“The digitESSt generates a digital self-diagnosis and the digiDieta offers resources for improvement”

Ricard Espelt, researcher in platform economics and agroecology. Coordinator of Dimmons and the UOC Chair in Digital Economy.

19/09/2022 - 10:45 h - Enterprise Ajuntament de Barcelona

MatchImpulsa is the main project of the UOC Barcelona Chair in Digital Economy: Towards a collaborative economy focused on people’s well-being and the right to the city (Open_Chair), the result of a collaboration agreement between the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), Barcelona City Council and Barcelona Activa. The aim of this collaboration is to promote strategic actions, working dynamics and instruments to enable public policies and the ecosystem of cities to face the challenges of the platform economy and take advantage of its opportunities for development and democratisation based on action research, co-creation of public policies, entrepreneurial impetus and training.

What is MatchImpulsa?

MatchImpulsa is a business promotion programme focused on the digitalisation of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) organisations. The programme encourages digitalisation to be based on free software, open knowledge and the mainstreaming of the gender perspective. MatchImpulsa is a research action programme; meaning that it has a practical and applied component, but it also builds on and provides knowledge by incorporating research.

How did MatchImpulsa come about and what needs do you want to cover? Why is digitalisation important?

The programme, which focuses on entrepreneurship, forms part of the UOC Barcelona Chair in Digital Economy framework.

It is based on the reality that, within the context of the SSE, digitalisation has been something of a late arrival and we find ourselves in a scenario in which, with the impact of platform capitalism, digitalisation is no longer an option, but almost an obligation. We find that large economic structures are becoming platformised and it is therefore very difficult to operate a business model without incorporating digitalisation. This element has been further reinforced since covid-19, a period that created a major disruption.

Digitalisation is one of the major challenges facing the SSE and it must incorporate its own values and practices. The city’s cooperative tradition, the revival of the movements around the common good and the feminist waves are Barcelona’s strongholds for promoting a democratic, socially just and gender-sensitive digitalisation.

You mentioned the Open_Chair and that there are various programmes. What others would you highlight?

As I have said, this is a public policy programme aimed at boosting entrepreneurship, and this is where MatchImpulsa is being developed. Another aspect of the Chair is linked to the generation of public policy to strengthen the SSE ecosystem in the city of Barcelona, including this element of digitalisation. The Dimmons research group is part of the core group driving ESSBCN2030, to support the digitalisation of the sector.

This public policy framework has different areas of work. For example, we are also working on a project called Sharing Cities, which has focused a lot on the creation of public policy in the field of the platform economy in a global context. This is a framework of global alliances, working as a network to promote public policies based on good city experiences and putting pressure on cities to ensure that other administrative structures that have the responsibility to do so, take action.

Public-university cooperation is a crucial element in the Open_Chair and its programmes. How would you describe this intercooperation within the scope of the ESS in the city?

The most important aspect that has been worked on in recent years by the ESS is the creation of spaces for inter-cooperation. The Solidarity Economy Fair of Catalonia (FESC), the Pam a Pam, the different committees of the Social Economy Network, and so on, are fine examples of the initiatives and spaces that have been developed from within the social and solidarity economy with the perspective of cooperation as a central element. In the framework of the Chair, and within the framework of the programme, what we have on the table is the importance that digitalisation has in this area of cooperation. What is important about digitalisation within this framework of intercooperation? It has a very broad scope, ranging from the fact that the tools can be developed in open source to encourage cooperative use, to generate platforms for inter-cooperation between projects to scale up the business impact.

For example, one of the projects participating in the MatchImpulsa platformisation line is the Mensakas cooperative. In the promotion of its business model, it incorporates instruments of a more global nature such as CoopCycle, a federation of bicycle delivery cooperatives that provides a technological tool made available to member cooperatives. Another project is Desfake by Verificat, a collaborative platform with training resources to help teachers work on media literacy and the critical consumption of information in classrooms throughout Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. Both projects have been accompanied by the development of a prototype, specialised advice for the adaptation of their economic and/or technological model and funding thanks to the Open_Chair via the MatchGoteo Matchfunding campaign.

Why do these programmes work?

MatchImpulsa has allowed the experience to be systematised. What I mean is, a lot of data has been collected during the course of the programme which, together with other previous studies on the digitalisation of the social and solidarity economy, such as that of the Third Social Sector of Catalonia Board, has enabled us to generate an initial diagnosis of what are the strong and weak elements of the digitalisation of this economic sphere, what challenges exist and what proposals for action could be promoted. These will be actions by and for the sector, with elements of public policy and others that can be developed by all actors in the sector.

To complement this diagnostic work and the set of resources generated by MatchImpulsa and the SSE sector, we have developed two tools that we will be launching this September: digitEESt and digiDieta.

How do they work?

digitESSt is intended to be a self-assessment tool. This means that an organisation, a company can assess its level of digitalisation on the basis of a series of blocks of questions with a holistic approach: organisation, economic model, gender perspective, tools, etc. The test takes about 20-25 minutes to complete and provides a complete overview of the key items for the digitalisation of the organisation. The test can be saved, allowing it to be completed at your own pace and convenience. So, if there are things you don’t know and you want to check, you can do so. Once the digitESSt has been completed, there is an hour-long advisory session on the social and solidarity economy by Barcelona Activa, and the possibility of becoming part of the UOC’s Hubbik incubator and accessing different training programmes. As well as being an exercise in self-diagnosis, it also allows for a collective return. It contributes to the knowledge of the sector and to a clearer identification of needs.

The digitESSt is a tool that is accompanied by a digiDieta: different resources (MatchImpulsa training modules, programmes) of interest that can be useful to support this digitalisation are offered based on the answers that the company or organisation has given. The training sessions can be consumed at a later date, whenever people consider it appropriate.

Not only does the digiDieta contain elements of the MatchImpulsa programme, it is also an open resource. If elements of the sector are identified that could be useful for an area seen as weak or improvable by digitESSt, they will be added. Therefore, what the digiDieta does is identify instruments that are useful in and for the digitalisation of the SSE.

What other services and benefits do digitESSt and digiDieta offer?

As we have already mentioned, there is also the possibility for representatives of companies and organisations to form part of Hubbik, a UOC incubator. In the same way as MatchImpulsa, it offers resources to help with digitalisation, both through capsule-type elements and a newsletter that provides funding opportunities and new digitalisation tools, as well as the possibility of receiving ad hoc advice.

At city level, the digitESSt will help us to have a clearer diagnosis of the state of digitalisation of the SSE, to identify the main drivers and this will help us to have a better perspective when thinking about public policy or sector actions to help digitalisation. The results will be published and shared so they can be of use to the whole sector. In parallel to the digitESSt, diagnostic work is also being carried out through interviews with key actors. Overall, there is the will to generate a work plan that is useful for all the actors that make up the SSE.

How does this digitalisation support work link to ESSBCN2030?

The strategy has many working elements that aim to consolidate the intercooperation of the SSE beyond the public administration and, therefore, beyond political mandates. In this context, the perspective of digitalisation is very important as it is one of the most important challenges to be tackled in the social and solidarity economy as a whole. There are also challenges associated with the intrinsic nature of the entities of the SSE, which are common elements and ones the preliminary diagnosis have already warned us about. Quite often they are organisations with a group of people with limited time available, limited time to dedicate to the organisation, or with few people, or whose daily activity does not allow them to have digital structures behind them, etc.

The fact of sharing and working on it as a driving force provides us with a very clear connection with those entities and those realities that the entities have identified. Many entities of the social and solidarity economy that are part of the driving force have this character of umbrella entities: the Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Third Social Sector Board, the Confederation of Cooperatives of Catalonia, the Federation of Mutual Aid Societies of Catalonia, the Solidarity Economy Network of Catalonia and so on. Therefore, it helps to have a global perspective on those entities and the specific problems in terms of digitalisation that we want to address.

From the perspective of the digitalisation of the SSE, another key element linked to the steering group is the work by sectors. This is also a learning element of the MatchImpulsa programme itself. The idea of linking it with the ESSBCN2030 steering group is to reinforce the sector element in order to try to find connections with strategic sectors with which to work. Food, textiles and education, for example. We believe that, as a sector, there is more strength and more capacity for coordination, since it is possible to link second-tier structures that can reinforce this digitalisation work as a strategic element.

Why is this sectoral approach so important?

Because, at times, digitalisation has to be an element of support in the business model transformation process. There are different scenarios: areas where there is clearly a threat, areas where there is clearly a need, but perhaps there is less urgency, and areas where the urgency is perhaps not yet apparent, but it will be. Working with the steering group offers the chance to build a strategy, to get a strategic perspective on the digitalisation of the sector and also to identify opportunities.

After two years of pandemic and operating in a virtual world, how do we balance digitalisation and physical presence?

Digitalisation as a whole is an element that favours the following models: relationships, dynamics, management, etc. But the transformation of the organisational model at the same time has to allow for physical presence, it is a tool that has to enable relationships beyond digitalisation. Sometimes, the more cohesive or carefully developed digitalisation is, the more it enhances these areas of physical presence and the more meaning it gives them.