From Sharing Economy to Community Economy: why it is important to learn how to design communities.
In 2013 the Economist introduced the Sharing Economy to the world.
At that time there was talk of a new economy that favored the sharing of goods instead of owning them and exchange instead of purchase. Since then, many things have changed, and today the Covid-19 has also highlighted the fragility of some of the most famous services; more than ever, the question is what is left of the sharing economy and its narrative. Some services have grown or have been called into question, others have instead entered into crisis in a perhaps irreversible way, but beyond the single services we can certainly say that today collaboration is no longer only between people who share goods or services but between individuals who participate in the construction of a brand (profit or non-profit or, even better, hybrid) and in the design of its offer. The community economy is the most interesting evolution of the sharing economy, an economy made up of companies, groups, places that put the community at the centre of their business (profit or non profit) strategy; by doing so, they transform markets and organisations. Indeed community brands are brands and organisations that no longer work on the engineering of supply, on its conception and production within an industrial context, but on the aggregation of demand, on listening to its needs, and on the satisfaction of its demands. We are talking about organizations that, on the basis of a value proposition, aggregate people who share a sense of belonging, rituals, traditions and a sense of mutual moral responsibility. Communities are no longer a marketing tool but become a strategic value for the company. Examples are Airbnb, Blablacar, Houzz, Refugees Welcome, but also many places that, on a smaller scale, are born around an idea, a passion, a need, and on that they build communities.
Through continuous co-design activities, these organisations bring to the market new services that already have a target audience — because they are themselves the expression of that need — and as such are potentially more competitive than traditional actors. To serve these niches and to promote their production of value, the community brand cannot use the old management models of a company but must rebuild itself according to an “enabling” logic: platform-based, entrusting roles and responsibilities to members, using communication channels that make the boundaries between inside and outside the company increasingly fluid and permeable.
This new way of doing business and dealing with clients is not a moment’s trend.
On the contrary, it is a sign of a profound change destined to remain in time, as the result of a firstly cultural, and only then economic, transformation. It is rooted in the social and economic crisis and in the last decade of digital transformation. The crisis has made clear new needs and new market niches, the transformation, by introducing new means of communication — social media — has transformed not only our habits but also our way of learning and behaving. These, in fact, have given us the attitude and the opportunity to be at the same time producers, consumers and also activists and designers, i.e. people who detect a need that gives rise to frustration, passion, activism and decide to commit themselves, or people who adhere to a someone else’s project because they identify themselves with it.
In this fluidity, the relationship between the entrepreneur and the employee is also blurred, as both parties are part of an organisation that recognizes itself in a value proposition. It is therefore evident in the assumption of roles that were once opposed and that today we play alternately depending on the situation, that the change is first of all cultural; but this can also be found in the fact that the platform model is adopted in different contexts and starting from any topic. There are community brands everywhere, they are spread digitally, locally, in social groups, they gather around any kind of passion, condition, purpose, cause. And even the very concept of community has renewed its meaning in recent years: the aggregations we are talking about are no longer moved by geographical, ideological or social status interests as they once were, but by emotional and knowledge interests, that are mostly expressed and maintained through digital tools, while physical encounters respond to the need of strengthening the relationship. At this stage, the concept of community moves between analogical and digital in a complementary and fluid way.
This necessary change, moreover, has become even more evident during the Covid-19 emergency. The lockdown has taken away our chance to stay together and to relate to others, clearly showing how this is a fundamental need for our survival. The desire for community was expressed on a local extent: meeting on the balconies, joining our neighbours and organizing collective groceries, in the many solidarity initiatives carried out in the neighbourhood in aid of the most fragile people. At this moment digital has played a fundamental role not only because it has acted as a sounding board, but above all because, perhaps for the first time, it has shown its ability to weave relationships. Digital is therefore the place where distances can be shortened if people have reason to meet around common interests, values and rituals.
It is also an opportunity for those who want to rethink the organisation of companies and the employees’ work. The lockdown has accelerated another underway path: the rethinking of work as a need of the soul and not only as a productive activity. Remote working forces us to rethink the company’s organisation no longer by hierarchical lines, but by meaningful grouping, and the physical distance of employees requires us to renew forms of aggregation and to think about new channels of communication. Here too, there is a clear need to set up small communities that are no longer united around a far and little sharable corporate mission, but around new interests where relationships and distances can be redefined.
Getting to know the community economy, therefore, is interesting for those who want to do business. This is why we need a toolbox for those who want to innovate. We are no longer in a phase where we can see things changing, we are fully swinging in the middle of change.
Other people’s experiences can serve as a guide for those who want to personally try to launch a new service on the market or to implement a new approach in their organisation. Today, even in the uncertainty of a time that no longer allows us to plan and to implement, but requires continuous attempts procedure, one indeed must look at other people’s experiences in order to acquire greater awareness. This is why we have designed a method and a set of tools that can help design or manage communities’ growth with awareness.