Nesta ShareLab Fund is now inviting proposals on how collaborative economy platforms can be used to support public services, and grow the evidence-base about how they can deliver social impact. The initiative is an opportunity to think more creatively about how communities can build coalitions of citizens, charities, businesses and public sector bodies to address social needs. Ideas should be registered by 9 December 2016.

A ShareLab initiative will also be launched in Scotland to find, support and accelerate innovative ideas there.