Relying on the True Experts to Address Financial Challenges

Commonwealth Leverages Platform Workers Input to Tackle Financial Uncertainty

As the gig economy introduces uncertain income streams for millions of workers, income volatility has become more widespread. No one understands the challenges of this financial uncertainty better than the people impacted.

That’s why when we partnered with The Workers Lab on their Design Sprint for Social Change to tackle the issue of financial uncertainty in platform work; we put the knowledge and experience of the workers themselves front and center in our research.

Our work in the Design Sprint aligns with Commonwealth’s search for new solutions to support all financially vulnerable workers in managing financial uncertainty.

Relying on the True Experts

In the first phase of this project, Commonwealth developed a prototype - The Workers Strength Fund - to test offering an annual $1,000 grant to help workers cover emergency expenses. The fundamental premise of the Workers Strength Fund is that workers know when they have an emergency and we trust them to do good by other people and just ask when they truly need money.

Through a combination of 1:1 qualitative interviews, and rapid prototyping techniques, we tested this concept. Much of the feedback from platform workers surprised us and impacted our approach for the next phase - a small-scale pilot - including:

1. Expect Healthy Skepticism

Respondents expressed a healthy level of skepticism about the fund, asking questions about how it was being funded, who was behind it, and what was required for someone to be eligible to receive funds. Many respondents felt that Workers Strength Fund was “too good to be true” and was outside the realm of what they had experienced before, including high interest loans and alternative financial services. One respondent shared, “It’s promising me a lot with no investment on my part. What’s the ulterior motive to provide this? ... Are they selling my data?”

2. Frame as a Collective Fund, not a Personal Allotment

Framing the product as a collective fund (e.g., something available to all platform workers as opposed to a personal allotment of $1,000) resonated with respondents. Several respondents discussed the lack of benefits associated with the gig economy and how a product like this could have a positive impact on platform workers generally.

3. Understand the Importance of Feeling Supported by Platform Providers

Having the fund associated with a respondent’s platform made respondents feel like the platform cared about their needs. Additionally, many respondents felt relatively more secure knowing that a fund like this exists, with one respondent saying, “I can’t imagine if I had an emergency where I couldn’t use my vehicle - can’t imagine how helpless that would make me feel. Having this cushion from the goodness of other people would be amazing.”

What’s Next?

Commonwealth is set to launch a small-scale pilot web site - Workers Strength Fund (the name was influenced by worker feedback) - which incorporates much of the platform workers’ insights. The Workers Strength Fund pilot will further test the viability of offering grants to improve financial uncertainty. It’s set to go live in November.

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