Platform Cooperatives as an alternative to Commercial Platforms

Cooperative or mission-driven platforms are distinctive because they make a substantial contribution to society. They offer institutions opportunities to increase student loyalty, according to platform expert Jovana Karanovic. But a proactive approach is crucial in order to set the direction.

Jovana Karanovich

Young people are "digital natives" and expect digital convenience, efficiency, and freedom of choice from educational institutions. So first determine what digital strategy suits your institution and then build a distinctive ecosystem around it that offers value to all participants. That, in a nutshell, was the advice given by Jovana Karanovic, who was the keynote speaker at the SURF Summit (see box) in Hilversum. Karanovic, Assistant Professor at Erasmus University, is an expert on the platform economy and digital innovations in general. The rise of platforms such as Uber, Thuisbezorgd and Airbnb is not only changing the way we do business with each other, it is also changing our perception of value. "We no longer value the possession of assets, but the access to them. The world's largest transport company today - Uber - does not own cars and one of the world's largest accommodation providers - Airbnb - does not own real estate. And these are billion-dollar companies," she explains.

Value Creation

Jovana Karanovich

Studying these platforms over the past 5 years, Karanovic learned some important lessons.  Lesson 1: platforms are here to stay. "Customers love the efficient service that platforms offer and demand dictates supply. The entry of more customers and service providers triggers network effects, with both sides of platforms benefiting from each new customer/provider that joins. Platforms also significantly reduce transaction and search costs, which brings economic value," says Karanovic. Second lesson: The community is the heart of the platform. "It is a two-sided market. Apple saw its iPhone as much more than a product: as a platform with app developers on the one hand and iPhone users on the other. Apple's appstore now has 2.2 million apps and generates around €45 billion annually for its developers." However, communities can also rebel against platforms. Take the #DeleteUber campaign in New York City, when Uber drove through during the taxi strike because of Trump's immigration ban. Lesson 3: Data and networks generate power. "Look at the outage at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and how just 6 hours of downtime led to huge losses for small businesses. That shows how powerful these platforms are."

Platform Cooperatives

As a fourth lesson, Karanovic points to the emergence of platform cooperatives, an alternative to commercial platforms, which are run and owned by workers, users or both. As an example she mentions Stocksy, owned by some 12,000 photographers. "Such platforms have cooperative governance, democratic decision-making and promise a fair distribution of value to workers and users - the biggest criticism of commercial platforms." Other European examples include WeHelpen, where participants can organise their own care and offer help to others, and Partago, a Belgian platform cooperative for sharing electric cars.

Platform cooperatives have cooperative governance, democratic decision-making and promise a fair distribution of value to workers and users - the main criticism of commercial platforms.

Sharing Resources

That brings her to the fifth lesson: how cooperative platforms, which usually have to do without large investors, can compete with commercial platforms. "By creating a clear identity and appealing to a certain group of users, platform cooperatives can be attractive to users who are looking for alternatives to regular platforms. And by growing with the help of the community, as Partago does in Ghent: that platform delivers an electric car as soon as enough people in a neighbourhood show an interest in car sharing. Then users start actively recruiting other users." Another distinction is that platform cooperatives are often mission-driven, want to mean something to society and share knowledge and resources to that end. "You don't see that in regular platforms."

Platforms in Education and Research

Naturally, the necessary platforms already exist within education and research. What is new is the National Platform for Applied Sciences (NPPO), which is intended to allow the valuable knowledge and products that practice-based research yields for professional practice and education to reach far more people. The platform will be launched in early 2022. Another example is edusources, a platform that gives instructors, librarians and students access to a diverse range of digital learning materials in one place.

Platforms offer numerous opportunities for education and research.

Peer Exchange

Karanovic expects many more experiments with (business models around) platforms in education and research in the coming years - also because corona has accelerated digitalisation - and sees numerous possibilities.

"For example, to formalise peer exchange between students in a platform, so that a first-year student can retrieve information about a subject from a third-year student. Make sure that institutions keep each other informed of what educational resources they are developing. At the moment, knowledge often gets lost because it is in people's heads. If you share that knowledge, you prevent everyone from constantly reinventing the wheel. Platforms can definitely lead to greater efficiency at the administrative level, freeing up time for student guidance if peer-to-peer knowledge sharing is possible."

Acting Proactively

According to her, board members must be aware that platforms are hare to stay. "The younger generations are 'digital natives'; they expect digital convenience, efficiency and freedom of choice. If you can meet their needs, platforms are an opportunity to retain students and keep up with digital trends. When forming an ecosystem, board members need to be proactive, Karanovic says. "If you want to keep control of the platform and direct its course, it is important to act proactively."

Text: Wilma Schreiber

Translation: Deepl

Jovana Karanovic

Jovana Karanovic is Assistant Professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. There she conducts research into digital technologies and new organizational forms, in particular around the platform economy and their impact on stakeholders. In this context, she also explores alternative organizational forms and governance structures, such as platform cooperatives. In 2017 she started the Reshaping Work Foundation. Goal is to bring the international community together to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding new digital trends, such as the platform economy and artificial intelligence, and work. Recently, media outlet Silicon Canals named Karanovic as one of the most powerful female ecosystem builders of the Amsterdam tech domain for the year 2021. She is also an RSA fellow; this British organization that has been focusing on social change since 1754.

SURF Summit 2021

Jovana Karanovich at SURF Summit 2021

On 13 October, board members and CSCs of the SURF Cooperative met for the SURF Summit 2021. In addition to the keynote by Jovana Karanovic, the event included a panel discussion with 3 board members about their experiences with collaboration in digitisation, and breakout sessions on the topics of Digital Security, Flexibilisation of Education and Digital Sovereignty in Research.

'Platform cooperatives as an alternative to commercial platforms' is an article from SURF Magazine. Monthly the newest articles in your inbox? Then subscribe to the SURF Magazine newsletter (in Dutch)

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