While French people have taken enthusiastically to some collaborative consumption practices, other areas of the ‘collaborative economy’ are only just beginning to take off. It seems therefore that France still has some way to go in this area.

Collaborative Economy Making Uneven Progress in France

According to a recent study from Lobsoco, an interdisciplinary network of professionals – economists, anthropologists, geographers, marketing specialists et al – who are investigating alternative consumption models, 50% of French people have borrowed at least one product in the last twelve months. Meanwhile a new platform for collaborative consumption is set up almost every week in France, ranging from person-to-person storage facilities to office-sharing to share-a-meal initiatives. But this collaborative trend is not just about the consumption side. Collaborative production – aka ‘co-creation’ – collaborative finance and open governance are all part of the same movement. However, although France is in many respects at the forefront of the push towards a more collaborative economy, the various different segments and models have so far been developing in an uneven manner.

France’s collaborative ecosystem still patchy

As Antonin Léonard, co-founder of the Oui Share Festival, the first major European event dedicated to the collaborative economy, which took place on 2-4 May in Paris, points out: “In France, there’s a real ecosystem which has been created around the exchange of goods and services.” Two sectors in particular stand out. First the automotive sector, where French companies such as Blablacar (car-pooling) and Drivy (person-to-person car hire) have already made their mark at European level and are now going more widely international. Secondly, in the tourism sector, France is the second biggest market for Airbnb, a San Francisco-based online service that provides a platform for individuals to rent out accommodation on a short-term basis. However, while the trend towards exchanging goods and services is thriving, areas such as collaborative finance and production are still in their infancy. Following the recent partnership between Quirky.com, a social product development company which provides a platform for co-creation, transforming customers into inventors, and Auchan, the French international retail group, major firms in France are only just beginning to incorporate customers’ ideas into their product design. But despite a regulatory environment which is more complex than in the United States, close to 37% of French people say they would be willing to invest via a website such as KissKissBankBank, a platform promoting co-funding for creative projects, or the collaborative financing site Ulule. "Collaborative financing platforms are here to stay," predicts Léonard.

Local authorities are key players

The third major aspect of the collaborative economy is all about involving citizens in decision-making relating to their cities, towns, and local services. At the Le Web conference which took place on 5-6 June in London, many speakers underlined the need to bring entrepreneurs, citizens and decision-makers together to discuss the challenges facing the cities of the future. Bordeaux, which is holding the first National Forum on the Collaborative Economy on 4-5 July, has positioned itself as the leader in local government support for the collaborative, citizen-centred movement. "The local authorities there have really taken on board the extent to which this model can work," acknowledges Léonard, adding: "It’s time to use this dynamic to re-forge the social links within a town or city. He leaves us with a final vision: “Why not think about creating entire collaborative towns?"