The BARTER research project aims to use mobile and ubiquitous computing to raise the understanding of how fiscal localism can produce new complementary economic models to build a more sustainable society. Part of the Government’s package of measures to combat the current ongoing economic crisis is to promote growth by encouraging consumers to spend more within the economy. However, this comes at a time when we are seeing a decline in town centre shopping with one in six shops now lying empty across the UK . When considered alongside the environmental costs of a global market place this has led to calls to consider new economic models based on ‘ethical trading’ that will encourage local communities to connect, share and trade more locally where that is possible.

The two main existing approaches that have similar agendas to the Barter Project are Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) and Local/Community currencies.

  • LETS use a currency of locally created LETS Credits which are used to represent transactions of members when exchanging goods and services. However, no scrip is issued but rather transactions are recorded in a central location open and accessible to all members.
  • Local currencies are tools of fiscal localism in that they are only accepted within the local community and their use encourages the purchase of locally produced and locally available goods and services .

Whilst these two systems (LETS and Virtual currencies) have achieved some success the common criticism of both Local Currencies and LETS is that while conventional national currencies are generally hard to earn, but easy to spend, credits in these systems are comparatively easy to earn, but harder to spend. This has been attributed to a lack of diversity amongst participants with these schemes often attracting those who have already committed to the aims of such projects but failing to attract those yet to be convinced. This creates issues as it is not only frustrating for users but it results in individual users holding on to the currency/credits which means it does not flow back into the local economy quickly enough to provide most benefit. In terms of the proposed BARTER system it is felt that the key takeaway from the operation of LETS is the transparency of the trading information within the group whilst from local currencies it is reducing the barriers between the local currency and the national currency and therefore the main aim of the Barter Project is to effectively augment the national currency with a localised trust system. Through such a system we will address our two main research questions of:

  • For those who have already bought into ethical trading how can we provide more information on exactly how their purchases are contributing towards a more ethical and sustainable local economy, thus helping them make informed choices?
  • For those who haven’t yet bought into ethical trading, how can we use data on the impact of ethical versus non-ethical trades to encourage them to adopt new purchasing behaviour?