Co-creation and the sharing economy — part of the new way forward?

(Image: monipag.com)

Co-creation and the sharing economy are essentially about building a resilient community and a resilient local economy which allows the members of that community to become more resilient because of the opportunities it creates and because of the network of support it offers.

Basically, co-creation is the bringing together of two or more parties to create shared value which is mutually acceptable to both parties. If it is not mutually acceptable to both parties, then it is not co-creation.

The sharing economy is a form of collaborative consumption of resources, including ideational resources, to produce greater overall value, not only for the participants, but for an entire economy. So, one can see that co-creation is at the very heart of the sharing economy.

There are many creative ideas across the globe that demonstrate the value of co-creation and the sharing economy. The sharing economy takes a myriad of different forms, but some examples will serve to demonstrate the value that is created through these means. By value, I am talking about the value of human potential, greater opportunities, greater support networks, as well as economic benefit.

Firstly, the coming together of information technology with old technologies to create greater value for people who participate is increasingly apparent. Air BnB is a perfect example of this. People have rented out rooms in their private households for millennia; however, what we have now is an electronic system for organizing such accommodation. Via the internet, people who are going overseas or interstate can now book a room or an entire apartment for very reasonable prices. The ability to ‘shop around’ online is one factor that keeps the prices low. On my last trip to Athens in 2014, I rented an entire floor which was a loft apartment for $583 (Australian dollars) for a month! The value is there for the users, and many apartment- and home-owners are now earning income that they did not previously. This win-win quality is the essence of the sharing economy.

Secondly, there are people who are creating extra value with what they already have, not necessarily through communication technologies, but just through making community decisions. A good example of this is the examples we see of people seeking permission from their local council to use the median strip in front of their homes to create community gardens where the local people share in the produce. Another example used earlier in this document is that of neighbours coming together to remove their back and side fences to create common food gardens where they all partake in the produce. This is partly an issue of scale in which more ‘common’ land is created because the fencing and edgings have been removed. The produce that can be grown in such a space (of say four neighbours working together) is quite staggering. I have actually heard of surpluses being produced and sold off to be divided among the participants. Again, such co-creation and sharing results in win-win situations for everyone involved.

Thirdly, entire communities have been sharing and trading resources for a long time, and these have become a little more formalised over the last four or so decades. A great example of this is the LETS systems that grew strongly through the 1970s and 1980s in Australia, some of which still survive. Other new LETS-style systems have now been created over the last 10 years using the internet to facilitate the interactions. LETS systems are basically trading systems where people trade skills, so if someone needs a cupboard built, they will trade the cost of this, in terms of time and money, with something of equivalent value; for example, 15 hours of child-minding. A system of credits is created to account for the differing types of services offered. There are many such systems currently occurring which are often organized through Facebook Groups. These are often around particular services; for example, there are child-minding trading groups where time is the currency to be traded, there are house-cleaning and gardening groups where en masse, people spend a weekend working on one household’s garden, and the next weekend on another, and so on. In this way, everyone benefits and the group becomes stronger.

So, what potential does the sharing economy hold? Is it just a passing fad, or is it a solution to a number of the problem s of urban life, and indeed, to the problem of climate change? Indeed, the sharing of resources produces less waste and the mindset is usually one of recycle and reuse, so again, these are positive elements for the environment.

A positive example is that of Seoul in Korea. Seoul is leading the way in creating a city-wide sharing economy where co-creation is the norm. There have been a large amount of working and creative hubs that have sprung up throughout Seoul in recent years in which resources and space is shared. Examples include the sharing of offices, office space, stationery, phone lines, modems, photocopiers, and so on, for all the different groups and often small enterprises that occupy such spaces. Such sharing also enhances small-scale entrepreneurship and some of the most creative small businesses which are of benefit to the entire economy. In addition, the Seoul municipal council is spending large amounts of money to create alternative infrastructure, such as bicycle-sharing facilities, promoting Uber as one preferred mode of public transport, wiring the entire city for wi-fi so that everyone can join in the collective benefits.

Many cities are moving in these types of directions, including Portland, Detroit, and Minnesota in the USA, Athens, Copenhagen, and Barcelona, and many others, including Adelaide in South Australia, which has quite a number of such collective initiatives.

Ultimately, co-creation and the sharing economy are shifting the orientation of communities and even entire cities in new directions, and are, in places, establishing new ways of creating value, particularly for those people who actively participate in such systems. These systems are dynamic but solid, and provide win-win solutions as a form of grassroots choice and democracy.