Platform public-sector? Local authority innovation, the sharing economy, and delivering a transition to urban economic sustainability

Northall, Philip S (2020) Platform public-sector? Local authority innovation, the sharing economy, and delivering a transition to urban economic sustainability. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

In seeking to better understand how the sustainability of cities can be improved, this thesis found that English local authorities struggle to nurture innovation - specifically sharing platforms - due in part to their own process of platformisation, which involves a shift away from delivering services to acting as intermediary between service users and potential providers. Allied with public sector austerity and a non-conducive local government innovation regime, these factors lead to a new form of pubic management, the 'enabling authority'. This contemporary form of local governance constrains opportunities for cities to transition to sustainability.

Combining literature from urban theory, evolutionary economics, and sustainability studies, with empirical data collected through semi-structured expert interviews, this thesis investigates the sharing economy as a business model that may be able to deliver a transition to economic sustainability in cities in England. This is based on claims of its ability to optimise the use of resources by providing access to under-utilised assets. Three methods were employed to assess this business model: a systematic literature review; semi-structured interviews; and longitudinal case studies. The systematic review provided greater analytical nuance to the chaotic concept of the sharing economy, as well as a robust foundation for the empirical investigation. This investigation, comprised of the semi-structured interviews and case studies, utilised a systems innovation framework known as the multi-level perspective (MLP). The local authority institution was chosen for investigation due to its unique niche-level characteristics as well as existing attempts to implement sharing economy technologies.

The systematic review confirmed that access to under-utilised assets via an intermediary platform is the aspect that most distinguished the sharing economy from the many adjacent business models that surround it in the literature, policy reports, and in the tech press and media. This pointed to ‘access platforms’ as a more useful term to assist in the empirical investigation. Interviews with twenty-four Senior Directors in eighteen local authorities in England, conducted between Nov 2017 – Feb 2018, illuminated existing attempts to implement access platforms at the urban scale, identifying the enabling factors of activity as well as barriers to other opportunities. Two platforms, Comoodle in Kirklees and Share Peterborough, were chosen as case studies, based on their levels of funding and maturity, as well as their close fit with the definition of access platforms. Through longitudinal interviews with the platform programme managers the socio-technical factors of their development were compared to assess how such innovation is nurtured to deliver a transition to urban economic sustainability.

Instead of nurturing access platform innovation, what I term a platformisation of the local authority institution itself was uncovered. This shift from providing services to facilitating community members and organisations to provide services themselves, echoed the worst tendencies of asset-stripping ‘lean platforms’, and is pushing local authorities away from survival and towards a responsibilisation and marginalisation narrative. Combined with the severe financial restrictions placed upon them by ongoing policies of austerity, and exacerbated by an equally restrictive local government innovation regime, this thesis contends that the current iteration of public-sector management is that of the ‘enabling authority’. The processes that create enabling authorities place considerable pressures on opportunities to deliver a transition to urban economic sustainability. The creation of a multi-authority intermediary body was advocated as being better placed to harness the niche-level characteristics of local authorities, whilst also mitigating the risks of nurturing innovation in this environment.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hall, Sarah
French, Shaun
Keywords: local government, england, sharing economy
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social sciences > HJ Public finance
J Political science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 60309
Depositing User: Northall, Philip
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2020 04:40
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2020 04:40
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/60309

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