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A year spent understanding the role of data in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector

Mon Apr 9, 2018
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The ODI has been working to understand how data can improve the peer-to-peer accommodation market to support businesses and communities, and improve the experience of consumers.

The ODI has been working to understand how data can improve the peer-to-peer accommodation market to support businesses and communities, and improve the experience of consumers.

Across sectors, platforms that help people exchange goods and services are challenging traditional business models. For example, accommodation platforms – such as Airbnb, LoveHomeSwap and Wimdu – have grown rapidly in recent years, which allow homeowners to let out spare rooms or entire homes, usually for a short period of time. Platforms like these connect hosts with people looking for short-term accommodation. They compete with hotels and other more established providers of short-term lettings, and those in the wider accommodation and housing sector.

Today the ODI is launching three reports examining the sector from different user perspectives, methodologies and data themes, and considering what is possible now and in the future.

Discovering the sector

The discovery phase of this project involved interviews and workshops in London, Cardiff and Dundee, where the ODI engaged with different stakeholders: platform operators, users, estate agents, renter’s associations, local authorities and blue light services. The aim was to understand the experiences of those involved in peer-to-peer accommodation sector, whether directly or indirectly. Alongside this, we explored approaches to intervention from around the world to see how national and local governments had sought to manage the impact of peer-to-peer letting. Both reports are open for comments.

This discovery research led us to focus on three areas:

  • How to help people understand the impacts of peer-to-peer accommodation so better decisions can be made
  • How platform operators might interact with local data to create relationships with the communities they operate in, and extend their product offerings
  • What might happen if data in and around the peer-to-peer accommodation sector were more portable, and people and businesses – such as hosts and letters – could share it with third parties they trusted

Data from different angles

Throughout the research, the same questions came up time and again:  

‘What are the ‘real’ impacts of the peer-to-peer accommodation, compared to what is perceived?

‘Do we have good enough evidence to make decisions?’

This led to us look at how data could be used to better understand what those impacts might be and how they could be observed. We also wanted to understand how users might engage differently with peer-to-peer accommodation platforms.

Could local open data be used to create better user experiences? Would the right to data portability create new services for users to engage with, and what might these look like?

Each of our reports explores one of these themes:

Understanding the impacts of peer-to-peer accommodation, the role of data and data observatories

Our first report looks at how a variety of data from distinct contexts, can help to understand the positive and negative impacts of the peer-to-peer accommodation sector on society. Based on desk and user research and open data that is available, we’ve looked into ‘data observatories’ (a term we came across throughout our discovery work) to understand what they are, and whether they could provide ways of helping people make better decisions. These might be about whether or not a national or local government should intervene in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector, or to measure the impact of an intervention over time.

Prototyping with local sports data

We wanted to think about how the relationship between communities, local places, platform users and platform operators could be enhanced through available open data. Our report looks at how platforms might interact with third-party, local open data, through three concepts, using an existing sport and physical activity dataset as an example. This has helped us explore the technical feasibility of platforms connecting with local open data, and the kinds of interactions and opportunities for innovation and new services it could bring about.

Data portability and peer-to-peer accommodation: four scenarios for the future?

The right to data portability has been touted as a way to give people more control over data about them and a method for unlocking innovation. We used a design fiction methodology to explore what might happen in the future if data in and around this sector were more portable, and if people and businesses – such as hosts and letters – could share it with third parties they trusted. This has helped us imagine how data portability might create opportunities for innovation, and enable new types of services. It has also helped us consider potential risks for individuals, businesses and society more generally.

The outputs are diverse in order to explore a variety of facets of peer-to-peer accommodation; from individual platform users to those trying to understand the impacts of the sector and the communities affected. They use different methodologies to explore how new approaches to using, publishing and interacting with data can support innovation, bolster local economies and increase engagement and participation in the sector. They suggest new approaches for how the sector interacts with data and what these may entail. We hope they are useful for those thinking about what is possible through the use of data, but also that they act as a conversation starter for considering what future we want to create.

What next?

Although this project has finished, all of our work is openly licensed so anyone can use and build on it, and all our reports are open for comments.

These will feed into future work. We will be using what we learned in other sectors and exploring opportunities for further work in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector.

Alongside our reports, we have commissioned a YouGov survey to understand public perceptions and trends in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector. We will be publishing the results of the poll and the open dataset in the coming weeks.

Data portability is a big theme of the ODI’s work and a large topic in the debate about data. We are already using what we learned from exploring its future in the peer-to-peer accommodation sector as part of our work in other sectors, such as retail, telecoms, banking and sports.

Data observatories for the collaborative economy are already being explored by various national and local governments (for example in Scotland). We hope that our work will be useful to them all and will be sending copies to those we came across in our research.

We at the ODI believe that local open data is key to creating more empowered communities and services that are better tailored to meet their needs. While we focused on peer-to-peer accommodation platforms within our work, we believe what we’ve learned is relevant and useful to anyone looking to work with open data as part of their service.

Get in touch with if you want to talk to us about this work, or would like us to help you get these prototypes used in your work, whatever the context.