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Jessica Conrad: Vancouver Values Sharing

Can we move from a global surveillance state to a global sharing state?
Image from Wikimedia via David Falconer

By Jessica Conrad
By arrangement with OnTheCommons

Eager for the sharing economy to bloom in Vancouver, Chris Diplock, co-founder of the Vancouver Tool Library, designed the first research project to measure and report on people’s interest in the sharing economy at a municipal scale. He called it The Sharing Project. Diplock’s primary goals were to understand Vancouverites’ attitudes toward sharing, to measure the demand for shared assets in the city, and to highlight opportunities for growth within the sharing economy.

Through interviews, focus groups, and a survey of over 500 individuals, The Sharing Project focused on the lending and borrowing of physical goods in the following categories: transportation, recreation, event and entertainment equipment, tools, household appliances, clothing, physical media, and space. Other forms of sharing, including skill sharing, were not assessed.

The Sharing Project found that a large majority of Vancouverites share. 73 percent of respondents said that they currently share through a community organization and 85 percent report sharing with peers. Over the next three to five years, more than 50 percent of Vancouverites say they expect to share more. Surprisingly, people’s age and type of residence did not significantly influence their attitude toward sharing.

Yet when respondents chose to borrow from a community organization or company, 44 percent of them made that choice becuase they didn’t want to bother their friends or neighbors.

With such high levels of sharing in Vancouver, it would be easy to assume that people are familiar with new models of sharing, such as coworking or peer-to-peer car sharing. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. For over 60 percent of survey respondents, the word “sharing” brought to mind long-established communal resources, such as libraries and public parks—only some associated the word with bike sharing, car sharing, or other new sharing models. In fact, less than ten percent of respondents use an online service, such as Airbnb, to facilitate sharing with peers.

Our intuition might lead us to believe that trust, convenience, and access have an impact on people’s willingness to share, and The Sharing Project’s research confirms that those three factors have the greatest influence on people’s willingness to both lend and borrow. Peers are usually cited as the most trustworthy, convenient, and accessible source for shared goods. Yet when respondents chose to borrow from a community organization or company, 44 percent of them made that choice becuase they didn’t want to bother their friends or neighbors.

Another strong influence on respondents’ willingness to lend was the prospect of building social relationships. Over half of all respondents preferred to lend or rent directly from another person; less than 43 percent of respondents preferred to use an online service to facilitate the transaction. The only factor found to decrease people’s willingness to lend was personal attachment.

Vancouverites seem poised to participate in the burgeoning sharing economy, even though the trend is not yet widely recognized. As such, one opportunity identified by The Sharing Project is for new sharing-based services to collaborate with established sharing organizations, such as libraries, to help grow the movement and build awareness and trust. Entrepreneurs and grassroots organizers can use The Sharing Project report to develop additional insight as sharing becomes a necessity for the social, financial, and environmental well-being of Vancouver. Other cities can follow Vancouver’s lead in researching the opportunities to share as a starting point to grow local sharing economies.

Jessica Conrad is a writer and content strategist living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has been working to communicate the essence of the commons and the sharing economy since the beginnings of her career: At Sol Editions, an editorial services company focused on the natural world, innovation and design, Jessica worked as a researcher and writer for Lisa Gansky’s The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing, a Wall Street Journal bestselling business book. Jessica continues to write about the sharing economy for media outlets such as Minnesota Public Radio and Thirty Two Magazine. She has also been a grant writer for The Promised Land, a Peabody Award-winning public radio series featuring innovative thinkers who are transforming underserved communities. Jessica currently serves as the content and community manager at On the Commons, where she’s worked since 2011.

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One comment for Jessica Conrad: Vancouver Values Sharing

  1. Comment by Seth on November 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    Perhaps we should be careful when we evoke the word “sharing” in reference to a modernized means of exchanging personal goods for monetary gain. I doubt the concept of sharing within the term “sharing economy” is consistent with what pre-school teachers and parents model for three year olds — “now, Bobby, make sure you have enough money so that Jessica can ‘share’ her toy with you.” Silly, isn’t it? It seems possible that the introduction of the term “sharing economy” has invaded the sacred realm of human relationships, not entirely dissimilar to the way in which corporate capitalism appropriated the term “consumer” to effectively transmogrify the American “citizen”. One could argue that the sharing economy represents a method for connecting people and circumnavigating the need for an entity to mediate transactions among people. And this is partially true: the sharing economy conceivably connects people, albeit in a circumscribed transactional relationship, nothing more–I “rent” my bike to you for three hours, in exchange you pay me $45. An example of how the sharing economy might rapidly displace more meaningful social engagements is the plausible transition from house sitting to “housing sharing”. Before the diffusion of the sharing economy, a person was most likely to ask trusted friends and neighbors to house sit. Now that the sharing economy has reshaped the concept of an empty house to fit within a capitalist framework, when the person considers her prospectively empty house, she is actively encouraged to focus on the house’s money-making potential, to participate in transactions, rather than interactions, to forsake communal sensibility, in essence, to become a capitalist. Might I propose “renting economy”, “trading economy”, some other term that doesn’t violate our fundamental social act of sharing?

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