Participatory Developments in Italian Cities

Excerpted from Eddy Adams:

“In Turin, two young city employees set up an open innovation competition for public employees, called Innova.To. They issued a call for ideas to improve city services and products, and received 71 new proposals, many linked to smarter digital ways of meeting customer needs. As part of the campaign they engaged commercial city partners, linked to Turin’s smarter cities green plan, to offer prizes for the winners.

At the same time, two Italian cities have been shortlisted for the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, one of which is Bologna, whose bid was developed after an open event with civic hackers and citizens. A city with strong radical traditions, Bologna is pushing the concept of the city commons: a shared and open citizen space. Their logo is a malleable icon that can be adapted and personalised to illustrate the subjective city experience.

The city also recently hosted the second meeting of Spaghetti Open Data, a community of civic hackers working in several Italian cities to develop new apps and service developments. One of the coolest products emerging from this is Confiscati Bene, providing data on confiscated Mafia and criminal assets. The original data format was hard to access and navigate, so during the hackathon event in March the data was cleaned and reorganised in a more user-friendly way.

Although a hackathon event was recently held in the Italian parliament, one of the biggest barriers such groups face is the inability to find public authority employees with the skills to work in new collaborative relationships.

Across Europe the role of city authorities is evolving, moving away from a “command and control” model to more balanced partnerships. There is evidence – from Nesta’s Creative Councils work in the UK, for instance – to suggest that in this process the local authority role is one of enabling, brokering and holding shared risk. These are new skillsets for public officials, especially in Italy where financial restrictions, a bureaucratic culture and archaic recruitment practices have traditionally limited organisations’ opportunities to attract new blood.

Work being done in Lecce is widely viewed as important. Innovators to Change Public Administration is a pilot capacity-building programme for young local authority professionals. This work – run by the Puglia Smart Lab in conjunction with the Politecnico di Milano – seeks to equip participants with the attitudes and skills required to operate in a complex shifting environment.

As Italy has a chequered history of top-down reform, the jury is out on Renzi’s plans. In the meantime, impatient for change, the country’s creative urban networks are making progress by themselves.”

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