Research Output
New Horizons in Peer Advice Systems: Developing the Freelance Advisor
  Work in the creative and cultural industries is often seen as “good” because it offers people a chance to earn money while engaged in their passion (McRobbie, 2018), to have autonomy over when, where and how they work (Smith and McKinlay, 2009), and because it is seen as a desirable occupation (Bourdieu, 1984; Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, 2020). However, extensive research by these same authors shows that creative work is often poorly paid, insecure and hard to access. This is exacerbated for those who come from working class backgrounds, who are of BAME heritage, and are new to the sector (Brook et al, 2020). Aside from institutional factors, this inequality can be traced to the lack of networks that these groups may have within the arts, and how this impedes their ability to access valuable advice on their careers.
The creative industries are notoriously difficult to break into, and learning the ropes is key. Over 30% of the creative industries workforce is self-employed, as opposed to ~15% in the broader UK economy, and these ‘creative freelancers’ (such as actors, photographers and singers) often lack access to advice on how to progress in their careers. Survey research affirms the scale of this knowledge gap, with 56% of freelancers not feeling well informed of their rights (Connell et al, 2022). However, creative freelancers have formed large online communities devoted to exchanging advice and informal upskilling (Patrick-Thomson and Kranert, 2020). 57% of freelancers rely on these online peer communities to solve issues relating to contract negotiations and ‘grey issues’ not easily resolved by a quick internet search, such as setting rates (Connell et al, 2022). However, our existing research shows that these communities are not easily found, the quality of the advice given is hard for freelancers to assess, and the way in which these communities provide advice is inefficient.
Our vision is to develop a tool that enables creative freelancers to access the nuanced, trusted peer advice that is typically available only to those with established networks or existing experience. Our underpinning research highlights the knowledge gap faced by many freelancers, particularly those newer to the sector: Their questions are usually of a complex nature not easily solved by an internet search and they do not know who to approach for advice. For example, new freelancers struggle to price their work when many employers expect them to work for less/free due to a lack of experience, and they lack advice on if, when, and how to negotiate rates under those rates published by unions.
In creating this tool, we will also establish a database of the working conditions of creative freelancers. Groups such as Public Campaign for the Arts have long argued there is a deficit in policy making in relation to creative work, particularly that of freelancers. This deficit is a symptom of the problem that policy makers lack reliable, large-scale data on creative freelancers: “who and where are they, what do they earn and how, what are the broad issues affecting workers” (DCMS, 2023)? This database will provide answers to many of these questions, generated by information directly inputted by users in order to submit their queries and record their job history within the application. In particular, the database has the potential to provide unprecedented, live information on going rates (with breakdowns across sector, worker demographics, job types (mapped by skill), and employer demographics) and employment issues (e.g. skills gaps).
Our extensive online search and our interviews with creative freelancers have yielded no evidence that a tool like this currently exists.
The objectives of this project are:
1. Develop, test and launch an innovative web-based peer advice app for creative freelancers
2. Form partnerships with industry bodies in the creative industries to develop and promote the app
3. Research the ethical and IP implications of community-derived databases to ensure that the app can be developed and launched in a user-centric and equitable manner
4. Use the data provided by the app to generate new understandings of how advanced technologies can support peer advice systems
5. Use the data provided from the app to research the contemporaneous work issues faced by creative freelancers, to inform pure research and to support better informed policy making
At present, we have developed a HIFI design prototype of Freelance Advisor and tested it with users. We are currently developing the front end of the application, and will develop a user recruitment strategy and undergo a further round of user testing by August 2024. We are bidding for further funding to enable a full build to commence.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    05 April 2024

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council


Patrick-Thomson, H., Lawson, A., & Lapok, P. (2024, April). New Horizons in Peer Advice Systems: Developing the Freelance Advisor. Paper presented at Digital Business and Society Consortium, Royal Holloway, University of London


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