Ana Manzanedo and Alícia Trepat Pont: “Everything that can become a platform will become a platform”. The potential of platforms “ is simply too compelling to deny: exponential scaling, exponential learning, and very low cost innovation and localization”. 1

The future of work will be defined by platforms, or so it seems with the “success” stories of the Ubers,  Airbnbs and Taskrabbits developed in a wide range of sectors.

A simple way of defining platforms is that of organizations that connect people, knowledge, and opportunities. These organizations not only minimize resources by sharing them among its users; but the most well-known examples of the so-called “sharing economy” also take the resources of these same users (expertise, time, homes, cars…) and co-opt it as their own supply giving them very little to no power to decide, imposing conditions and preventing contributors from the right of social protection and labor-derived rights we have been enjoying in the past decades.

As the beginning of this post states, most of us will soon no longer work for an employer, but for a series of platforms: “Work” as we know it is disappearing, and we will have the privilege and the challenge to organize our work “flexibly” around gigs.  The estimations predict around 540 M people working in the “gig economy” by 2025, that’s around 15% of the current total global workforce. 2

Can platforms be positive?

Is there any way in which we can build new welfare structures to cover the classic labor-associated benefits or even go beyond these?

How can we turn into positive this new work paradigm that technology is enabling and propelling at a much larger speed than regulations can (or want to) adapt to?

These and many other questions are discussed in the research of the  IFTF  revolving around the topic of positive platforms: “Positive Platforms are systems for on-demand work that not only maximize profits for their owners but also provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who work on them”. 3F

Under this umbrella we developed our research on “Designing positive platforms: a guide for a governance-based approach”.

Positive by design

Our approach is on the design of the governance of the platform, so that the matters of shared power and welfare are dealt with directly and intrinsically, by design.

After studying fifteen examples of platforms (chosen after the criteria of size, scalability, years of existence and shared-value in the network), the research lead us to the following five principles for the design of governance:

The relevant part of the paper, however, is to spur a thorough discussion on certain key elements and come out with customized mechanisms and solutions for each particular platform. This is the case around for “Recognition of the generated value” and  “Welfare”. These two principles trigger a crucial discussion both on the resilience of the platform and what that organization stands for ideologically.

Defining value:  What do we stand for?

The complexity of value lies on its intangibility and its very broad nature 4:  value is an individual perception, and, therefore, not really measurable 5.  In platforms we talk about generated value: the user’s contribution to the platform. And distributed value: what the user receives from the platform in the form of benefits (because of her contribution).

Probably, no two members of the same platform will perceive value in the same way: this link leads to a mindmap that illustrates the main dimensions of value and gives a quick idea on the complexity of this issue.

The contributors of a platform are, ideally, bound by a common definition of “Values and principles”. Therefore, there will probably be some similarity on what is considered to be “a value-contribution” and a “benefit” received for it. Nevertheless, it remains a challenging process that arises many key-questions:

  • Is value (types of contributions) pre-defined by the platform or is left to each individual member to decide?
  • What is considered as a value-contribution:   do we use a resource-based logic? (eg: time, expertise, amount of contribution, etc)  or an efficacy-based one? (eg: related to the goal that wanted to be achieved), can we think of other criteria? How do we value “soft” (intangible) contributions like a member “creating a good atmsophere”, or  “being available for others”, or “facilitating collaborative work”, etc?
  • What are the benefits that the contributors receive? How is the process of value distribution made transparently?
  • What mechanism should be designed to trace and balance value contributions and benefits received?

Creating solutions for welfare: mutualism.

Welfare is one of the main challenges of the gig-economy: in a professional world dominated by platforms that are not employers and with laws that are not adapted to this new reality – leaving continuously more people out of a minimum labor-benefit system – how can platforms be designed to cover these growing needs?

The only possibility is to take welfare in the governance system:  welfare is distributed value (benefit) generated through contributions.

To go on with this discussion, it is necessary to have previously defined what value-contributions are for the platform and the benefits to be received for those;  welfare might (should) be one of those benefits.

Different types of mutualism provide an answer to the need to cover welfare internally.

It’s important to take into account that welfare is understood in a broader sense than labor-benefits including the psychological / social welfare we get by being a part of a community, for example.

Mutualism can be understood as sharing a co-working space, sharing knowledge, pooling any type of resource, even income. Such is the case of Enspiral’s “Livelihood pods” in which income is pooled to provide all members with a stable income and labor benefits throughout the year.

By now, the more trust there is in a community, the more that can be mutualized; unfortunately, this sets huge barriers to scalability in such sensitive matters of sharing resources.  But there is still  an open door: could technological innovation in-hand with social innovation and shared governance models lead to scaled trust? This would allow for larger communities to become more resilient pooling more resources to build their own system within the current global one that threatens the welfare of millions of workers worldwide.

There are more aspects to each principle to be found with numerous examples in the complete research. We invite you to read it and join the conversation on solutions to the gig-economy and to further develop the principles themselves.

We would also like to point out that, while sharing the content of our paper we have heard quite often that it is ideal for initiators / new organizations like platform coops, networks and other hybrids that might be starting out. Paradoxically though, we find that there is a burning need to work on the resilience of many of the already existing platform coops, networks and hybrids. These organizations are for sure facing other challenges such as financiation and technical development; nevertheless, caring for welfare is key for the resilience of the community undertaking the project. Even more important and more challenging for organizations that envision and work for a new system, but have to survive in the current one while being as coherent as possible with that vision.

Governance is the heart of an organization, it should hold and irradiate the common agreement that the members of that organization have gotten to. For that end, governance design and addressing key issues such as “value and welfare” are a “must” so that platforms geared towards the common good and that want to impact positively the future of work can achieve their vision.

1. [Chase, Robin (2015) ]

2. [ ]

3. [ ]

4. [Proportioned to us by Ben]

5. [Sensorica]

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