Request for Proposals - 2015 Peer Economy Research Awards

Schedule and Deadlines

  • RFP released: May 4, 2015
  • Two-page proposal submission deadline: May 22, 2015
  • Notification of results: Early June, 2015
  • Submission: email your submission to


A number of technological platforms, often referred to as "sharing economy" or "peer economy" platforms, are disrupting entrenched industries by enabling ordinary people to monetize excess resources such as cars, bedrooms, and skills. For instance, Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit have challenged the status-quo in the hospitality, transportation, and staffing industries.

These platforms have the potential to create extra income opportunities for people, reduce the environmental cost of ownership, and foster interactions among co-located residents. At the same time, they challenge existing business practices, some of which were originally intended to protect public safety, health, and labor rights, among others. More broadly, the term "sharing economy" is in need for examination as these platforms most often involve the monetization of transactions that otherwise could have occurred in reciprocity networks.

Despite the Peer Economy's increased visibility, size, and tensions, not much independent academic research has been done in this space. We are seeking to fund academic researchers who can investigate and problematize this phenomenon, especially in urban environments where they thrive, to answer questions such as:

  • System Design. What sociotechnical tools or design interventions could help address or examine existing limitations of peer economy platforms? How might reputation systems be leveraged in new ways to recruit and engage communities of practice, to increase accountability and quality of labor? How could mentorship systems be leveraged to improve providers of labor over time?
  • Economics. What are the economic impacts of different peer economy platforms across industries? What sort of industries are susceptible to disruption by peer economy platforms and in what ways? Can the peer economy be accessible to communities who may not have access to high value capital or excess resources?
  • Regulation. What is the role of governmental and other forms of regulation in the peer economy?
  • Infrastructure. How do peer economy platforms enhance or undermine public infrastructure? How do these platforms impact communities' resilience?
  • Data. What data from peer economy platforms can be leveraged to help communities? How can individuals' privacy rights, societal benefits, and the platform's own interest be reconciled?
  • Labor issues. How are labor rights undermined or redefined by these new income earning modalities? What new structures for collective action might emerge from the peer economy providers? What jobs are being displaced by peer economy platforms and what alternatives might emerge?

Topic of Focus: Knowledge Work and the Peer Economy

This year we are especially interested in proposals that explore the intersection between the peer economy and traditional knowledge work practices in the modern workplace. Several peer economy companies offer products or services that are changing traditional notions of how knowledge work is done. For example, a number of recent startups are offering low cost, on-demand virtual personal assistant services, promising to make workers more productive by letting them offload small tasks to an assistant. Other companies have created hiring platforms that connect skilled freelancers to companies in need of their expertise, in online marketplaces of flexible, short term contracting opportunities. How are services such as these changing the way businesses are structured, how tasks and projects are planned and staffed, or how work gets done?

Proposals need not be restricted to this topic. We will accept and consider all eligible proposals relating to the peer economy. However, strong proposals that connect to the future of knowledge work are encouraged to submit and may receive special consideration during proposal review. 

Monetary Awards

We will be selecting two winning proposals to each receive unrestricted gift award of $25,000 USD, made payable to the applicant's institution.


We are especially welcoming of proposals that are cross-disciplinary. We recognize that the knowledge necessary to address this area may come from a wide range of methodologies and disciplines as diverse as computer science, urbanism, information science, sociology, design, legal studies, and economics. We welcome proposals that involve qualitative or quantitative data collection and analysis.

To be eligible, your institution and proposal must meet the following requirements.

  • Institutions must have access to the knowledge, resources, and skills necessary to carry out the proposed research.
  • The receiving institution must agree that awards are made as unrestricted gifts, and should provide the necessary tax documents shortly after being notified of the award.
  • Applicants may be faculty, researchers, students and affiliates of institutions that are either an accredited degree-granting university with a non-profit status or a research institution with non-profit status.
  • Applicants may be individuals, or small teams of researchers.
  • Proposals that are incomplete will be excluded from the selection process.
  • Institutions can be located inside or outside the United States.

Submission Process

FUSE Labs at Microsoft Research shall have no obligation to maintain the confidentiality of any submitted proposals. Therefore, proposals should not contain information that is confidential, restricted, or sensitive. FUSE Labs reserves the right to make the winning proposals publicly available, except those portions containing budgetary or personally identifiable information.

To be considered for this award, submit a short bio (1 or 2 paragraphs), and a project proposal (2 pages) via email at with the following basic information:

  • Description and approach. What set of questions will be addressed? How will they be addressed? What are the methodological and theoretical approaches that the researchers will utilize?
  • Related research. Briefly summarize and explain how your proposal is going to build on previous work  (references section are not counted towards the page limit).
  • Budget and timeline. Describe how the $25,000 USD award will be used, along with the milestones to measure the progress of the project. If the project described is part of a larger ongoing research program, estimate the time for completion of this project only.

Selection Process and Criteria

FUSE Labs reserves the right to fund winning proposals at an amount greater or lower than the amount requested, up to the stated maximum amount. We cannot provide individual feedback on proposals that are not funded.

All proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Addresses an important research question that, if answered, has the potential to have a broad impact on the peer economy.
  • Potential for wide dissemination and use of knowledge, including specific plans for scholarly publications, public presentations, and white papers.
  • Ability to complete the project including adequacy of resources available, reasonableness of timelines, and qualifications of identified contributors.
  • Qualifications of principal investigator including previous history of work in the area, successful completion of previous funded projects, research or teaching awards, and publications.


Funded researchers must seek approval of their institution’s review board for any work that involves human subjects.

FUSE Labs makes no claims on any of the data collected as a part of this research, but we encourage the researchers to publish their work broadly. Funded researchers do not need to seek FUSE Labs' approval prior to publication.


This RFP is being coordinated by Andrés Monroy-Hernández and Justin Cranshaw, researchers in FUSE Labs at Microsoft Research. For more information please email

About FUSE Research Awards

Every year FUSE Labs helps fund university researchers doing work in areas related to social computing and design. Previous winners include faculty from departments of computer science, information science, and communications such as:

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