Platform work scenarios: Methodology

20 September 2020

The research project ‘Future scenarios of platform work’ explores the economic, labour market and societal impacts of two types of platform work – platform-determined routine work and worker-initiated moderately skilled platform work – by 2030. This webpage provides a description of the project methodology.

Scenario-building is a foresight methodology that uses a qualitative approach to derive possible futures to explore what may happen, rather than predicting what will happen. Accordingly, it is an exploratory rather than a normative method. Instead of quantitative forecasting (built through numerical data), it tells plausible stories about potential future developments, without assessing the likelihood that any scenario will come to pass. Its aim is to encourage the user to shape the future by considering what could be done to realise a desirable scenario or to avoid an undesirable one instead of assuming that the future is already determined, and one can only adapt to developments.

In general, the scenario-building process follows five stages.

  • Define the research question and choose the time horizon
  • Construct the system and identify the key influencing factors (‘drivers’)
  • Describe the key drivers and draft hypotheses for their development
  • Explore potential futures by combining the driver hypotheses
  • Outline strategic choices

Defining the research question

In its Programming document 2017–2020, Eurofound established The digital age: Opportunities and challenges for work and employment as one of its strategic research areas. One aim of this activity is ‘to support the policy debate through the development of plausible scenarios … outlining what the future world of work could look like’. Against this background, and building upon its extensive research on platform work, in its Work Programme 2020, Eurofound launched a scenario-building exercise related to the platform economy.

The objective of this project was to explore the potential economic, labour market and societal impact of two specific types of platform work in the EU by 2030.

Eurofound defines platform work as ‘a form of employment that uses an online platform to enable organisations or individuals to access other organisations or individuals to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment’. The main characteristics of platform work are the following:

  • paid work is organised through an online platform
  • three parties are involved: the online platform, the client and the worker
  • the aim is to carry out specific tasks or solve specific problems
  • the work is contracted out
  • jobs are broken down into tasks
  • services are provided on demand

Given the increasing heterogeneity in platform work, Eurofound established a typology that identified 10 distinctive types of platform work that had a critical mass of platforms and active workers as of 2017.

Two of these types have been selected for the scenario-building exercise.

  • On-location platform-determined routine work covers low-skilled work that is delivered in person and assigned to the worker by the platform. The platform often takes the role of an employer (at least partially) without, in most cases, providing workers with an employment contract. This type of platform work is currently fairly widespread in Europe as regards both workers and platforms. Well-known examples include food-delivery services such as Deliveroo, Foodora and Glovo and person-transportation services such as Uber and MyTaxi.

  • On-location worker-initiated moderately skilled work refers to low- to medium-skilled work where tasks are selected and delivered on-location (in person) by the worker. The ability to choose their own assignments provides these workers with flexibility, which is considered a major benefit of platform work. At the same time, the significant disadvantages of uncertainty and dependence on the platform for work are reduced. Well-known examples include repair and maintenance services such as those organised through MyBuilder, Supermano or Werkspot and cleaning services such as Helpling or Book a Tiger.

Identifying key influencing factors

After defining the research question, the next step was to identify the key variables likely to influence the matter under investigation and their potential interrelationships. These drivers were then placed in a matrix along their expected importance for the subject matter and their level of uncertainty. This was done in a workshop in December 2018 that involved 16 experts from academia and applied policy research, combining a wide range of different disciplines, as well as practitioners from the platform economy. A total of almost 20 influencing factors were identified. These factors were related to either external framework conditions or to characteristics of platforms, workers or clients.

Those drivers deemed highly important and the development of which in the period under consideration was assumed to be highly uncertain were classified as ‘key drivers’ to be further considered for the next steps of the exercise. This step resulted in eight key drivers to be elaborated further.

Describing key drivers and hypotheses

Through desk research, for each of the key drivers, a definition adequate for the specific research purpose was derived, and their development was analysed, drawing on quantitative and qualitative information depending on availability. Where possible, specific reference to the observed impact of the driver on the subject under consideration was made.

For each of the key drivers at least two hypotheses depicting their potential future development during the reference period were derived. These hypotheses needed to be realistic and mutually exclusive.

This documentation of the key drivers was validated through a Delphi consultation with the experts involved. The documentation and validation of the key drivers took place between January and June 2019.

Exploring potential futures

For each of the key drivers identified, one of the related hypotheses was chosen and combined into a ‘story’ about the potential future development of the research subject. In exploring potential futures, while these stories need to be plausible (that is, absurd extrapolations are to be avoided), in recognition of the time horizon, it is encouraged that at least some of them deviate, even substantially, from the current situation.

For this project the development of scenarios started in a workshop in June 2019 that again involved 16 experts from academia and applied policy research, as well as practitioners from the platform economy. The experts developed 10 scenarios. Some of them were similar to each other, and accordingly were considered as alternatives to each other.

The scenarios were then further developed through desk research, in terms of progressing their ‘storyline’, but also adding information on the potential impact of the assumed future on the subject matter. This exercise was carried between September 2019 and January 2020. The elaborated scenarios underwent validation by the experts through another round of Delphi consultation in February 2020.

Outlining strategic choices

As a final step, three of the scenarios were discussed with a group of 10 policy stakeholders (including representatives of governments, worker and employer organisations and the European Commission) in a workshop in March 2020. The scenarios were presented to the participants who were then asked for their policy recommendations for realising a desirable and avoiding an undesirable future of platform work by 2030.

It is important to note that the policy pointers do not aim to dictate what policymakers should do. Rather, they have been developed to shed light on what could be done to address issues that might.

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