Introduction to the Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy

This month we will be serialising the report “Synthetic overview of the collaborative economy”, coproduced by Orange Labs and the P2P Foundation. Today we  post the introduction to the report written by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and Valérie Peugeot of Orange Labs. (Of course if you can’t wait you can download the full report here)


Michel Bauwens and Valérie Peugeot:

“In the last decade or so, many new collaborative practices seemed to have emerged in the business world, ranging from open innovation, co-design and co-creation, but also crowdsourcing, collaborative consumption. With some exceptions, these practices can be interpreted as ’emergent’ and they are still mostly marginal in their economic weight relative to the mainstream market economy, with some exceptions however. For example, the open content and open source economy has already been estimated to be one sixth of U.S. GDP, and certain practices, like grouped buying in China, may have a strong local weight in some national economies. In parallel with these collaborative practices and the mutualization of knowledge through open source practices, there is also a very visible growth in distributed infrastructures for material production, such as the rapid evolution of micromanufacturing through 3D printing, the rapid growth of collaborative workplaces such as in coworking, and new modalities of distributed financing, such as crowdfunding and social lending.

What is also important however, is the inter-relatedness and interdependence of this various phenomena, which seem to reinforce each other. They are all linked to each other, because they are the direct or indirect result of the horizontalization of human relationships and the modalities of cooperation they engender. Hence, next to the mainstream economy, consisting of mostly ‘vertical’ organizations, and, next to the informal and more marginal growth of ‘pure’ horizontal value creation practices, what is also occurring is the emergence of hybrid models, wherever the horizontal and vertical modalities encounter each other, and mutually influence each other. Hence, there is no question that mainstream business practices will be impacted even more by this horizontalization in the future, and that a diagonal adaptation to these challenges will be on the order of the day.

What follows then, will be a synthetic mapping and overview of the different manifestations of the emerging collaborative economy. While there is a literature describing the various ‘individual’ manifestations of this ‘collaborative economy’, what has been lacking is a integrated mapping of these inter-related phenomena, with a view of understanding their overall interconnection. It is to this task that this overview report is dedicated.
The authors of this study, researchers at the P2P Foundation, which is a specialized observatory into the collaborative economy, have collated for over five years the empirical evidence on its emergence. Hence, this report contains an extraordinary richness of concrete examples that are witness to the reality of this shift. On the other, the Foundation is also an advocacy organisation of behalf of these collaborative practices. Hence this report may contain an optimistic bias, with a bit more attention to the drivers of this change, rather than to the obstacles. Nevertheless, in order to arrive at a better understanding of these trends, which may not be obvious to the non-specialized observer, this may be an advantage as well, since it brings to light many under-reported developments.

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