Motivated by the growing significance of the sharing economy, we discuss the roles the public sector may play within the sharing economy and the corresponding implications for public values. The sharing economy represents a transformative agent for the public sector within the current landscape of digital transformation. While the public sector has so far acted mainly as a regulatory body in the sharing economy, we here discuss implications for other roles the public sector may take on, including the roles of customer, service provider, and platform provider. Framed within the context of the public value ideals (professional, efficiency, service, and engagement), we examine the opportunities and challenges of each role for the four public values. Finally, we identify areas for future research, focusing on the implications of public values for the public sector in the sharing economy.
The public sector's actions are typically aligned with and guided by public values, which represent the public sector's underlying purposes and motivations and the rationale for its existence (Rose, Persson, Heeager, & Irani, 2015). Typical examples of public values include responsibility to the citizens, efficiency, effectiveness and fairness (Bannister & Connolly, 2014). In recent years, the processes of the digital transformation have challenged the public sector to respond to the evolution of a more digital society, influencing public value positions. Over the past 30 years, public sector organisations have evolved from rigid and bureaucratic structures into more decentralized forms of coordination (Rainey & Bozeman, 2000), replacing hierarchies with markets for the efficient allocation of scarce public resources (Hoggett, 1996). This has resulted in the introduction of the concept of new public governance, making way for new forms of public service delivery, such as “self-organizing inter-organizational networks” (Osborne, 2006, p. 381), that include both governmental and nongovernmental actors. In line with this paradigm and facilitated by digitalisation, the new concept of the sharing economy exemplifies a new form of service delivery that has received significant attention in the private sector, and which the public sector is starting to explore. The sharing economy represents a new form of economic exchange that promotes the consumption of goods and services based on the principles of resource sharing, temporary ownership and access to digital platforms (Belk, 2014). Despite the growing importance of the concept, few studies have focused on sharing economies in the public domain (Ganapati & Reddick, 2018; Glover, 2016), and most of these have regarded the public sector's role mainly as being responsible for setting the regulatory framework (Rut, 2016; Thoreson, 2016). However, “[g]overnment and regulators do more than set policy. They can also be active participants in the economy by supporting, encouraging or promoting collaborative economic activities that enable more efficient provision of public services” (Stokes, Clarence, Anderson, & Rinne, 2014, p. 30). The public sector may, for instance, actively offer and rent goods, such as machinery, via sharing economy platforms (Ganapati & Reddick, 2018). Still, beyond its role as a strictly regulatory body, we know little about the role of the public sector within the sharing economy.