SOCIETY | Mar 25, 2020

Coronavirus emergency, digital technology, simplification and municipalities

Italy's recovery starts from the need to understand the value of digital technology in order not to be caught unprepared any more

The recovery of our country also depends on going digital and on the use of technologies. We need awareness, ambition, courage. No more hesitation. It’s time we all went in the same direction: institutions, companies, citizens, to concretely establish a socially and environmentally sustainable society.

Only last November, as Municipia, we presented the Manifesto for new technological, resilient and inclusive cities at the service of citizens. Just three months later, we all find ourselves experiencing an unprecedented situation that leads us to having to deal with the resilience of the whole country, of the Italian health and welfare services, with a technological gap which exists between North and South but also between centers within the same region.

How useful can technology be, not only in an emergency?

We have all had to stop and think how we could have managed all this without technology. No smart working, no connections, no services, even more amplified distances. Hence the need for technology which is not an end in itself but – as underlined in our Manifesto – is able to fully meet our needs, starting with the primary needs of our cities. The Coronavirus emergency has rekindled the spotlight on a topic which here at Municipia is very dear to us: that of the ability to focus on people thanks also to technology.

The crucial point is that this emergency has made us discover how our cities lag behind, how many difficulties could have been solved better if our cities had been ready, if they had acted earlier to put in place smart solutions and services. Unfortunately, in normal and not emergency times, it seems that these needs are not so important, only to discover, unfortunately too late, that they were.

In fact, during these weeks as never before, our municipalities have had to take remedial action, to completely reconsider the management of many public services in order to keep them operating: for example, by putting the various community help desks on-line, by increasing digitized administrative procedures, by optimizing public transport in order to cope with the reduction of means of transport and of runs, by making waste collection more efficient in order to reduce risks for the staff involved. In short, cities are making difficult choices, in emergency conditions and tackling the essential. This requires readiness, efficiency, concreteness.

From this emergency, cities must learn that they need to be ready for these events, foreseeing them, because foreseeing means, as in this case, saving lives, as well as simplifying everyone’s work and guaranteeing local and national safety.

Where and how can digital technology be useful?

In addition to the examples already given, think about the possibility offered by the integration of data between the various players of the Public Administration: for example, in order to optimize the availability of social welfare and health services. Or, in the field of education, the possibility of using technologies and methodologies for distance learning and assistance, of training teachers in their use, as well as of resorting to immersive reality applications, systems and games for learning supported by 3D, augmented and virtual reality technologies.

And the same goes for museums and archaeological sites called upon to win a new challenge, that of digitization of the works and of the interaction/fruition by users also through the web and customized applications, in order to reach an audience of children too.

Access to all these services must be considered a right and an opportunity for everyone, regardless of the city in which they live and work. This takes time, it requires a reorganization of the processes and clearly also of the economic resources. This is why, now more than ever, private individuals must be considered as valid allies of the Public Administration, systematically using the tools offered by the Procurement Code such as Public-Private Partnership and project financing.

Nowadays we are often wondering what positive aspects this epidemic will have: certainly solidarity, humanity, a civic sense and the ability to network, but I also hope the ability to be farsighted, to equip our cities in time in order to better cope with emergencies of this kind which unfortunately, according to many experts, just as they showed up in the past, could return again in the future.

So, an appeal to public administrators, act sooner, act swiftly, equip cities with smart technologies and services and never be unprepared again.

Stefano De Capitani