Platform Cooperativism Holistic Characterization and Delimitation: 10 Cases of Barcelona Ecosystem

Fuster, M. & Espelt, R. (2017). Platform Cooperativism Holistic Characterization and Delimitation: 10 Cases of Barcelona Ecosystem. SASE 2017 Mini-conference: Re-embedding the Social:
 Cooperatives, Political Consumerism and Alternative Lifestyles. 

ABSTRACT:  The Collaborative Economy (CE), that is, the collaborative consumption and production of capital and labour among distributed groups supported by a digital platform, is growing rapidly and exponentially. However, it suffers from diverse challenges: (1) CE is creating high sustainability expectations for its potential to contribute to a sustainable development of society (Algar, 2007; Botsman & Rogers, 2010; Cohen & Kietzmann, 2014; Heinrichs, 2013), and for its potential to contribute to the commons and a democratization of economy (Fuster, 2016). Bryan Walsh in the Time Magazine dated March 2011 sees it as one of the ten ideas that will change the world, and a pronouncement of the European Union in January 2014 emphasizes the innovative economical and ecological role of CE. However, CE lacks a holistic framework for assessment of these sustainability and procommons qualities. (2) The disruptive impact of the best known CE model, that of corporations like Uber and Airbnb, is arousing huge controversy (Codagnone et al., 2016). Successful alternative models exist, such as open commons, and platform cooperativism, but these have received limited research attention.

Despite the lack of attention, some social economy and cooperative studies point to their growing diffusion and some of their social and economic sustainability qualities (Roelants et al., 2012; Birchall & Ketilson, 2009). The evidence on positive sustainability effects of social economy would suggest that platform cooperatives could be a more sustainable alternative for expansion in CE (Roelants et al., 2014).

The term Platform cooperativism was suggested as such and started gaining traction in 2015, after it was popularized by Scholz and Schneider (Scholz, 2016; Scholz & Schneider, 2016). However, due to its novelty, it remains still largely unstudied (with exceptions such as Como et al., 2015, 2016). Previous similar research on new forms of cooperativism such as “open cooperativism” (Bauwens, 2014) and also studies of how the digital environment opens up new possibilities for the cooperative tradition (De Peuter & Dyer-Witheford, 2010; Murray, 2010) are of relevance in this relatively new field. Furthermore, Murray (2012) points to the potential of cooperativism and new forms of mutualism for public service reform. There is also a proliferation of relevant books and other contributions from a theoretical framework perspectives, but most lack empirical methodology.

Our paper will provide an analysis that contributes to explore this hypothesis, and investigate how far cooperative models like platform cooperativism (Scholz, 2016; Scholz & Schneider, 2016) might be a more sustainable model for CE than those unicorn models. The investigation has two main objectives: 1) provide a framework to assess procommons qualities of collaborative economy initiatives, and 2) provide a framework of CE sustainability, assessing the potential and feasibility of platform cooperativism for CE sustainability. The framework will be applied to 10 cases of platform cooperativism model of collaborative economy, in order to have a better understanding of this model, in contrast to the more known model of unicorn. The framework will also assess its qualities.

To sum up, the paper will contribute to expanding the empirical base of the analysis and also to expanding the geographical base of the literature, the majority of which is based on cases in the USA (see study of CE literature by Codagnone et al., 2016), by providing an empirical analysis of Barcelona 10 case study. Indeed, Barcelona has a historical tradition of cooperativism, and social economy represents today the 7% of the city GDP (Fernàndez & Miró, 2016). Furthermore, the city has an alive scene of socio-economical innovation, and Barcelona City Council has a specific program to promote platform cooperativism in the city. All together point to Barcelona as a rich case to analyse platform cooperativism development and sustainability.