3. Trend 3: New methods for preserving identities and strengthening equity

The pressures of globalisation are increasing inequalities. Indigenous communities are particularly at risk with governments developing inclusive, data-driven efforts to counter the challenges they face while ensuring their rights, interests, identities and value are respected. At the local level, government support for the digitisation of cultures is helping to ensure the fair distribution of benefits from innovations while driving sustainable development. Governments are also developing innovative strategies to address the cost-of-living crisis, unemployment, lack of adequate housing and homelessness, crime, rising poverty, gender discrimination and inequalities more broadly, including through data and systems approaches, while also working to tackle the digital divide. At the global level, governments are working to counter forms of inequality within gig economy platforms by creating alternatives and ensuring future expansion is socially sustainable and respectful of workers’ rights.

“Historic injustices have prevented Indigenous peoples from exercising their rights to development in accordance with their own needs and interests. Indigenous peoples have been colonised, dehumanised, subjugated and dispossessed of their lands and resources… Fortunately, in some places, reconciliation is starting to take root… As Indigenous peoples worldwide achieve growing legal recognition of their rights as well as title to land and sea, it is imperative that we overcome the implementation gap and translate these rights into better outcomes.”

Leaders of Indigenous peoples rights groups (McDonald, 2019[1]).

The world is getting smaller with every part of the globe increasingly connected to the rest. A virus in a Chinese food market was able to spread across the planet within a few months, causing unprecedented changes in people’s lives. It is recognised that globalisation is increasing inequalities but also making global value chains more resilient. Local levels have been disproportionately affected (OECD, 2021[2]), with local cultures threatened by the pressures of globalisation. The risk is particularly high for Indigenous communities, which have an history of exclusion. To address this threat, governments and their partners in industry and civil society are developing initiatives to ensure the flourishing of local communities and recognition of their value for society. OPSI and the MBRCGI have also identified a number of efforts to empower Indigenous peoples and safeguard local cultures. In both cases, data and digitalisation are seen as powerful means to protect cultures in the globalised world, ensure their diffusion and promote recognition of their value.

Approximately 38 million Indigenous people live in 13 OECD member countries. This number is due to rise as countries like Argentina, Brazil and Peru take steps to join the OECD. Indigenous peoples are defined by the United Nations (UN) as those who inhabited a country prior to colonisation, and who self-identify as such because they are descended from these peoples and belong to social, cultural or political institutions that govern them. Many Indigenous groups have unique assets and knowledge that address global challenges such as environmental sustainability and can contribute to stronger regional and national economies. However, across far too many indicators – income, employment, life expectancy and educational attainment – there are significant gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations (OECD, 2019[3]). While Indigenous peoples represent about 5% of the world’s population, they account for 15% of the world’s extreme poor and one-third of the rural poor, according to the UN.

Indigenous peoples worldwide have fought to achieve legal recognition of their rights. Such reconciliation demands involve their meaningful engagement in the planning and use of economic, social and human capital, and in the protection lands, water, natural resources and wildlife – all equally important elements of sustainable development. It also necessitates the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and perspectives in governance and policy design at all levels (OECD, 2019[3]). Improving the well-being of Indigenous peoples in these and other areas is critical to achieving inclusive development and the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals: “to leave no one behind” (OECD, 2019[3]). OPSI and the MBRCGI have identified an emerging set of initiatives by governments and grassroot actors to ensure that innovation is inclusive and aimed at empowering historically underrepresented communities, including Indigenous peoples. These include Australia’s upcoming referendum on “Indigenous Voice”, which proposes amending the constitution to create a new body that makes representations to the Parliament and the government on matters relating to Indigenous peoples (McIlroy, 2022[4]). As Indigenous communities are often disadvantaged, engaging with them can help promote greater equality and inclusion. Furthermore, projects focused on Indigenous communities can help preserve and promote their unique cultural heritage and traditions, which have been recognised as crucial for sustainable development in the context of the SDGs.

One way to empower Indigenous communities is through data. Incorporating Indigenous cultures into data sets, and then visualising them, helps to counter the challenges these communities face (Kukutai and Taylor, 2016[5]). In fact, the importance of having data, especially disaggregated data on Indigenous peoples, has been recognised since the earliest sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2002 as a key step towards realisation of their individual and collective rights. In addition, in 2019 the OECD underscored the need to improve Indigenous statistics and data governance, while also addressing their lack of access to technologies and the Internet. OPSI and the MBRCGI have identified numerous initiatives aimed at collecting data on Indigenous communities. The shared aim is to create more responsible and inclusive AI systems, and to help visualise the culture of these communities, based on the idea that “the social and the technical are interwoven, and technologies have immaterial as well as material impacts over specific gendered, racialised bodies and territories”, as stated in the AI Decolonial Manyfesto. Many such initiatives intend to create data points on Indigenous communities to address their invisibility, a consequence of lack of interest in these cultures and an inability to capture their cultural relevance through traditional ethnocentric methods, as highlighted by Myrna Cunningham, a leading representative of Indigenous movements.

Examples of these initiatives can be found in the work of IVOW, which aimed to provide data on Indigenous communities in order to develop, train and test AI systems that are more culturally aware. One of their projects was the Indigenous Knowledge Graph, which was designed to collect and prepare data from Indigenous belief systems that reflect their culture (Box ‎3.1). On a similar topic, the initiative NativeDATA, whose primary users are native communities, has been developed to provide a free online resource to guide Tribes and Native-serving organisations on obtaining and sharing health data. On the platform it is also possible to find data-sharing success stories, as well as tips for those seeking to respectfully collaborate with Tribes and Native-serving organisations.

Several data-based efforts have focused on developing data visualisations of Indigenous cultures. Taking many different forms, these initiatives explore how the knowledge of these populations can be diffused and the ways in which it can provide a new non-Western lens to address the challenges affecting global communities. For instance:

  • Relational Landscapes explores the numerous examples of ecological, social, economic and cultural relationships between South America and Central Europe, highlighting the erasure of Indigenous epistemologies and knowledge practices due to colonisation.

  • AHI KAA Rangers, a mobile app developed by a Māori tech company, combines environmental science and Indigenous knowledge. In the game, the user is a planter who needs to take care of a living world, just as the Kaitaiki (Guardian) of Aotearoa (New Zealand) cares for Papatūānuku (Mother Earth).

  • Climate Atlas is an interactive application that combines climate science, storytelling and maps together with Indigenous Knowledge, bring the global issue of climate change closer to home. It is based on the fact that “Indigenous peoples were amongst the first to notice climate change and also have critical knowledge for navigating and adapting to it”.

Governments, optimally working hand-in-hand with Indigenous peoples, need to ensure that Indigenous rights and interests are at the heart of data-driven efforts. Many resources have been developed to this end. For instance, the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance help to recognise power differentials and preserve Indigenous rights (Box ‎3.2).

Beyond technological innovations, OPSI and the MBRCGI also identified a significant number of innovations aimed at making legal proceedings more inclusive and culturally sensitive for Indigenous communities, addressing the lack of discrete measures related to the engagement of Indigenous peoples, as covered previously in the 2019 Trends report. The activity of the judicial sector embeds and reflects cultural differences that include different notions of power, community, equality and justice (Greenberg and Colquitt, 2013[6]). For instance, “Indigenous approaches to justice emerge holistically from deep-seated beliefs of the interconnectedness of all life forms”, and this understanding affects Indigenous perceptions of fairness and justice creating a potential clash with Western judicial activity (Whiteman, 2009[7]). One of the initiatives addressing this issue with a focus on child protection is Marram-Ngala Ganbu (Koori Family Hearing Day), a project designed by Aboriginal people that seeks to provide a more effective, culturally appropriate and just response for Aboriginal families through a court process that enables greater participation by family members and culturally informed decision making. In the Brazilian context, the expansive project Citizenship, Democracy and Justice for the Maxakali People was developed to address obstacles in access to justice for this people, their low engagement in the electoral politics of the area, and a deficit of social rights emerging from a lack of discussion of their needs. An in-depth discussion of this innovation can be found in the case study later in this section.

As shown, governments have undertaken notable efforts to level the playing field for Indigenous people through greater recognition of their cultures. Such innovative initiatives involving big data and AI aim at ensuring both cultural preservation and revival, and the development of culturally sensitive public services. However, improving Indigenous populations’ access to the same rights and opportunities as others also entails tackling the discrimination faced by Indigenous individuals and their descendants who migrate to non-Indigenous settings. Particularly promising are initiatives that use objective measures to monitor the level of discrimination and inequalities they encounter in different areas of life.

In terms of the labour market, Indigenous people are less likely to become part of the workforce than non-Indigenous individuals (Bodkin-Andrews and Carlson, 2014[8]). Such differences seem to be driven more by inequalities in education than hiring discrimination, although instances of the latter have been recorded among the female Indigenous population (Button and Walker, 2020[9]) (Moreno et al., 2012[10]). Evidence of inequalities in education have been observed in Guatemala, for example, where only 54% of 7-year-old Indigenous girls are in school compared to 75% of non-Indigenous girls. There is also evidence that the overall quality of education in areas in which Indigenous children live – often more remote, poorer areas – is also usually lower, which results in higher dropout rates (Curtis, 2009[11]).

Beyond efforts in relation to Indigenous communities, governments are undertaking impressive efforts to support the digitisation of culture, in particular local culture, as a means to address the risk of cultural extinction, and to ensure that distribution of the benefits of innovations is fair. Initiatives of this kind have focused, for instance, on cultural heritage, where digitisation can represent a driver of sustainable development both in the case of tangible and intangible heritage (Macrì and Cristofaro, 2021[12]). The potential of digitisation in this area has been recognised by local actors as well as at the international level, as demonstrated by the ambitious Declaration of cooperation on advancing digitisation of cultural heritage, which was signed by 27 European countries in 2019 (Box ‎3.3). This international effort follows the realisation of Europeana, a digital repository consisting of more than 50 million digitised records from European cultural institutions, now available to all.

OPSI and the MBRCGI have identified many initiatives that share these objectives but which also push for the unprecedented expansion of culture or cultural institutions. For instance, Collections of Ghent is an EU-funded project that intertwines the digitalisation of cultural heritage with the active involvement of citizens at the neighbourhood level, focusing on how digital cultural heritage can be used in co-creative and participative ways (Figure ‎3.1). The project is the result of a quadruple helix consortium, namely a partnership between government, industry, academia and civil society – a novel type of co-creation that can create public value by leveraging the diversity of involved stakeholders (OECD, 2022[13]).

Governments and partners in industry and civil society have also shown interest in creating digitised versions of cultural elements in the form of audio data, including both spoken language and sounds. With respect to the former, the availability of speech corpora is a prerequisite for both research in spoken language and the development of speech technological applications, such as voice assistants. Still, in their current state, language technologies are far from being language agnostic and cannot realise their potential in terms of promotion of diversity, since only a very small number of the over 7 000 languages spoken worldwide are represented in available research and applications (Joshi et al., 2021[14]). For instance, in India, as studied by Making Voices Heard, the unavailability of audio data in languages spoken in the area represents a concern that limits the uptake of voice interface technologies and the realisation of their potential. Two notable examples of efforts aimed at increasing linguistic diversity in speech technologies are the following:

  • Donate a Speech: Part of the Estonian Language Strategy 2021-2035, this project aims at creating an open database of 4 000 hours of spoken language, which will support companies, public sector institutions and research institutions in creating services and products based on speech technology. To retrieve the audio data, the Estonian government invited all people over the age of 18 to take part in the project during September 2022 and plans to have enough material for the database by February 2023.

  • Abena AI: Developed by Studio Mobobi, Abena AI is the first voice assistant fluent in Twi (also called Akan Twi), the most widely spoken language in Ghana. It provides an inclusive alternative to voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant, which lack sufficient coverage of African languages.

Governments have also focused on the collection of audio data to aid the preservation of culture beyond human languages. For instance, the City of Amsterdam, in partnership with Soundtrackcity, invited the residents of Zuid to participate in the Urban Sound Lab, collecting sounds of their environment to develop a collective sound map of the neighbourhood. The project promoted a novel awareness of urban sounds and provided the foundations and data for future municipal policies addressing what previously was considered noise.

With a similar focus on non-human sounds, Earth Species is an open-source collaborative and nonprofit project dedicated to decoding non-human language, rooted in the belief that having an understanding of non-human languages will change the ecological impact of humans on Earth. Based on an unsupervised ML algorithm, the project aims to reach an understanding of all the different ways used by animals of the same species to say the same thing. This approach helps to determine which part of the sound matters, making it possible to separate the true signal from the background carrier. This unprecedented decoding of non-human language is expected to improve awareness about ecological topics related to the climate crisis and, in this way, promote less anthropocentric interactions with nature.

Brazil is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries. With 305 Indigenous ethnic groups and 274 Indigenous languages, the challenges of inclusion and equity, as well as the promotion of human rights and protection of their individual characteristics, are huge and remain unsolved. The Maxakalís are a small Indigenous community living in the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia. With a population ranging between 1 500 and 2 700 inhabitants and speaking their own language (Tikmüün), they face challenges related to cultural isolation and lack of access to services that are enshrined as constitutional rights in Brazil. In 2020, the Court of Justice of Minas Gerais in conjunction with the Electoral Court launched a small but ambitious project in collaboration with the Maxakalís to co-create solutions that will allow them access to citizenship, democracy and justice, while working to resolve forms of structural and historical injustice from which Indigenous populations suffer. The project is an example of mobile justice (“Justiça Itinerante”) which aims to help people exercise their fundamental rights in a contextualised and culturally sensitive manner. It also advance progress towards SDG 16.3: “promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all”.

The Maxakalís Indigenous people were once one of the largest communities living in what are today the Brazilian’s States of Minas Gerais and Bahia. There are currently 19 Indigenous ethnic groups and a total of 30 000 Indigenous people living in Minas Gerais, of which 2 500 come from the Maxakalí ethnic group and live in the region of Aguas Formosas in the northeast of the state. They are spread out in two large villages: Água Boa and Pradinho. The Maxakalís represent 20% of the population in the region, and use their own language for the production and transmission of knowledge, as well as daily communication. This fact, added to the absence of initiatives by public agencies to train their agents in the Maxakalí language, makes them particularly vulnerable to rights violations that limit their access to justice, voting, civil participation, social rights, and protection from both the state and the federal government (Tribunal de Justiça do Estado de Minas Gerais, 2022[15]). Such a disadvantageous position is reinforced by the complexities of the federal and state system of justice and the most appropriate instances or institutions from which to seek protection. For example, while the federal government is responsible for processing constitutional rights such as human rights, rights of occupation or access to natural resources, more specific rights such as civil rights or those related to prosecution or economic activities fall within the purview of state courts. As a consequence, government presence at different levels is rather weak and distant, broadening gaps culturally, geographically and institutionally in access to justice, while reinforcing discriminatory actions and violence towards the Maxakalís.

The initiative Citizenship, Democracy and Justice for the Maxakalí People (Programa Cidadania, Democracia e Justiça) began running in January 2020 as a joint effort of the Court of Minas Gerais and the Regional Electoral Court. The objective was to resolve long-lasting issues related to the state and judiciary system and their relationship and narratives in Indigenous territories. Accordingly, they embarked on a consultative and collaborative process with the Indigenous community of the Maxakalí, targeting communities in the Aguas Formosas region, which is characterised by rurality and difficult connectivity, where more than 2 000 people and 190 families live.

The initiative has taken a non-invasive approach with the aim of being perceived as guests and observers of the community, rather than alien institutional bodies in their territories. To this end, the project applied a methodology based on anthropological evidence collected from the Maxakalís in order to pilot an approach that is culturally sensitive and based on active listening. The first field trip to visit the Maxakalís leaders (Caciques) took place in February 2020. It was led by the Court of Minas Gerais and co-ordinated with the National Indigenous Fund/Authority (FUNAI). The purpose was to gather their opinions about the justice system and judiciary institutions. As Matheus Moura Matias Miranda, judge of the Court of Mina Gerais Aguas Formosas, pointed out in an interview with OPSI, “it was the first time that some of them have seen a judge asking about things other than criminal hearings.”

During the initial stage, the initiative conducted hearings and visits every 15 days, to become familiar with the experiences of the Maxakalís, gain their trust and acquire a reputation for reliability. This step was key to building a new narrative for their relationships, in particular between the Maxakalís and the judiciary, which had been perceived as repressive and not as an institution geared to protecting or guaranteeing constitutional or human rights. Changing this perspective required not only stronger presence of the state and its institutions, but a shift in the way the relationships were built. A critical component of the collaboration was the decision to respect the self-determination of the Maxakalí, including their decision-making process and the outcomes of the visits. After almost six months of intensive interaction, the Maxakalís gave clearance to develop a joint project with the Tribunal and the Electoral Court, and to continue consultations with a view to involving other government agencies. The initiative officially started in the spring of 2020 amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

With a mission to alleviate long-lasting problems faced by the Maxakalí communities, the project was conceived as a form of “travelling justice”, especially given the nature of the interactions. These consisted of two components: the first was an intercultural dialogue held in the Tikmüün language to allow all involved parties to address each of their issues; the second was the institutionalisation of such meetings as civil hearings in order to establish legally binding commitments between the Tribunal and the Maxakalí. This approach aimed to incorporate these communities into the state’s judiciary system in a way that respected their culture while expanding and protecting their human rights and enabled them to participate more actively in Brazilian democracy.

Following the lead taken by the two institutions, other state and federal-level institutions began to join the initiative including the state and Federal Public Ministry, the Public Defender’s Office, the State Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Civil and Military Police. By 2021, the group consisted of eight federal and state entities.

In order to identify and make sense of the needs of the Maxakalís, the Tribunal and the Electoral Court organised two kinds of hearings: audiences and the public hearings. These varied in format and content depending on the target audiences and the objectives to be achieved:

  • Audiences are open spaces set up for multi-party and leadership meetings, designed to bring people from different government institutions together with community leaders and other people of interest. Such spaces are relevant for agenda setting, prioritising issues and needs, and providing accountability among the parties involved.

  • Public hearings are open spaces for listening to relevant and unique cases that serve to exemplify a problem/issue identified during the audiences. These spaces are relevant for understanding the specifics of people’s needs and to empathise with their struggles.

During the audiences and public hearings, the Maxakalís provided details of several of their main requests and challenges. These included accessing basic services for their families and children as well as specific social protection benefits, cattle invasions, and a premium charged to Indigenous people by shopkeepers when selling them food and electronic products. Several audiences and more than 50 public hearings were carried out in the villages of Água Boa and Pradinho. These served to identify key areas where public institutions should focus their attention.

The conversations identified three main areas (or axes) of action, as discussed below. As the issues facing the Maxakalí people are multidimensional, these axes were intersectional and aimed at gathering interoperable information and evidence about them and the status quo of the community:

  • Citizenship. The main critical issues identified were lack of identity and electoral documents, which makes it impossible to vote and undertake simple day-to-day processes such as legalising unions (marriages), or more complex ones such as fighting illegal land invasions. The meetings were equipped with simultaneous translation and brought public institutions in charge together with the people to determine roadmaps for action. For example, the Maxakalís explained their process of getting married and provided evidence about such unions so that the State Court of Justice could legalise them and update their information.

  • Democracy. To help familiarise the Maxakalís with election processes, mock elections were held in Tikmüün and contextualised in terms of local culture and educational level. The Electoral Court inserted animals and elements from familiar local fauna as fictitious candidates in the electoral sessions. For instance, one candidate that received the most votes was the “Ant”, as it was characterised as hard working and well-organised. Two mock elections took place, representing the two rounds of the typical Brazilian electoral process – the first time that Indigenous peoples in Brazil had participated in such a format. The President of the Electoral Court and other judges from the state capital visited the villages during these simulations.

  • Justice. The main problems and demands of Indigenous people were mapped by the Brazilian Public Defender’s Office and the conflict resolution sector of the Court of Justice of Minas Gerais. Based on this mapping, more than 50 judicial hearings were held in the Maxakalí villages, which consisted mostly of procedural check-ups and documental and/or on-site verification accomplished by talking with the people.

The three axes converged in the adoption of a new collaborative paradigm – one which centred the Maxakalís as the protagonist and main drivers of the process. The innovation thus sought to move beyond active listening by working to build readiness for the process and tailor mechanisms of social participation, bringing Indigenous peoples closer to the Judiciary and protecting their rights.

Although several procedures were newly implemented in the Maxakalí territories, the degree of hyper contextualisation and incorporation of the local mindset as part of citizenship, electoral and justice procedures is important to highlight. Moreover, the valorisation of the local culture in order to establish a collaborative dialogue and to transform state agents into collaborative, dialogue-oriented and culturally sensitive bodies can also be considered as innovative.

Throughout the conversation rounds held between the Tribunal and the Maxakalí, the most robust results were achieved in the citizenship and justice axes. For the first time, 256 Indigenous people received identity cards, 81 acquired voting titles and 543 families gained access to direct support under the social protection system. In addition, 105 lawsuits were filed by the Maxakalí to protect their rights to social security and to gain legal recognition of their marriages.

In the democracy axis, the Maxakalí were exposed to the federal and state electoral systems and took part in two mock elections with a participation rate above 75%. The Tribunal gained knowledge from the process as they trialled new, more contextualised ways of providing information about such processes and the benefits of engaging in democratic means of participation. As a result, two new voting spaces were created for the Maxakalí for which two voting machines were provided. In addition, the community elected two Indigenous councilmen and a vice-mayor in the city, showcasing high levels of participation.

At the process level, the project has attracted various actors who were absent at the outset and had little or no presence in the Maxakalí territories. Nowadays, more than eight government institutions from the federal and state levels are present, as well as the civil and military police, working hand-in-hand with the Tribunal, the Electoral Court and FUNAI. To date, more than 50 public hearings have been held in their local language.

The Aguas Formosas region in Minas Gerais is one of the poorest in the state and the least prepared in terms of court infrastructure and resource availability for the judiciary system. With the local court overloaded with cases and experiencing a shortage in specialised servers from the Tribunal, it proved not only difficult to deliver justice, but also to promote it at the local level through partnerships with potential local collaborators.

Distance also represented a challenge. Accessing the villages from the city requires a journey of 80 km on a poorly maintained road, complicating any efforts to operationalise actions at the villages level. The displacement of the Indigenous people themselves is also perceived as a major barrier. Furthermore, most procedures to guarantee communal and individual rights are available only in Portuguese and requires special procedure to advance beyond translation. These issues were resolved by implementing programmed visits every 15 or 30 days, depending on the authority, to receive updates on needs through live translation – a process that helped close the cultural gap.

The Court of Justice of Minas Gerais and the Regional Electoral Court aim to institutionalise these actions during 2023, ensuring they become recurrent with associated processes and jurisprudence. This will enable the adoption of this approach by other communities and courts across Brazil. The Judge in charge of overseeing the initiative, Matheus Moura Matias Miranda, stated that “the goal is to make the process sustainable over time”. In this way, replicability should not depend on a judge in particular, but rather in co-ordinated actions among the different actors.

The project also aims to expand to other Indigenous and native communities (i.e. African Brazilian communities). A meeting has just been held in Roraima, a northern state bordering Guyana and Venezuela, to inform local leaders and institutions there about lessons learned from the initiative and to discuss its replicability and feasibility in such territories. This is particularly challenging as one of the main factors required for continuation of the initiative is training judges in intercultural dialogue. In the meantime, the project team is also working on replicating the experience across Minas Gerais.

Finally, as Judge Matheus Moura Matias Miranda and his team pointed out, “this project is an example, but it is not a model (…) Every state is different and this is the most critical aspect to consider (…) Replication can occur on two levels: (1) training of magistrates based on the experience accumulated in the project (facilitation), and (2) absorption and articulation with FUNAI (since FUNAI is federal, it can take the experience to other states and work to accomplish Indigenous acceptance).”

Over the past three decades, median income growth in OECD countries has decreased, as shown by the famous “elephant curve” of (Lakner and Milanovic, 2013[16]) (Alvaredo et al., 2017[17]). In the general context of low growth, low and middle incomes have grown substantially less than higher incomes (Figure ‎3.5), widening income inequality. Moreover, during the financial crisis and the COVID pandemic, growth among the lowest earners fell the most rapidly (OECD, 2019[18]). These dynamics have resulted in a long-term trend towards higher inequality.

Due to the abovementioned widespread, increasing inequalities, life has become increasingly expensive. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, inflation has imposed sacrifices on many families as food and energy prices increase. In European OECD countries, one in five households now find it difficult to make ends meet, and across the OECD nearly one in eight live in relative income poverty (Balestra and Ciani, 2022[19]). Against this backdrop, governments are undertaking notable initiatives to address poverty and inequalities in innovative ways, with a view to providing more sustainable, human-centric and efficient results.

About 33 million people are unemployed across OECD countries. Furthermore, due to their disproportionate representation in low-paying industries, racial and ethnic minorities, young people, low-educated workers, migrants and workers facing language barriers have experienced more severe and long-lasting effects on the labour market as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as shown by the OECD Employment Outlook 2022 (OECD, 2022[20]).

To address these challenges, governments are playing an active role in job markets. In particular, OPSI and the MBRCGI identified efforts aimed at combining public intervention on employment with novel attention to other issues such as sustainability, gender equality and vulnerability. Such efforts often seek to subsidise entrepreneurs of the social economy (see more below) and support work integration social enterprises (WISEs), organisations that focus on improving employment prospects for those furthest from the labour market (OECD/European Commission, 2022[21]). For instance:

  • South Africa’s Presidential Employment Stimulus, devised as part of efforts supporting economic recovery from the pandemic, has successfully re-imagined public employment as an instrument for social innovation and managed to create over a million jobs for disadvantaged workers (Box ‎3.4).

  • The Austin Civilian Conservation Corps (ACCC) in Austin, Texas began as programme to help residents earn income and access green careers, and has grown into an established model for equitable and climate-focused workforce development. More than ten city departments and community partners have collaborated through ACCC to provide living-wage opportunities with supportive services, training and career pathways for Austin’s underserved residents.

  • In Mexico, the project Biciclando addressed unemployment by involving women in recycling waste management. The project was developed as a response to the pandemic and its impact on unemployment, which has affected women more than men, giving rise to the term “shecession” (Alon et al., 2022[22]).

  • In seeking to catalyse employment opportunities in the private sector, the City of Rotterdam launched Rikx, a new digital marketplace that connects local social entrepreneurs with investors to incentivise the hiring of vulnerable residents. The system is based on digital tokens which can be bought by companies with a corporate social responsibility policy or social return on investment obligations.

Beyond government efforts to actively intervene in public employment to address economic difficulties, OECD and the MBRCGI identified several innovative initiatives aimed at stimulating the economy and supporting households’ financial situation through new subsidy programmes. A notable example is the project Bogotá Local in Colombia, thanks to which more than 22 000 citizens received support to sustain and build their businesses during and after the pandemic. Through payroll incentives, the City of Bogotá helped micro-business owners to consolidate the relationship with their workers, hire new people, and generate training processes in business and digital skills. The aim was to strengthen the popular economy, an informal and space-based economy that consists largely of small producers and family-run businesses (Dürr and Müller, 2019[23]). More focused on establishing an alternative model for poverty policies, , the Empowered Families Initiative in Singapore demonstrated how social assistance can move beyond cookie-cutter programmes by investing in their hopes and strengths, as discussed in the case study later in this trend.

Access to affordable housing – a basic human right and central dimension of wellbeing – has become increasingly challenging in many countries. The OECD Horizontal Project on Housing has found that low-income households are struggling with rising housing costs, and as shown on the Affordable Housing Atlas, this issue is affecting the entire globe as a result of lack of adequate housing policies. In the last 20 years, the real prices of houses and rents increased in most OECD countries at a faster pace than inflation, and now accounts for a disproportionate part of household budgets – more than health, transport, communication or education (OECD, 2021[24]).

To address these challenges, governments have developed innovative strategies to provide affordable housing. For instance, the Mataró City Council (Spain) developed Yes, We Rent! to leverage the combination of private rental property – particularly property that has been vacant and off the market for an extended period – and the potential of community initiatives to provide affordable housing. One outcome of this project is Bloc cooperatiu, a newborn co-operative of tenants willing to search, renovate and rent collectively empty apartments. The initiative is currently managing 61 apartments rented at prices at least 30% below market prices thanks to the financial support of the municipality, and has trained 24 vulnerable young people in renovation skills.

With a focus on energy prices and the increasing importance of energy independence – the focus of renewed global attention following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – South Australia has developed a Virtual Power Plant, the largest network of home solar and battery systems in the world (Box ‎3.5).

The situation described above, characterised by increasing inequalities and poverty, exclusive housing markets and strong labour market changes, suggests a worsening of the structural factors that lead to homelessness. Indeed, despite difficulties in measuring this phenomenon, the number of homeless people has increased in one-third of OECD countries (OECD, 2020[25]). To address this challenge, governments have engaged in innovative projects that seek to tackle this issue through different lenses, including systems approaches, anticipation and data. Among these initiatives is OneView, a platform for predictive analytics and natural language generation capabilities, which enabled participating agencies in Maidstone to bring together data to identify residents at risk of homelessness, and then intervene before they were forced to live on the street. The platform combines data from various service providers to create unified household profiles and sends an alert to the Housing Team for each person at risk of losing their home. In the initial pilot year, almost 100 households were prevented from becoming homeless, even as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and grew. In the same year, the rate of homelessness fell overall by 40%. In using human-centred design, Edmonton, Canada has created a human-centred framework using social innovation to improve urban well-being, with the initial case focused on the perspectives of residents experiencing homelessness (OECD, 2021[26]). Another interesting initiative is Activation Anti-Displacement in Austin, Texas (Box ‎3.6).

Previous OECD work provides useful guidance for governments willing to address issues related to housing and homelessness. With respect to the topics covered in this section, this report offers two key recommendations. First, make housing policy an integral part of an inclusive growth strategy. This implies the co-ordination with other policy domains such as health and transport, which would ensure that “vulnerable groups do not fall through the cracks of social support systems” (OECD, 2020[27]). Second, governments should invest in homelessness prevention and provide targeted support to the homeless. Beyond broader investments in affordable housing, strategies at all levels of government should be directed specifically at tackling homelessness and should incorporate social economy actors (including associations, nonprofit organisations, co-operatives, mutual societies and social enterprises) and academic organisations, all of which have a long history of partnering public authorities to address social needs (OECD/European Commission, 2022[21]). Because of their social goals and specific business models based on collaboration and proximity, such actors can act rapidly to implement place-based solutions, develop partnerships in an effective manner though their networks and function as a trusted partner. Governments should also seek to strengthen their data collection efforts in order to better understand the complexity of the condition of homeless people.

The OECD Housing Policy Toolkit can assist governments in understanding housing challenges and taking action. It provides a narrative for the complex societal, economic and environmental interrelationships rooted in housing markets, and also allows policy makers to identify strengths and shortcomings and make informed policy choices when designing national housing strategies.

Digital technologies now affect every aspect of social and political life, and have created new divisions between winners and losers in the algorithmic era. Proponents’ claims that digitisation and automatisation can promote social equality by generating new opportunities have been dampened in the face of evidence that many of these opportunities are available only to those who already had them, reinforcing existing inequalities (OECD, 2019[28]) (OECD, 2021[29]). Furthermore, given territorial divides in access to connectivity within countries, this also means that digitalisation and automatisation can widen existing territorial disparities (OECD, 2021[30]) (OECD, 2022[31]). During this complex transition, governments have acknowledged that “we cannot expect natural adaptation by workers and labour markets to produce equitable results, especially with huge differences in household resources as a starting point”, as articulated by Nobel laureate Michael Spence. However, in the face of these tensions, governments are engaging in remarkable efforts to ensure that the benefits of the digital transformation are fairly distributed and accessible.

With respect to citizens, in addition to instilling digital rights as discussed in Trend 1, governments have focused on helping them to develop the digital skills necessary to navigate and offer value to the job market, while providing access to digital government services. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Mapping Career Causeways project, which was developed by Nesta with state-of-the-art machine learning methods, has shown that some occupations are at high risk of automation, and stresses the fundamental importance of ensuring that workers are informed and able to develop skills to benefit from new opportunities. To address this issue and tackle the problem of gender disparity in regard to ICT skills, the Italian region Emilia Romagna has launched an interesting project called Digital Girls (Box ‎3.7).

OPSI and the MBRCGI’s past work has shown how governments around the world have made significant efforts to shift away from traditional processes and services towards fully digital solutions, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the benefits at the aggregate level are indisputable, some citizens and residents still find it difficult to interact with the public sector digitally. To ensure that digital government is inclusive and accessible to all, a number of innovative projects have been carried out, including the following:

  • Digital outcasts (Excluídos Digitais). This Brazilian innovation addresses the problem of unequal treatment of handwritten communications sent to public organisations by citizens unable to use digital tools. Previously, such communications were read and registered manually, a lengthy process that often fell short of internal deadlines and was subject to human error. The new process established mechanisms for automated content screening and developed an automated solution which registered and addressed handwritten requests within 48 hours instead of 20 days.

  • Purple HATS. This open-source customisable and automated web accessibility testing tool allows software development teams to find and fix accessibility problems. Developed by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, it helps to ensure that all users have access to inclusive digital services, especially the elderly and persons with disabilities.

  • Connectoo Training. As shown by a recent World Bank report, the development of digital skills within public administrations is an essential factor for successful and inclusive digital government projects. This free online course for civil servants in Belgium provides training and certifies their ability to address digital challenges.

The opportunities provided by the digital transformation can have a positive impact on the personal life of citizens and their interaction with the public sector, but can also influence companies, making them more competitive. Companies with a high level of digital maturity are about three times more likely than those with a lower level of maturity ones to report annual net revenue growth and net profit margins significantly above the industry average (Deloitte, 2020[32]). OPSI and the MBRCGI have identified an increasing number of efforts from governments providing guidance to non-digital businesses on navigating the digital transformation, one example being Spain’s Digitized and Connected 360. Furthermore, governments are playing a role in ensuring that businesses, especially young and small ones such as startups, are able to access the expensive technologies they might need, including computing power or investments in AI. For instance, in Korea, the government developed AI Friends as a set of initiatives to alleviate barriers to AI adoption for small and medium-sized enterprises. OPSI and the MBRCGI were particularly impressed with Serbia’s National AI Supercomputing Platform, as discussed in Box ‎3.8.

Governments are also striving to reduce the potential harm of digital technologies beyond addressing aspects of the digital divide. Here, digital technologies can be the antidote to longstanding problems in society, as well as a possible cause. In this regard, the availability and possible visualisation of data has emerged as powerful way to recognise the existence of problems, create awareness about them and address them through an evidence-informed approach. For instance, the San Antonio Equity Atlas and Matrix was developed to make data-informed decisions and to address disparities across a variety of indicators that affect communities in different ways (Figure ‎3.6). This innovation consists of an interactive tool that highlights demographics, disparities and infrastructure distribution within the city, and is currently used to inform the municipality’s work and guide investments to achieve equity goals.

The potential of data as a tool against inequalities has also been leveraged to address, for instance, the lack of adequate housing, poverty, crime and gender discrimination. Notable examples include:

  • Precarious Lives Mapper, a platform that documents processes and mechanisms that generate housing precarity in Beirut. Through data collection, analysis and visualisation, the initiative highlights patterns of deprivation, overcrowding, unaffordability, displacement, eviction and foreclosure that characterise the city. This material is then placed at the disposal of activists, researchers, journalists and city-dwellers to trigger debate, denounce and resist the devastating impacts of neoliberal urban policies and real-estate speculation.

  • Millionneighbourhoods, an initiative that provides maps of a selected group of cities from the global south so densely populated that the movement of people and the construction of vital infrastructure becomes difficult. The maps are crowdsourced from OpenStreetMap and enable the generation of new models of urban planning that are people-centric, assembled from local knowledge and enhanced with technology. In the hands of communities and local governments, this tool has the potential to become a powerful resource to support decision making and action.

  • AIJO Project, an international project that aims to leverage the power of AI to understand, identify and mitigate newsroom biases in relation to gender. AIJO seeks to uncover binary gender representations in various news and publications and the overall media, and has three main components: (1) understand how biases shape news, (2) identify how AI can help uncover biases, and (3) mitigate identified gender discrimination.

Social assistance for low-income families in Singapore is often premised on their needs, rather than their ambitions or abilities. Empowered Families Initiative (EFI) is a developmental initiative that hopes to harness the strengths and willingness of low-income families to invest in their aspirations with the support of grants, savings matching and group support. EFI empowers people to enhance their life circumstances by improving their socio-economic position and wellbeing.

Traditionally, social assistance for low-income families is remedial and reactive in nature, and often premised on the idea of families as “needy recipients”, rather than on leveraging their assets. As such, this model can perpetuate situations where families are always “in need”. Moreover, traditional assistance largely focuses on and is intended for basic needs, meaning that low-income families remain in a state of survival rather than prosperity, lacking the opportunity to improve their condition and the agency and opportunity to freely change their lives. Furthermore, initiatives that help low-income families are often programmatic in nature, employing a one-size-fits-all approach rather than being customised to the unique needs and circumstances of low-income families and their specific plans and aspirations.

The Empowered Families Initiative (EFI) aims to “invest” in the hopes and plans of low-income families to improve their life circumstances, leveraging their strengths, motivation and creativity to improve their socio-economic position and build a better future. Developed as an independent social service sector project with a leadership team consisting of social workers and civil servants, EFI is inspired by a successful initiative in the United States called UpTogether (formerly the Family Independence Initiative), where families set their own priorities and drive their own efforts, within an environment of strong social connections that also provides access to initiative-based resources. EFI also aims to provide seed funding and a platform for families to connect with and encourage each other, hence activating and enhancing families’ social capital and networks. The initiative consists of three essential components:

  • Resources. Families have access to funds and are provided with non-monetary support, based on their respective plans and goals to better their lives. For instance, some families with a home-business were provided training on how to develop a business plan and improve their social media presence. In general, since families structure the project, they have the autonomy to choose how to utilise the resources for their goals.

  • Savings matching. Families are able to tap into the above funds to save each month. The initiative then matches these savings on a 1:2 basis. These savings can be used by families to support their current or future income-generating plans.

  • Meetings. Regular group gatherings among families provide mutual support and encouragement, thereby increasing their social capital and network.

The EFI’s initial pilot involved families with a per capita income below SGD 650 (EUR 460 equivalent) per month, the level at which most families would qualify for some basic financial assistance. Fifteen families were invited to present their ambitions and plans and four were selected. The chosen families all demonstrated clear aspirations and a readiness to implement their plans, but had not been able to access the necessary support or capital through existing initiatives. A pilot was held from September 2021 to March 2022 for which the families were provided a lump sum of SGD 500 (EUR 352 equivalent). Each family shaped the process based on their ambitions and plans. Facilitated by the project team, the families formed a network of peers where they could discuss progress and learn from one another – a component that proved particularly useful for business owners. During this period, the families were free to decide how to spend the funds but all of them invested in their plans and demonstrated the motivation to work towards their achievement. The project team is currently incorporating lessons learned from the first pilot into the second iteration. Chief among these are providing more financial resources and involving the families over a longer period of time.

For the project team, EFI is not an end in itself, but part of a greater movement reimagining how the public sector can reframe social assistance as investment in the potential of low-income families. In future iterations of the initiative and with greater funding, the team hopes to increase the amount of available grants, create scholarships for low-income families who wish to upskill, and build capability among social service professionals to engage in developmental, aspirational conversations with low-income families, rather than merely focusing on “here and now” needs. Furthermore, the team plans to co-create future iterations of EFI with low-income families, who would play the role of mentors and facilitators for other families who participate in the initiative.

Unlike social assistance and programmes for low-income families which are mostly premised on basic needs, EFI is innovative in the sense that it invests in families based on their motivation, and harnesses and leverages their assets and strengths. The design of this initiative incentivises progress and motivation to create a new trajectory and perpetuate a positive cycle of possibilities for the families, rather than remaining stuck in a cycle of need and challenges. Unlike traditional social assistance programmes, low-income families with lived experience of poverty are invited as experts to co-create the project as part of the organising team and as co-facilitators, thereby reinforcing this positive cycle. This approach increases the effectiveness and sustainability of EFI and is underpinned by a belief that families know better than professionals what support would be most appropriate for them.

The initial pilot has proven very successful. The impact of the project on the four families – represented by Danny, Lisa, Suzy and Fatima – was measured through observations and qualitative means to evaluate any increase in income level or potential for income-generation as well as social support. Lisa, Fatima and Suzy each have their own home-based business, an informal way to earn an income, and used the grants as capital to buy equipment to increase their sales. Lisa and Suzy collaborated to open a food stall which doubled their incomes by the end of the proof-of-concept. Fatima was also able to save up SGD 25 000 (EUR 17 500) to open a car-washing business. Danny, who works as a food delivery rider and used to ride a bicycle, used the grant to apply for a motorbike license to increase his delivery orders, and thus his earnings. At the end of the initiative, Danny was able to complete half the requirements for his license.

All four families reported a higher level of social support after getting to know one another and declared that they had resources to achieve their aspirations which they otherwise would not have been able to access. They also felt a sense of empowerment and confidence from receiving support for their goals and their early success. As a result of this, they felt encouraged to work on their ambitions to improve their socio-economic status and wellbeing even beyond this initiative. Close to the end of the project, the four families communicated that they would benefit from being onboard for another three months and asked if they could apply for extra funding to boost their own ventures. They pitched their ideas to the project team and, since they showed great promise, they successfully received further SGD 500 each.

The experience with the first four families presented the project team with two main challenges. First, the time available under the project was considered too short for families to benefit optimally from the project. Second, the resources provided to them were lower than ideal, with more benefits likely accruing with a higher amount. To address these challenges, the second iteration of the pilot has been adapted following consultation with the initial set of families. Participants will be enrolled in the initiative for more than six months and will be provided with SGD 1 500 (EUR 1 055 equivalent), three times the amount given to the families of the proof-of-concept.

The experience so far has provided valuable lessons on the elements necessary for a project like EFI to succeed:

  • Organisational willingness to overcome traditional models of social assistance should be developed and paired with the establishment of a funding model that is open to experimentation and to investing in the aspirations of low-income families.

  • Families are often resourceful, very creative and have great ambitions, they just lack the resources to move to the next stage. Such motivation and commitment, fuelled with a small grant, can enable them to achieve better conditions where they can make choices and work on the next phase of their plans to improve their lives.

  • It is critical to involve families as co-creators of the initiative as they are the experts of their own lives, and are best placed to help other low-income families. By establishing co-design processes and sharing responsibilities, professionals and policy makers can ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of the initiative and better services.

To explore the potential for replicability in the national context, a survey was conducted with professionals from various social service agencies in Singapore. The results highlighted demand for the initiative to be rolled out in centres across the country. Due to the positive outcomes from the pilot round and the keen interest shown by social workers, who believe that this initiative would help the families they serve, EFI has a high potential to be further replicated domestically.

In the international arena, this innovation is a highly transformative initiative with strong potential for replication in other contexts, providing similarly great results regardless of the different bureaucratic culture of the new adopter. The key aspect that enables the success of this project is the willingness to move beyond cookie-cutter programmes that are insensitive to the specific conditions of recipients, towards one that caters to the aspirations of the families involved.

The concept of the gig economy emerged fairly recently. The first traces can be found about one decade ago, and there is no evidence of its use before circa 2013 (Figure ‎3.8). The origin of the term relates to the precarity of short-term arrangements typical of a musical event (“gig”), with no certainty that the musicians involved will be invited to perform again (Woodcock and Graham, 2020[33]). On a more technical level, gig economy platforms – the main actors in this phenomenon – can be defined as two-sided digital platforms that match workers and content producers with buyers and users on a per-service basis (Schwellnus et al., 2019[34]). There has been great debate about the impact of the gig economy, focusing in particular on its effects on employment, taxes and labour conditions (OECD, 2021[35]). Governments have recognised that the gig economy has both benefits and drawbacks and are actively trying to counter the latter with innovative initiatives.

Some have argued that the gig economy can be a boon to productivity and offer workers and business the desired flexibility. Conversely, gig economy platforms operate by leveraging regulatory loopholes and imposing one-sided flexibility on workers. While OECD findings (Schwellnus et al., 2019[34]) indicate that the presence of platforms is small (around 1-3% of overall employment), more recent research has identified rapid growth, with positive and negative results continuing to accrue (Bulian, 2021[36]).

A deeper analysis of the employment conditions that link platforms and workers reveals that a gig economy underclass may be emerging (Qiao, Huang and Yeh, 2023[37]). Gig economy platforms have created creative business models where a reliance on self-employed contractors rather than employees enables capacity to adjust quickly to swings in demand. But the working conditions of these self-employed contractors have had a negative impact on workers: the majority of platform employees do not benefit from the protection of existing labour laws or collective bargaining agreements, and therefore experience low wages, precarious employment and hazardous working conditions. This was confirmed by the recent experience of a referendum in California which introduced an exception for app-based drivers regarding the determination of their status as independent contractors or employees. Strongly supported by Uber and Lyft, it led to a significant deterioration in drivers' labour standards.

It has been claimed that platform workers are exploited in three specific ways: legal uncertainties and insecurity, extreme degradation of working conditions, and the presence of new forms of “digital” dependence and exploitation. To study these dynamics, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) financed the Oxford Internet Institute to develop Fairwork, a project that evaluates the work conditions of digital labour and scores individual platforms on how well, or how poorly, they perform (Box ‎3.9).

The current gig economy emerged from the interplay of a variety of factors including low worker power and a regulatory framework ill-equipped to handle the challenges related to platform expansion (see Figure ‎3.9 for a complete analysis of the conditions shaping the gig economy). In this context, OPSI and the MBRCGI have identified government and ground-up community efforts seeking to help ensure that the expansion of the gig economy is socially sustainable and respectful of workers’ rights. This is the case in China where food delivery riders are building mutual aid networks on WeChat to support one other (Yu, Treré and Bonini, 2022[38]).

OPSI and the MBRCGI have also identified efforts to actively develop alternative models for platform governance and the promotion of worker welfare through engagement with gig economy platforms. One example is the Driver Advisory Council for Uber India developed by Aapti with public bodies such as India’s NITI Aayog. The Council consists of 35 members, and connects drivers from six different cities – Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi NCR, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai – directly with Uber. The model enables participatory action and reflexive praxis among workers and has established a successful and sustainable alternative for platform governance. As such, the Council represents an unprecedented mode of engagement between gig economy platforms, workers and public agencies. Beyond the satisfaction of drivers and Uber, this initiative has also pushed policy makers to address related legal loopholes, with the Indian Government proposing a Code on Social Security which introduces a co-pay system to cover health and other benefits for workers.

Governments are also increasingly recognising the specificities of gig economy workers and making efforts to integrate their perspectives in policy making. For instance, in Seattle (United States), the city used human-centred design to engage with drivers and gain a deeper understanding of their preferences with respect to potential policies on minimum compensation. To this end, the local government developed an engagement strategy including elements of ethnographic analysis that resulted in interviews, focus groups, a telephone town hall and an online survey. Listening to the voices of gig economy drivers enabled the city of Seattle to ensure that innovation efforts would actually address their needs, as evidenced by a recent OECD Innovation and Data Use in Cities report (OECD, 2021[26]).

Beyond their work with platforms, governments are also addressing the issue of the gig economy underclass by actively supporting the development of alternatives that can provide similar services. One example is Neighbourhood Joint Delivery (Box ‎3.10), an initiative recently developed by Seoul, Korea, to address traffic, environmental, safety and labour problems caused by the high increase in delivery volume. Platform co-operatives provide other examples (Mannan and Pek, 2021[39]) (OECD, forthcoming-c, Platform co-operatives: an alternative model). These initiatives offer new business models based on common ownership and democratic governance representing solidarity-based alternatives to gig economy platforms. Such organisations employ digital environments in which members interact to exchange commodities and services. Platform co-operative members, who are both users and owners of the platform, manage the technology tool collectively and make choices on production processes, conditions of usage and employment structures. This enables value distribution among all contributors to the platform, favouring people-centred approaches and maintaining produced value inside local communities. A great example of a platform co-operative is Ethical Deliveries, explored in a case study later in this section, which demonstrates how public sector organisations can nurture the development of such initiatives.

Governments at all levels will need to ensure that the costs of expansion of the gig economy, such as consumer and worker protection, do not outnumber its benefits, such as productivity and overall employment. In particular, it is crucial that the costs do not emerge from the exploitation of a legal vacuum. Governments will need to balance costs and benefits; however, that specific equilibrium will ultimately be a political decision. Moreover, it is essential that the expansion of gig economy platforms, which involves thousands of workers and affects local communities, does not occur against a background of public unawareness. The European Parliament’s recent work on a proposal to improve conditions for workers on digital labour platforms – particularly their employment status and the automated systems monitoring their work – represents a move in this direction. Previous OECD and non-OECD work has also highlighted some viable options concerning these challenges:

  • Costs related to platform flexibility should not be externalised and imposed on workers. To address the precarity of workers, labour market regulations could be adapted to prevent the erosion of platform workers’ bargaining position including rules for the termination of contracts, worker mobility and minimum pay (Schwellnus et al., 2019[34]).

  • Governments need to ensure that platform workers have access to basic social protection, including for work-related accidents, parental benefits, health and pensions. To this end, it is essential to clarify the employment status of platform workers. Exploring third possibilities beyond employment and self-employment could be a valuable option – for instance, the creation of a new category of “independent worker” has been proposed (Stewart and Stanford, 2017[40]).

  • Beyond the direct impact on workers, policy makers should regulate the gig economy by establishing the rights and obligations of the actors involved and also providing a legal definition of this economy to support related research. This will facilitate more accurate studies of the dynamics around gig economy workers and help address the current lack of comprehensive documentation on this group (Bulian, 2021[36]).

  • In general, innovation-related challenges will often require more flexible and adaptive regulatory frameworks, with room for discretion and case-by-case decisions. To address this issue while developing evidence-based, future-ready and trustworthy frameworks to address challenges such as those posed by the gig economy, governments should carry out broad-based, continuous public stakeholder engagement and close monitoring of outcomes (OECD, 2021[41]).

To improve the rights and opportunities of gig workers in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Bologna, Italy launched Ethical Deliveries (Consegne Etiche in Italian), a home delivery platform that serves as an alternative to private delivery. Ethical Deliveries provides basic goods and services while respecting workers’ rights and environmental sustainability. Developed on the basis of co-operative principles through an urban co-design process, based on a dialogue with citizens and small traders during the start-up phase, the platform is structured around two pillars: a fair rider salary and the use of vehicles that minimise environmental impact. Thousands of ethical deliveries have been made since the launch.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an upsurge in the use of home delivery systems by citizens and residents. This trend highlighted the problems of the gig economy and, specifically, private delivery platforms. For instance, four companies were investigated by the Italian judiciary for imposing piecework payments and violating health and safety rights to their 60 000 workers. This led to growing awareness among government and the public of the problematic labour relationship between companies and the riders upon which these platforms rely. Citizens began to voice their criticisms of platform activities that failed to respect labour rights and characterised the relationship with local business as unfair, with no public purpose or interest in protecting the most fragile communities. Cities have often been seen as passive victims of large platforms, with some officials perceiving themselves as powerless to improve riders’ and traders’ working conditions. Local officials sought to handle things differently in Bologna.

In response to the challenges above, the Municipality of Bologna and Fondazione Innovazione Urbana (FIU) – an urban regeneration centre founded by the Municipality and the University of Bologna –launched Ethical Deliveries. The project, which is in line with the innovative Charter of Fundamental Rights of Digital Labour in the Urban Context approved by the Municipality of Bologna, consists of a delivery system developed through a participatory approach that respects two key principles: a fair labour relationship with riders and minimal environmental impact. The aim of the project is to provide a collective and solidarity-based alternative to large platforms.

The project started with a clear aim – to involve all city stakeholders in a debate on the issue of home deliveries, and to imagine something different. At the beginning of May 2020, FIU held an assembly and conducted interviews with riders, trade associations, civil society organisations, researchers and the Riders Union, the first Italian organisation to address the precariousness and lack of protections for riders in Bologna. The aim was to identify an alternative ethical model to existing private platforms. It led to the creation of the Manifesto of Values (see Box ‎3.11).

From this basis, the project team started to co-design a collaborative governance model and a concrete prototype for a collaborative service for home delivery. After a first trial held between May and June 2020, carried out with two local co-operatives and resulting in the delivery of 1 700 masks to people’s homes, the project team decided to enhance and expand the project.

In September 2020, they launched the website www.consegnetiche.it, which allows people to order groceries from two neighbourhood markets and two supermarkets, borrow books from 14 municipal and 32 university libraries, order food from three restaurants and purchase goods from local businesses. Ethical Deliveries provides riders with a minimum wage of EUR 9/hour – almost double the average wage that Italian riders earned at the start of the project – and worker protection against injuries, using only bicycles as a sustainable means of transport. Accordingly, Ethical Deliveries encourages citizens and residents to make conscious choices, by opting for an ethical home delivery service that respects the rights of workers, traders and the environment to the extent possible.

Ethical Deliveries has shown that it is possible to offer an effective alternative to powerful private delivery companies in a manner based on collaboration and solidarity, in the process disproving the notion that citizens and cities are powerless against international corporations. The project team successfully engaged with the full ecosystem of relevant actors, including the public. Furthermore, the innovation took place in Bologna, a city characterised by strong co-operative movements, a strong riders’ union, and several civil society and private organisations which demonstrated significant innovation skills during the lockdown. Bologna also has a bold political vision, as evidenced in its Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons, which enabled value-based direction by helping to clearly identifying the goal.

At present, the project is focusing its energies on the “social component” of the project, namely book delivery from public libraries, which has been reconfirmed by the Municipality for 2023. Going forward, the goal is to create a larger alternative business model. FIU is in contact with major logistics players in the city and intends to introduce Ethical Deliveries riders into their operations, rethinking their approaches to sustainable transport.

Ethical Deliveries is one of the first projects led by public sector actors to address the challenges of the gig economy by actively engaging in the creation of an alternative to platforms. Ethical Deliveries is co-designed by citizens, traders, trade unions, riders and citizens, who together were able to generate a co-operative governance structure different from the vertical organisation of profit-oriented private platforms.

Nearly 4 000 ethical deliveries have been made with customers able to receive numerous goods and services due to the creation of a strong network of riders, civil society organisations, local business, the University of Bologna and the municipality. Thanks to Ethical Deliveries, a project for home meal delivery to vulnerable people was initiated in collaboration with local social services offices during the COVID-19 lockdowns. In addition, the project team produced a documentary on Ethical Deliveries and riders in Bologna, which is available for free online. The project also featured on Wired international, and received the Compasso d’Oro (Golden Compass) prize, one of the oldest and most influential design awards worldwide.

The main challenge Ethical Deliveries has faced is scaling up the prototype. The team is still working to determine the best path for expanding Ethical Deliveries and is considering questions related to different potential service areas. The team now envisions enhancing the project to provide an ethical alternative to regular logistics routes.

Ethical Deliveries taught the project team that in order to reinvigorate the collective idea of the city, it was critical to discuss power, time, space and empathy. Specifically, the project team learned:

  • The significance of empowering stakeholders. Redesigning a service, or a policy, means reimagining the power balance to give more resources to stakeholders, who became partners.

  • The need to give the community time to form and co-operate. After years of approaches focused on individualism, time is needed to convey a new way of doing things: only with care and attention is it possible to rebuild relationships between people, civic organisations and institutions.

  • Existing neighbourhood relations often embody high levels of trust. While people’s needs can be addressed by creating new relationships, the potential of existing neighbourhood relations should be recognised and leveraged, as these often exemplify strong levels of trust and collaboration.

  • Empathy is crucial. Despite digital tools and enormous capabilities, empathy remains the key skill. Otherwise, innovations will benefit only a few.

Ethical Deliveries has not been replicated in other contexts, but as part of scaling up the initiative, the project team intends to reach out to other municipalities about potential diffusion. However, the project team is cautious about the ease with which this innovation may be replicated. The number of important pre-conditions which enabled its success are not common, including political vision, the ability and willingness to devote resources to create an alternative to gig economy platforms, the experience and ability to engage effectively with citizens and cultivate trusting and empathetic relationships with them, and finally a fertile and responsive civil society and landscape of co-operatives and private organisations.


[22] Alon, T. et al. (2022), “From Mancession to Shecession: Women’s Employment in Regular and Pandemic Recessions”, NBER Macroeconomics Annual, Vol. 36, pp. 83-151, https://doi.org/10.1086/718660.

[17] Alvaredo, F. et al. (2017), “The elephant curve of global inequality and growth”, WID.world Working Paper Series, https://wid.world/document/elephant-curve-global-inequality-growth-wid-world-working-paper-2017-20/.

[19] Balestra, C. and . Ciani (2022), “Current challenges to social mobility and equality of opportunity”, OECD Papers on Well-being and Inequalities, No. 10, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/a749ffbb-en.

[8] Bodkin-Andrews, G. and B. Carlson (2014), “The legacy of racism and Indigenous Australian identity within education”, Race Ethnicity and Education, Vol. 19/4, pp. 784-807, https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2014.969224.

[36] Bulian, L. (2021), “The Gig Is Up: Who Does Gig Economy Actually Benefit?”, Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems, Vol. 19/1, pp. 106-119, https://doi.org/10.7906/indecs.19.1.9.

[9] Button, P. and B. Walker (2020), “Employment discrimination against Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Evidence from a field experiment”, Labour Economics, Vol. 65, p. 101851, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2020.101851.

[11] Curtis, M. (2009), “A world of discrimination: minorities, indigenous people and education”, State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous People 2009, https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/old-site-downloads/download-655-A-world-of-discrimination.pdf.

[32] Deloitte (2020), Uncovering the connection between digital maturity and financial performance, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/digital-transformation/digital-transformation-survey.html.

[23] Dürr, E. and J. Müller (2019), The Popular Economy in Urban Latin America: Informality, Materiality, and Gender in Commerce, Lexington Books, https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498572408/The-Popular-Economy-in-Urban-Latin-America-Informality-Materiality-and-Gender-in-Commerce.

[6] Greenberg, J. and J. Colquitt (eds.) (2013), Handbook of Organizational Justice, Psychology Press, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203774847.

[14] Joshi, P. et al. (2021), The State and Fate of Linguistic Diversity and Inclusion in the NLP World, https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2004.09095.

[5] Kukutai, T. and J. Taylor (eds.) (2016), Indigenous Data Sovereignty, ANU Press, https://doi.org/10.22459/caepr38.11.2016.

[16] Lakner, C. and B. Milanovic (2013), “Global Income Distribution : From the Fall of the Berlin Wall to the Great Recession”, Policy Research Working Paper, http://hdl.handle.net/10986/16935.

[12] Macrì, E. and C. Cristofaro (2021), “The Digitalisation of Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development: The Impact of Europeana”, in Cultural Initiatives for Sustainable Development, Contributions to Management Science, Springer International Publishing, Cham, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65687-4_17.

[39] Mannan, M. and S. Pek (2021), “Solidarity in the Sharing Economy: The Role of Platform Cooperatives at the Base of the Pyramid”, in Sharing Economy at the Base of the Pyramid, Springer Nature Singapore, Singapore, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-2414-8_11.

[1] McDonald, C. (2019), “Promoting Indigenous community economic development, entrepreneurship and SMEs in a rural context”, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, No. 2019/03, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/57b8c6e5-en.

[4] McIlroy, T. (2022), “What is the Voice to parliament and would it (really) change anything?”, The Australian Financial Review, https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/what-is-the-voice-to-parliament-and-would-it-really-change-anything-20221130-p5c2gd.

[10] Moreno, M. et al. (2012), “Detecting Gender and Racial Discrimination in Hiring Through Monitoring Intermediation Services: The Case of Selected Occupations in Metropolitan Lima, Peru”, World Development, Vol. 40/2, pp. 315-328, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2011.05.003.

[31] OECD (2022), Addressing territorial disparities in future infrastructure needs in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis: A G20 perspective, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e246f50f-en.

[20] OECD (2022), OECD Employment Outlook 2022: Building Back More Inclusive Labour Markets, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1bb305a6-en.

[13] OECD (2022), Tackling Policy Challenges Through Public Sector Innovation: A Strategic Portfolio Approach, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/052b06b7-en.

[24] OECD (2021), Brick by Brick: Building Better Housing Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/b453b043-en.

[30] OECD (2021), Bridging digital divides in G20 countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/35c1d850-en.

[29] OECD (2021), Delivering Quality Education and Health Care to All: Preparing Regions for Demographic Change, OECD Rural Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/83025c02-en.

[26] OECD (2021), Innovation and Data Use in Cities: A Road to Increased Well-being, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9f53286f-en.

[41] OECD (2021), Recommendation of the Council for Agile Regulatory Governance to Harness Innovation, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0464.

[2] OECD (2021), “Regions and globalisation: An original approach to regional internationalisation and its application to the case of France”, OECD Regional Development Papers, No. 20, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/75dae685-en.

[35] OECD (2021), The Impact of the Growth of the Sharing and Gig Economy on VAT/GST Policy and Administration, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/51825505-en.

[25] OECD (2020), Better data and policies to fight homelessness in the OECD, http://oe.cd/homelessness-2020.

[27] OECD (2020), Housing and Inclusive Growth, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/6ef36f4b-en.

[28] OECD (2019), “Determinants and impact of automation: An analysis of robots’ adoption in OECD countries”, OECD Digital Economy Papers, No. 277, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ef425cb0-en.

[3] OECD (2019), Linking Indigenous Communities with Regional Development, OECD Rural Policy Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/3203c082-en.

[18] OECD (2019), Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/689afed1-en.

[21] OECD/European Commission (2022), “Policy brief on making the most of the social economy’s contribution to the circular economy”, OECD Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Papers, No. 2022/01, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e9eea313-en.

[37] Qiao, S., G. Huang and A. Yeh (2023), “Who are the gig workers? Evidence from mapping the residential locations of ride-hailing drivers by a big data approach”, Cities, Vol. 132, p. 104112, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2022.104112.

[34] Schwellnus, C. et al. (2019), “Gig economy platforms: Boon or Bane?”, OECD Economics Department Working Papers, No. 1550, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/fdb0570b-en.

[40] Stewart, A. and J. Stanford (2017), “Regulating work in the gig economy: What are the options?”, The Economic and Labour Relations Review, Vol. 28/3, pp. 420-437, https://doi.org/10.1177/1035304617722461.

[15] Tribunal de Justiça do Estado de Minas Gerais (2022), Programa Cidadania, Democracia e Justiça realiza ação em área indígena, https://www.tjmg.jus.br/portal-tjmg/noticias/programa-cidadania-democracia-e-justica-realiza-acao-em-area-indigena-8A80BCE58259AEB10182CD3CEE5D44C9.htm#.Y_SfiSbMLDd.

[7] Whiteman, G. (2009), “All My Relations: Understanding Perceptions of Justice and Conflict between Companies and Indigenous Peoples”, Organization Studies, Vol. 30/1, pp. 101-120, https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840608100518.

[33] Woodcock, J. and M. Graham (2020), The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction, Polity, http://acdc2007.free.fr/woodcock2020.pdf.

[38] Yu, Z., E. Treré and T. Bonini (2022), “The emergence of algorithmic solidarity: unveiling mutual aid practices and resistance among Chinese delivery workers”, Media International Australia, Vol. 183/1, pp. 107-123, https://doi.org/10.1177/1329878x221074793.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2023

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at https://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.