Switch-Gig is a collaboration with Oliver Bates, Carolynne Lord and Hayley Alter, along with partners at Co-operatives UK, Miralis Data and Future City Logistics, plus collaboration with local delivery couriers in Manchester and York. It was funded by the fantastic Not-Equal NetworkPlus, which is a network of research around digital economy and social justice.
At the centre of Switch-Gig is a desire to better understand the perspectives of the workers in digital "gig economy" platforms, such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat in the UK. Much is made of the disruptive economic opportunities made by these platforms, which is true, but they are reliant on thousands of couriers who do the actual work of moving food and goods from supplier to consumer. The platforms talk about the benefits of this kind of work, especially in terms of flexibility, but you rarely hear from the couriers themselves about their experiences.
We wanted to understand more about this experience, since workers are both the "users" of the technology and also collectively the people that actually make the platforms function at all. We ran a series of workshops where we engaged local couriers in a series of mapping and creative exercises, that aimed to understand how they engage with and around the technology currently, the frictions and values, from the ground up. We explicitly excluded platforms from this process, to keep focus on workers.
We collaborated on a series of design provocations, that are ideas that embody specific aspects of their work. They expose really interesting textural aspects of their work, their interaction with technology, customers, the city, the courier community and local infrastructure. These provocations have been shared with industry, unions, and other organisations to help give richer picture of aspects of courier experience. This work is ongoing, but the project so far has been incredibly eye opening in understanding the hidden, personal issues, but also profound benefits, that are associated with platform work.
The booklet, "Outside the Bag", contains more insight and reflection. Also see the papers related to this project below.
- Ben Kirman, Oliver Bates, Carolynne Lord, and Hayley Alter (2022) Thinking Outside the Bag: Worker-led Speculation and the Future of Gig Economy Delivery Platforms. In proceedings of 2022 Design Research Society Conference (DRS 2022). Bilbao, Basque Country.
- Oliver Bates, Carolynne Lord, Hayley Alter, and Ben Kirman (2020) Let’s start talking the walk: Capturing and reflecting on our limits when working with gig economy workers. In Proceedings of Sixth ACM Workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS 2020). Virtual.
- Oliver Bates, Christian Remy, Callum Nash, and Ben Kirman (2019) The future of techno-disruption in gig economy workforces: challenging the dialogue with fictional abstracts. HTTF 2019: Proceedings of the Halfway to the Future Symposium 2019. Nottingham, UK.
- Oliver Bates & Ben Kirman (2019) Sustainable Platform Cooperativism: Towards social and environmental justice in the future of the gig-economy. Proceedings of the workshop on Computing within Limits (LIMITS 2019). Lappeenranta, Finland.