söndag 22 november 2015

Spotify loves sustainability?

A few days ago (Friday), my colleague Elina Eriksson and I gave a 45-minute talk about "ICT and Sustainability" at Spotify. They organised a student event during the weekend under the moniker "Make IT Matter" and they wanted a guest speaker to introduce the topic and build up some enthusiasm among the participants.

The event was more specifically organised by the Spotify student "street team tech" (they also have a "street team business" or some such). The street team consists of two students each from three technical universities; KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology (Gothenburg) and Linköping University (Linköping). One of the two KTH students is actually one of our media technology students and she took mine and Elina's course about ICT and Sustainability earlier this term!

I'm not exactly sure what the point of the event was. It was sort of inspired by the hackathon but was rather focused on "product development". There was a schedule for the weekend with workshops, but I'm not quite sure what the students were supposed to accomplish or deliver in the end except that is was supposed to be a product (concept?) of some kind. Me and Elina just helped with the kick-off and then left (Friday evening) before the event properly started the day after. What we do know is that no less 400 students had applied and only 40 were invited to participate. These students were selected based on their skills in programming, (interaction) design, business as well as their interest in sustainability-related topics. Part of their applications consisted of writing a one-page cover letter and  they also submitted a URL to further impress the street team tech (who made the selections).

Before we gave our talk, we had a beer and the chance to schmooze some with the street team tech and the participants and we met no less than three more students from our engineering programme (media technology) of which one other had just taken our course. Some of the information here comes from our conversation with "our" students (Caroline, Niklas, Gabriella and Emil). The forty students came from three different universities and Spotify paid for all their expenses during the weekend including the trip to Stockholm and lodging. I think the setup was interesting and I would definitely have wished to participate in something like this when I was a student!

While Spotify supported and paid for the event, most of the planning and implementation was carried out by their street team tech. This also seems a win-win as the biggest expense for Spotify would be employees' time rather than (monetary) expenses. As it is, Spotify foots the bill but the six students in the street team tech puts in the majority of time needed to organise the event. These students will of course be on the fast track for writing their master's thesis at Spotify or even for later applying for a job there.

As to our talk, it consisted of three parts. The first part was a general background about the challenges humanity faces during the 21st century; climate change, overshoot, species extinction, energy crunches (peak everything) etc. The second part made the connection between these topics and ICT and the third part was totally adapted to the Spotify event. The general theme of the Spotify event was "Make IT Matter" and this was broken down into four themes that were all more or less connected to (ecological, social) sustainability of some kind. The four themes were:

  • How to decrease unnecessary consumption.
  • How to reduce resource use through the Sharing Economy 
  • How to reduce techno-stress
  • How to better integrate immigrants to the community (I wilfully added "and help refugees" to that theme)
The third part of the talk thus consisted of our take on these four themes and some suggestions of ours for how the themes could be understood and interpreted. What we didn't quite understand when we planned the lecture was that it turned out to be us rather than Spotify who unveiled these four themes (challenges) to the students so we really had their attention at that point. See the example slide on techno-stress (including my lecture notes) below.

Except for the four Spotify themes/challenges, Elina and me also had some additional challenges for the students. Notice that we used the term "hacks" rather than "products" below since we thought of the event more in terms of a hackathon than a product-development-thon.

  • How can your hacks change values and norms?
  • How can your hacks strengthen social ties and communities?
  • How can your hacks encourage positive change?
  • How can your hacks help us use less but achieve more?
  • How can your hacks help us to think globally but act locally?
  • How can your hacks avoid rebound effects?
All in all it was great fun and it seemed the students, the street team tech and the Spotify employees that were there were all very happy about out contribution. The only thing missing is a little more information about the outcome of the event! Elina also wrote a short blog post about the event on our team blog.

- We spend a lot of time and attention learning how to use, upgrade, troubleshoot, manage technology. That is stressful. 
- Slow technology: ”a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance.”

torsdag 19 november 2015

The sharing economy as the commons of the 21st century

Karin Bradley (from the Department of Urban Planning and Environment at KTH) and me just submitted an 8000-word article to a special issue of the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. The topic of the special issue is “Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts”.

After having handed in an abstract in the beginning of the summer, we were invited to submit a full paper to the special issue by mid-November. That does however not, as far as I understand, mean that we are in any kind of "fast lane" to get our submission accepted for the special issue ("all papers would be subject to a strict peer review process"). I furthermore don't have any idea of when we will get feedback on our paper, but, we are talking about an almost absurdly drawn-out process. The initial call for abstracts was disseminated in March 2015 and the special issue is scheduled for publication in 2017, i.e. about two years after the call was published!

We have at this point changed (altered) the title of our paper from "Supporting 21st century commons" to the perhaps slightly less ambitious "The sharing economy as the commons of the 21st century" when we realised we could not fulfil the promise of the previous titel on such a general level.

The basic idea of our paper is to take Elinor Ostrom's (1990) work on natural resource commons (grazing lands, fisheries, forests, irrigation systems etc.) as a starting point and then think about the differences between these types of commons and the contemporary human-made "sharing economy commons" of the 21st century. 


The sharing economy as the commons of the 21st century

This paper aims to make a contribution to the debates on how contemporary collaborative commons, as part of the wider sharing economy, can be understood and supported. Three cases of contemporary commons are analysed: a DIY bike repair studio, a pop-up home office concept and Wikipedia. The paper shows how the design principles developed for governing natural resource commons are only partly applicable for these contemporary commons. The paper illustrates the differences of these types of commons in terms of the nature of the resource being shared, scarcity, barriers to entry, and how rules are formulated and upheld.

Keywordscommons, sharing economy, collaborative economy, digital commons, design principles, for-benefit sharing platforms

Excerpt from the Introduction:
[...] we revisit Ostrom’s (1990) institutional design principles for the governance of long-enduring natural resource commons and explore to what extent these principles are relevant for understanding contemporary collaborative commons – commons that are situated in a globalized, urbanized and digitalized societal context. The aim of this paper is to make a contribution to the debates on how the contemporary collaborative commons, as part of the wider sharing economy, can be understood theoretically and how they may be supported. 

Ostrom’s design principles are based on extensive empirical studies of natural resource commons, situated in localized contexts and where users are reliant on each other and on these commons for their livelihood. In this paper we analyse three different cases of what we will here refer to as “21st century commons”: the Bike Kitchen, Hoffice and Wikipedia. These 21st century commons are types of commons that have grown in recent years, being set in a more globalized, urbanized and digitalized world, and representing different degrees of place specificity, use of digital technologies, and social bonds amongst their users. [...]