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Understanding the role of governance in the sharing economy

A team of researchers is analysing how the sharing economy affects the sustainability of cities and their development.


Need a taxi? Chances are you’ll use your smartphone app rather than hail a cab. Travelling and looking for accommodation? Online platforms provide you with access to hundreds of listings in almost any destination city. This is possible thanks to the changing consumer behaviour that allows people to share their homes, cars, clothes, household appliances and even dogs with strangers. Collectively referred to with terms such as sharing economy, peer-to-peer economy and collaborative consumption, and often used interchangeably despite having different meanings, these economic phenomena are increasingly affecting our lives. Providing innovative solutions to sustainability challenges in crowded cities, the urban sharing of assets is thriving, with city governments also playing a role. But how do city governments engage with the sharing economy? Which governance mechanisms do they employ? These are some of the questions addressed by researchers who are developing a framework to identify the mechanisms and roles in which cities govern the sharing economy. Partially supported by the EU-funded Urban Sharing project, the researchers looked at six cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, Gothenburg, London, Malmö and San Francisco. In an article posted on news, action and connection hub ‘Shareable’, Dr Yuliya Voytenko Palgan from Lund University says the research team “conducted about 100 interviews with city government officials, politicians, urban developers, sharing economy organisations, knowledge institutes and think tanks.” She adds: “We organised three focus groups with people using sharing services and four participatory workshops with city government officials. All this data, input and feedback helped us develop a framework that identifies five mechanisms and 12 roles in which cities govern the sharing economy.”

Role of city governments

The research results are disseminated through a series of short videos. “This series consists of an introductory film followed by five films, each of which discusses one of the five governance mechanisms: regulating, self-governing, providing, enabling, and collaborating.” The introductory video is posted on YouTube. The team hopes that the videos “will serve both as an inspiration and as a communication tool for municipalities developing their sharing economy strategies. We also hope they will be of use to sharing economy experts, activists and citizens seeking for a simple way to understand and communicate the roles that city governments play when governing the sharing economy.” The ongoing Urban Sharing (Urban Sharing: Sustainability and Institutionalisation Pathways) project that supported the research “aims to examine, test and advance knowledge about urban sharing organisations (USOs) across 5 cities from 5 continents: Amsterdam, Toronto, São Paolo, Seoul and Melbourne by undertaking a novel multi- and inter-disciplinary study,” as noted on CORDIS. The project focuses on the design of USOs and their sustainability impacts, as well as their institutionalisation pathways. It uses various methods such as case studies, mobile research labs, interviews and expert panels. The project website states: “Urban sharing is a growing global phenomenon with the potential to dramatically impact the current economic paradigm and enhance sustainability in cities.” It adds that “the lack of evidence to support the sustainability promises and the limited theoretical understanding of their institutionalisation pathways in different urban contexts, calls for a comprehensive analysis of urban sharing organisations and urban sharing phenomenon.” For more information, please see: Urban Sharing project website



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