Collaborative consumption: making what's mine yours and ours

The innovation agency NESTA today hosted an event on Collaborative Consumption … which turns out to mean sharing, trading, bartering goods and services with others – things that we have been doing for centuries.
The main speaker was Rachel Botsman, author of the book What’s mine is yours, and afterwards I asked Rachel what’s so different now. The answer is the Internet, which allows us to book cars for as little as an hour or two from our neighbours rather than a fleet (Whipcar), volunteer our skills (Timebanking), or lend and borrow from each other rather than through banks (Zopa).
Rachel gave a brilliantly engaging talk, which you can see here, together with a video of her presentation at TEDxSydney. There was a rather good little booklet which I can’t find online, but will add as a link if it is available.
Much collaborative consumption does of course take place without the Internet, although adding a new name like Landsharing may prompt the return of an old idea, and old benefits. Rachael tests some of her ideas on her parents … who took to the notion of allowing neighbours to grow vegetables in a corner of their garden: that’s a landshare. The result: Rachel’s Dad remarked that this was the first time he had know his neighbour’s name in 18 years.
Rachel is enthusiastic for the idea of the Big Society (previous posts here), which certainly involves a lot of sharing, volunteering and redesigning of the way that we get public (and private) services.However, we both agreed that Big Society isn’t an easy idea to explain … while something like the stories of sharing and exchanging are easily understood, and useful.

Rachel was off to No 10 later in the day for a round table discussion, so we may hear more about her ideas from government. As Rachel remarked, it’s difficult to realise Big Society locally if you don’t know your neighbours’ names.

As Cyberdoyle wrote in an excellent post recently, we used to do a lot of exchange face-to-face:

In the ‘Old Days’ our society revolved round communication. Over the garden wall on a Monday morning when the washing was pegged out, the ‘gossip’ would go down the roads, passing on wisdom, advice and help through the cogs and wheels. Meeting the kids after school in the playground all the mums would catch up on stuff, again sharing problems or worries as well as having fun. This is how a big society worked, just like a watch. The lads would meet up at the chapel, the auction, the pub etc and do the same. (Contrary to most belief the biggest gossips were the men)… but that is the way to get stuff off your chest, and in the process get or give help.
Gossip is what makes the fingers on the watch and the world go round. If you don’t know the lad up the road just lost his sheepdog you don’t get the chance to let him know the lad down the road on the farm just whelped a tidy litter.
If you don’t know the man next door has just been diagnosed as a diabetic and is very worried, you can’t put him in touch with the lady you met at church last week whose husband is coping brilliantly with diabetic treatments and living a totally normal life. Due to the pressures of modern life and lackof TIME, caused by most young families needing two wages, and youngsters moving away to cities for work, away from extended family, this social interaction is now being done digitally.
Facebook, twitter, blogs, texting and chatting.

Cyberdoyle uses this as a good argument for rural broadband, and I agree.
Models for collaborative consumption online take us beyond the equivalent of that over-the-fence gossip towards the additional benefits of doing things together, as well as talking. We’ll need more of that in future.


  • cyberdoyle
    October 21, 2010 - 5:30 pm | Permalink

    thank you, nice to be associated with such a classy thinker! I like her style and agree with what she said. Nice to know it isn’t just us oldies think like this.

    It is imperative that digital gossip gets the chance to work, and once we get the final third online it will. There are so many with bad connectivity in the uk that they just use their limited access to do the basics, and they miss out on all the funky stuff. the tech isn’t that important, its people and pipes – it has to work, it has to be simple and it has to be instant. I don’t speak a sentence and then have to wait for a few minutes before I hear a reply.

    Bring on the fibre. 😉

  • October 22, 2010 - 1:42 am | Permalink

    There is a mighty hope that technology will help with this need to connect. Complimentary currencies are waiting ti be born, but trading across currencies and integrating non-profits with business just hasn’t worked, so far. Local is working to facilitate trading, lending and sharing of stuff which has promise for supporting community ownership of all those tools we only use once or twice a year.

    All this is good, but until we can learn how to NOT damage children we will be held hostage by those with so much pain they need to share.

    I also found, running a time dollar organization working to help seniors that reciprocity is much harder than giving. Allowing others to help is too much work for people and they often deny others the pleasure of giving.

  • October 22, 2010 - 9:23 am | Permalink

    My post describing the transtion to 21st Century sharing and people-centered economies didn’t appear, so here’s a quote from the content

    “By going with the normal flow of free-market enterprise and the emerging replacement of monetary capital with intellectual capital as the dominant form of basic enterprise capitalization, it becomes easier to set up new companies primarily on the basis of invested intellectual capital. (See Post-Capitalist Society, by Peter Drucker). In plain English, socially responsible and forward-thinking companies can be set up quickly and cheaply–and these companies have indefinite potential for earnings and localized, targeted economic development. The initial objective is to develop model enterprises and communities, then implement successful strategies from those models into surrounding communities regionwide or nationwide, as needed.”

  • October 22, 2010 - 10:37 am | Permalink

    A couple of quotes today. First from the Forward Foundation.

    “People with access to information co-create and share knowledge about how to convert sources into energy, how to integrate food production into waste management, how to combine physical production output with cultural production needs, how to educate their children on operating in this emerging system. These people operate as independents, networked together, and also as members of multiple existing and new types of organizations that also are “making, sharing using” in this system. This system can adapt better to change over tie, because anyone can help adapt it. This system can manage resources better, because it gives a more accurate picture of what those resources are. This system can make better use of resources because it tends to share knowledge about how to allow the outputs of one activity to become the inputs of another. This opens the door for more people to share what is abundant, create cohesive with living systems instead of destroying them, and exchange equitably around what is scarce.”

    (I’d offer a link but it seems to kill the comment)

    The second is backward and has no website. Taken from the Levellers standard and the IP of Gerrard Winstanley. He was a Quaker, a group who have often been associated with the roots of social enterprise.

    “That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation”

    So there should be no Lords in Big Society, I guess.

  • October 22, 2010 - 11:27 am | Permalink

    Blogging myself recently about sharing, I referred to the experience of taking social enterprise to Eastern Europe where a local commented “You come here to start business and give it away to other people – are you another lot of communists or just crazy?”

    As I go on to relate, all very well to create networks and applications for other people to share but try adapting the well guarded model of Freecycle for an illlustration that sharing is for other people to do.

    One comment likened this to sharing an apple, we only give away the wormy ones we don’t want.

    Some help themselves and call it sharing. Nesta and Reboot Britain as an example with public domain information regurgitated by ‘experts’ at considerable cost to us all.

    Many of us are sharing in this way, such that our taxes go to pay for building the reputation and careers of those funded by the public purse.

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