Italy is the most fertile ground for innovation, but private companies don’t take advantage of its potential, and the public sector is bogged down with bureaucracy. But maybe this time something is actually changing, and it’s moving faster than usual. The Gentiloni government has approved a 3-year plan for informatics in the public administration 2017–2019.
What does it involve? The project is broken into 3 strands: physical infrastructure (communication networks, data centers, the cloud); intangible infrastructure (central platforms offering services to people); and smaller ecosystems (health, schools, justice and tourism will be digitalized services). These areas are supported by a wider use of big data and online security.
Where are we in the process of digitalizing our cities?
Improvements are starting to show on 2 fronts: on one side, there’s a public administration that’s more in tune with new lingo and digital needs, and on the other, there are people who are more inclined to get involved with these smart institutions. One example comes out of Milan, which chose to launch participatory budgeting. This was the result of a collaboration between departments, and uses digital communication to explain passages to residents which had previously been reserved for employees.
In addition, for the referendum on the 4th of December last year, they opened a messenger channel to test out a chatbot that responded to Milan’s residents about the location of their polling stations, providing real-time stats on turnout. That’s not all – thanks to a collaboration with young people in the city of Milan, a geolocation app will be launched soon that gives people real-time information about construction, closed roads, markets, accidents and other events in the area.
Another concrete example of digital innovation in the public administration has already arrived. In late May, a new chatbot service began for the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Enabled through Facebook Messenger, it can respond 24/7 to user questions about news and practical information related to the agriculture sector.
Digitalization in 2 phases: lighter bureaucracy and digital education
Milian is going increasingly digital: it has 125 thousand likes on its Facebook page and almost 300 thousand twitter followers. This means it’s able to share information directly, closing up the gap between citizens and the public administration.
“Social media is the future of digital – it’s what ties us the most to the new generations and is a tool for creating new job opportunities,” says Roberta Cocco, Council Member for Digital Transformation and Civic Services for the city of Milan.
The plan for digital transformation is not limited to the use of social media however, even if it has now appeared in an institutional document for the first time. No, it’s much broader than that. Milan is working on two spheres: one is to modernize and digitalize processes, improving and simplifying services for the people. This starts from the inside, where even the city of Milan still finds itself dealing with muddled bureaucratic processes.
The other is to launch a true digital education through the project “In de per mi.” Several registry offices have piloted a tutor for the service to show residents how to access digital civic services. After the first few successful months, the initiative was expanded with the help of high school students involved in a work experience study program. The project Stem In The City was also launched, which is a series of events to raise awareness for young people about digital culture, and attract girls to scientific and technical fields. The program reached over 3000 young people.
Social media’s strength is the lingo: crazy for Telegram in Trieste
Fluid, informal networks work best. In Trieste for example, Telegram is going strong, especially for emergencies about bad weather and services: “There’s a change in course that people are starting to perceive, and for the first time, thanks to social media, we can approach people with different types of language. ‘Bureaucrat-ese’ in institutional documents, and a more informal model that brings the population and the Public Administration together as a quick and immediate point of reference,” reveals Christian Tosolin, Social Media Manager of the city of Trieste. It’s moving toward a growing presence of chatbots to manage interactions with residents at any time of the day or night. But there’s still a long road ahead because digital teams in the Public administration are still extremely small.
“On one hand, digitalization is contagious. On the other, there’s no software that can make the difference the way people can,” says Roberta Cocco, Council Member for Digital Transformation and Civic Services for the city of Milan.