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Research project analyzes gigwork platforms

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Whether Uber, Deliveroo or Airbnb – in the gig economy, these online platforms are used to contract out orders at short notice to self-employed or marginally employed persons. The new research project of ECDF professor Stefan Kirchner aims to analyze and understand how gigwork platforms work in different European countries. The project "Spielt die Makro-Ebene eine Rolle? Eine vergleichende Analyse von Institutionengefügen und Gigwork-Plattformen in Ländern der EU-28” ´was initiated together with Professor Jürgen Beyer (University of Hamburg) and is funded by the DFG with 574,983 Euros in the first phase for 36 months.

The field of the gig economy is large. Which platforms do you refer to in your research?
Kirchner: Our project focuses on gigwork platforms for transport, food delivery and accommodation services, which are known cases for digitally mediated, location-based, paid work orders and are often referred to as "gigwork". Gigwork is attracting attention across Europe, particularly through the activities of exemplary and prominent platform companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb.

What is special about your research approach?
Kirchner: While some studies assume that gigwork platforms simply evade regulation, other established approaches assume that certain countries shape economic activities and thus should also influence gigwork. However, at present we know comparatively little about whether and how countries, with their national institutional structures, are relevant for paid work on gigwork platforms in many European countries. In order to close this research gap, we want to compare gigwork platforms in many European countries. We analyze the mechanisms by which countries determine the limits and possibilities of gigwork platforms.

What methods do you use for this?
Kirchner: In addition to qualitative, historical-comparative research methods of process tracing, we apply a new method for country comparisons. This method uses crowdsourcing platforms to assign the data collection as paid assignments to people in the respective countries under investigation. The data collected in this way is fed into a country data set and analyzed using quantitative methods. The qualitative and quantitative results map the linkages of national institutional structures with gigwork platforms and reveal the patterns and mechanisms that shape these linkages.

The project is part of the interdisciplinary DFG priority program "Digitalization of the working world". What contribution does it make to this?
Kirchner: The project is one of a total of 15 subprojects of the interdisciplinary priority program (SPP 2267), which will jointly advance digitization research over the next three years. The project contributes directly to the overarching goals of the priority program by investigating the general question of whether and in what way the macro level is relevant to the digitalization of the working world at all. In exchange with the other projects and disciplines, the project in the Priority Program offers the opportunity to further develop interdisciplinary basic research by a decisive step and to combine research, which currently often takes place in parallel.