Initiative on the Sharing Economy to stimulate leadership and research

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Picture a day like this: You use an app to locate and rent a car and drive to a meeting. You check another app for available parking and find a spot at a nearby condo complex (it’s available because the owner is away). The meeting place is rented for the day by your company. On your way home, you stop for coffee with a friend, who hands you the books you ordered together online. You use another app to see if a neighbor has a power drill you can borrow to assemble a bookshelf.

This vision is increasingly becoming a reality, says Saif Benjaafar, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the U of M’s Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering and the director of the new Initiative on the Sharing Economy.

“We are witnessing a paradigm shift away from the exclusive ownership and use of resources to one of shared use and, potentially, shared ownership,” Benjaafar says. “This paradigm shift is taking advantage of innovative new ways of peer-to-peer sharing that are voluntary and enabled by Internet-based exchange markets and mediation platforms.”

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The consequences of this shift could be promising—or in some cases, undesirable—in areas ranging from traffic congestion to pricing to privacy. The new initiative will shed light on these issues, with a particular focus on peer-to-peer shared mobility.

The initiative was established by CTS in partnership with Benjaafar and other faculty members across the University and is administered by CTS. It aims to position the U of M at the forefront of the development of a science of the sharing economy. Envisioned activities include:

  • Establishing the U of M as a center of thought leadership and research.
  • Forming a research community across the University and stimulating interdisciplinary research that encompasses economics, urban planning, public policy, behavior, and information technology.
  • Engaging local and national government agencies, industry, and nonprofit organizations.

The first major activity of the initiative is the International Symposium on the Sharing Economy, which will be held May 16–17, 2016, in Minneapolis (see below).

power drill quote

According to Benjaafar, most resources are acquired to satisfy peak demand but are otherwise poorly utilized. Several successful businesses—such as AirBnB and Uber—provide evidence for the viability of the sharing economy. “Sharing has the potential of increasing access while reducing investments in resources and infrastructure,” he says. “In turn, this could have the twin benefit of improving consumer welfare while reducing societal costs.”

The availability of a sharing option for cars, for example, could lead some people to forego car ownership in favor of car sharing. In turn, this could result in a corresponding reduction in road and parking infrastructure, freeing up significant land for alternative uses. “Combined with other forms of sharing, particularly office and residential space, the net effect on both access and sustainability could be significant,” Benjaafar says.

To learn more about the initiative or to participate, please see the Initiative on the Sharing Economy website.



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Michael McCarthy