Citizens, Government and the 'We Economy' (Industry Perspective)

A recent survey reveals a clear gap between citizens’ acceptance of digitally enabled platforms, models and tools and government’s plans to embrace sharing economy opportunities.

by Pallavi Verma and Peter Hutchinson / June 6, 2016

From Airbnb, Uber and Lyft to other sharing economy services, citizens have embraced the shift from the “Me Economy” to a “We Economy” and its digitally enabled platforms, models and tools. But a recent Accenture Public Service survey of more than 3,000 U.S. citizens and 130 public-sector leaders reveals a clear gap between citizens’ acceptance of these models and government’s plans to embrace sharing economy opportunities.

Regardless of the type of collaborative consumption considered, fewer than half of government leaders say they will consider utilizing such models over the next 10 years. Fewer than one in five are considering it today. Meanwhile, citizen support for government use of the sharing economy is strong, ranging from 73 percent to 87 percent for a variety of services.

Get on Board or Be Left Behind?

There is no doubt that digitally enabled platforms are forging new operating models for transportation, lodging and a host of other services. Digital is also powering new avenues, including crowdsourcing, for collecting, sharing and using data to drive innovation and tackle some of society’s most complex problems. But what does the “We Economy” mean for government?

In a word: plenty. While many are focused on regulatory issues arising from these disruptive models, government innovators are embracing them as opportunities to drive enhanced performance. Indeed, as “We Economy” models continue gaining momentum, government can either get on board or be left behind.

The Accenture research confirms that citizens support government’s use of sharing platforms and other “We Economy” models, and points to opportunities to enhance citizen perceptions, engagement and satisfaction with government. The survey also reveals that many public-sector leaders see potential value in using “We Economy” strategies — from sharing of assets to crowdsourcing — to support government innovation, strengthen citizen engagement and improve outcomes.

Is Ownership Obsolete?

All told, two crucial questions are raised about government’s role in the “We Economy.” First, should government build what it can borrow? And second, why shouldn’t government use digitally enabled platforms to get more from what it already owns?

Digital technologies are empowering citizens to take a modern approach to an old-fashioned idea: sharing. Shared use platforms make it easy to connect those who need a particular asset or service with those who have excess capacity. Shared use creates clear advantages in terms of cost efficiency —  whether paying only for what you consume as a buyer or generating a better return on investment as a seller.

Both public-sector leaders and individual citizens recognize that access to an asset or service does not require owning it. In the survey, 62 percent of citizens and 66 percent of leaders think government use of sharing economy services will improve overall citizen satisfaction with government. What’s more, 62 percent of citizens and 76 percent of government leaders think shared use will positively change citizen views of government as innovative and forward thinking.

How Government Is Tapping into Potential “We Economy” Solutions

Some governments are already tapping into the potential for “We Economy” solutions. One example is use of third-party car-sharing platforms to dramatically reduce the size and improve the utilization of government fleets, or maintaining a common pool of vehicles for rent across agencies or municipalities. In communities with robust public transportation, third-party car sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber, may enable government to completely exit the “business” of fleet management — cutting capital and operating expenses, reducing risk, and making a positive impact on the environment.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, local government employees are using Lyft to cover the first and last mile of public transportation. Similarly, the city of Chicago uses Zipcar to meet some of its fleet needs and has found that Zipcar costs $.25 less per mile versus owning and operating its own fleet.

By the end of 2020, New York City plans to eliminate 10 percent of its light-duty vehicles, replacing the fleet with car sharing. The Department of Corrections will be the first city agency to roll out car sharing. In time, NYC will expand car sharing and fleet sharing for city workers and expects to save $5,000 per year per reduced vehicle.

To reduce the size of its fleet, the General Services Administration (GSA) launched a car-sharing program with Enterprise CarShare. Through a pilot in Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston and Chicago, government agencies and their employees will have access to car-sharing services 24/7 in these cities.

Car-sharing platforms can also help close gaps in public transportation services without requiring massive government investment. Consider, for instance, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which has partnered with Uber. Using the GoPass MobileTicketing Application, customers can purchase a ticket for DART, as well as order an Uber ride for transportation to and from the station.

Similarly, HART — the public transit system in Hillsborough County, Fla. — is talking to Uber and Lyft about a partnership to connect customers to the bus system. The pilot project is helping deliver door-to-door public transit for disabled riders and those who use paratransit services.

Forward-thinking governments also are tapping into sharing platforms to reduce the cost and risk associated with the real estate they own. In Accenture’s survey, fully eight in 10 citizens agreed that government has excess resources — including facilities — that are currently underutilized. LiquidSpace, which lists offerings in more than 500 cities across the U.S., Australia and Canada, offers a platform for renting workspaces and meeting rooms by the day or hour. In California, the cities of Palo Alto, San Francisco and Santa Cruz have listed their unused space, including areas in public libraries and other government buildings, for rent via LiquidSpace.

Digital: A Direct Line to Citizens and Their Data

Widespread adoption of mobile devices is creating another set of opportunities for government innovation. Through third-party mobile apps, citizens are already providing valuable information that can be used to shape and deliver public services — without government bearing the full burden of storing and managing the data. More than three-quarters of citizens (76 percent) support the use of crowdsourced data to inform service delivery.

Among the opportunities: monitoring Yelp or similar apps to identify which restaurants and hotels are most likely to be out of compliance with health and safety regulations; using third-party sensor data to monitor and respond to weather and/or public safety conditions; and mining driver-provided data to help guide highway and road infrastructure repairs and long-term planning. Already, the city of Detroit and other municipal governments are using the mobile app SeeClickFix as a communications platform for citizens to report non-emergency issues. Governments can use  SeeClickFix to track, manage and reply to citizen-reported issues.

There is no doubt that digital and mobile technologies combined with public support have created a host of opportunities to transform the way government manages the infrastructure it has already acquired. Embracing new models can help drive government innovation, trim costs, reduce waste and enhance risk management. However, half of the government leaders surveyed said their agencies are unprepared to meet the challenges of engaging with or using the sharing economy to deliver services. The following are ways to start:

1) Identify swift wins. Getting started with the “We Economy” shouldn’t be a long, protracted project. To start, tap into existing platforms, such as Uber and Lyft for first- and last-mile transport or Airbnb for emergency shelter following natural disasters.

2) Borrow before you buy. When contemplating the purchase of almost any asset, ask first, “Can we borrow or rent?” The opportunities for sharing are limited only by a willingness to try.

3) Lend what you already own. Look at existing assets. Ask, “What is owned that’s underutilized?” Then look for a “We Economy” approach that can be adopted to get more use, and more revenue, from what is already owned.

5) Get citizens in on the action. Apps like Nextdoor and SeeClickFix can quickly get your citizens connected and active with you in solving problems and effectively delivering services.

For government, the path to participation in the “We Economy” is not long nor are the barriers high. Government doesn’t need to own every asset and control every resource in order to deliver public services. It does, however, need to let go of long-held assumptions in order to grab on to newly forming models that will allow it to fuel government innovation and succeed at delivering public services for the future.

Pallavi Verma is senior managing director of Accenture’s state and local government practice in North America, and Peter Hutchinson leads management consulting strategy for Accenture’s state and local government practice.