My colleagues at Institute for the Future are hosting a "Positive Platform Design Jam" November 30-December 1 at our Palo Alto, California gallery and offices. The goal is to hack on software or conceptual frameworks for on-demand platforms that not only maximize profits for their owners but also provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who work on them. Are you a creative technologist, social inventor, policy expert, labor activist? IFTF hopes you'll apply to participate!
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Why are we doing this?
A host of technologies—from automation to digital platforms for coordination of tasks — are reinventing not just what people do to earn a living but at a much deeper level how we organize to create value. The landscape of labor economics is in upheaval. In the process, new platforms, algorithms, and attitudes are undermining many established institutions, regulatory regimes, and work practices, challenging some of the basic tenets of the social safety net established in the 20th century. But what of the workers? How can we ensure dignified and sustainable livelihoods for everyone?
Solutions won’t come from any one agency, discipline, or company. It will take collaboration, broad public engagement, smart policy, and an openness to reinventing old economic models. And while we can’t put the technologies enabling on-demand platforms back in the box, the algorithms we embed in them, the platform design choices we make, the policy and regulatory solutions we create can be shaped by all of us. It is one of the more urgent tasks that we face today.
Over the last year, my colleagues at Institute for the Future's Workable Futures Initiative conducted ethnographic interviews with more than 30 people across the country who use on-demand work platforms to make ends meet. There's Seda, who runs her own small business selling women’s clothing and accessories, but makes ends meet as a professional “lab rat” who participates, sometimes illegally, in clinical trial studies all over the country; Nichelle, a Ph.D. who crafts communications courses on an online learning platform while she takes it easy as an expat in Costa Rica; Jan, a homeless veteran who is using the Rover.com pet-sitting site to make a little money while she works with Swords to Plowshares to find a place to live and earn a degree; and many other fascinating people.
These ethnographic interviews informed IFTF's synthesis of "7 new archetypes of workers” whose input will be critical to creating better policies, technology platforms, and systems for people to have sustainable and successful livelihoods in the future, instead of just maximizing revenue for the platform companies. The research is presented in a new report, Voices of Workable Futures.
From a Fortune magazine article about the research:
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The overarching goal of the Institute’s report is to help create what it calls “positive platforms”—ones that “not only return profits to investors but also . . . provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who use them.”
To that end, Gorbis says she’d like to see more support mechanisms—paid for by the platform companies—through which gig workers could access tax and financial assistance, physical gathering spaces for “social connectedness,” and a rating service capturing the employee experience on a range of sites.
Over at Medium's WTF? Future of Work publication, our pal Marina Gorbis, exec director of Institute for the Future, and IFTF's Devin Fidler write about why we need new design principles for on-demand work platforms.
Their creators have mastered the discipline of interaction design and brought it to new heights… when it comes to consumer experience. Uber, Munchery, Postmates, and many apps are exquisitely designed, sometimes even addictive for users. They make previously laborious processes effortless and seamless. No hassles with paying, calling, talking. Swipe your phone with a finger and voila: your ride, your meal, your handyman magically appear.
But the apps are not only platforms for consumption. They are quickly becoming our entry points for work, gateways to people’s livelihoods. In this sense, whether or not platform creators realize it, they are engaging in another kind of design, socioeconomic design, the design of systems that people will rely on to structure their work, earnings, daily schedules. And here we find ourselves in the same phase as interaction design was decades ago — the inmates are running the asylum. The stakes, however, are much higher; instead of just convenience, we are talking about people’s livelihoods.
"Design It Like Our Livelihoods Depend on It: 8 Principles for creating on-demand platforms for better work futures" Read the rest