Emilia-Romagna’s Digital Agenda led a significant innovation process for public administration decision-making. The process resulted in a co-design phase with local administrations to structure and publish online the first geo-referenced regional Observatory on ultra-broadband connectivity in Italy. Multi-stakeholder participation made it possible to identify and highlight the various strengths and weaknesses of the tool, enabling its optimisation.
In the last decade, there have been many national and regional interventions to make the offer of fast internet connectivity ubiquitous and constant in Italy. Actions towards this goal have been taken thanks to significant public and private investments. However, the digital divide in Italian territory is still too wide. Our digital divide continues to accentuate social, investment and market territorial issues, especially in remote areas. This produces negative effects and externalities such as depopulation of mountainous and peripheral areas and a general decline in the sought-after sustainable and efficient growth. The current disparities in internet connectivity in our territory are worsening for certain population groups and industrial and commercial areas. The connection of housing units with ultra-broadband is not yet adequately available according to regional standards. Ultrabroadband is now an essential requirement for citizens to stay connected and for businesses to be competitive on the market. For this reason, Emilia-Romagna’s Digital Agenda structured a co-design process with local public administrators in order to offer a complete, simple and integrated tool to the community: the first and only Observatory on ultra-broadband in Italy.
Within the framework of the Thematic Communities system there was a perceived need on the side of local administrators to access information related to ultra-broadband in order to understand present and future opportunities in their territory and thus orientate future policies. Thematic Communities are sites for digital transformation, promoted by the Emilia-Romagna’s Digital Agenda. They operate in a structured way in an institutional dimension through a particular conception of the communities of practice models, with co-learning and co-construction activities at the basis of its process. Thematic Communities play a facilitating role for the Observatory, enabling a strong and fluid dialogue at several levels of government, especially in smaller public administrations, and they have proved to be an important process innovation in the regional public administration. The co-design phase of the Observatory was concluded in May 2022 with the involvement and participation of key stakeholders, such as Mayors, Deputy Mayors and operational technicians from heterogeneous locations in the Region.
The participatory process was structured with the objective of optimising the usability and quality of the Observatory by taking advantage of the feedbacks from testers. It involved structured, targeted moments of dialogue aimed at producing and returning a useful and well-made tool. The suggestions were collected through the holding of four plenary meetings and the successful completion of a questionnaire structured in different sections: Data Quality, Data Representation, Tool Usability, Main Functionality, User Experience. Subsequently, an improvement plan for the tool was produced, classifying the interventions by priority (high, medium, low). After sharing the results with the Administrator-testers, the changes were implemented incrementally until the result was achieved. The results of the co-design process reveal a participation of testers among Mayors, Deputy Mayors and operational technicians from 12 municipalities. The participants represented a large part of the regional area and came from heterogeneous territories. Almost all the Administrators-testers (94.2%) expressed the importance of being able to use a simple and informative tool such as the Observatory. Among other functionalities, the tool allows for administrators to receive punctual warnings from their citizens concerning the progress of the works relating to the laying of the optical fibre and the consequent connection of property units.
The Observatory allows institutions, citizens, and businesses to consult data on the current state of connectivity in every building or property on the street that is assigned with a numerical identifier (numero civico) across the region. The data represented comes from official sources, both governmental and private telecommunications operators. Emilia-Romagna’s Digital Agenda is already in the act of bringing the Thematic Communities together again to optimize the current version of the Observatory by leveraging new ideas and evolutionary changes to feed a new co-design process. The creation of a Regional Connectivity Observatory is one of the many goals envisaged within our strategy "Data Valley Common Good".
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Welcoming the proposal received from Thematic Communities to build the first regional Observatory for ultra-broadband in Italy, Emilia-Romagna's Digital Agenda involved local public administrators in a series of co-design meetings, during pandemic period. The Observatory's main idea is to use available data and information as a key to understanding the connectivity gap in regional areas. The Observatory uses data and cartography to show what is really happening in the area, to identify good practices to spread and disseminate, and to recognize gaps to fill and priority areas to work on with tailored interventions. Consequently, it is an auxiliary tool to support policymaker decisions. Our Observatory distinguishes itself from other observatories in Italy because it collects and integrates different data and information from several sources, both private and public.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Observatory was released on July 2022. Afterward, the team conducted an evaluation phase of the tool as we were trying to understand what and how to optimise its functions, along with other suggestions for improvement. We are organising another co-design process (version 2.0) with other public administrators to take on board new considerations and suggestions. Among these, we are exploring the possibility of implementing:
- Satellite visualisation of geographical maps
- Data historicization to represent change over time (upgrades)
- Addition of data on electromagnetic field sources and new coverage data of private TLC operators
- Data on homes and households in a digital divide in the region area
- Geo-referencing schools, public buildings and industrial areas
- Improve the usability of the tool by adding definitions and information that is useful for understanding the data
- Improvements on the accessibility of the tool
Collaborations & Partnerships
Thematic Communities formed by Local Public Authorities participated in the innovation process. Additionally, our in-house company Lepida ScpA, which deals with telecommunications and coverage infrastructure, played the role of involving private TLC operators to obtain coverage data. A private software development provider prepared and developed the platform and private TLC companies that were willing to provide us with their coverage data for inclusion in the Observatory were key partners.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Delegated local authorities are main users, as they guide infrastructure policies and interventions in their areas. Citizens can use the tool to consult data on ultra-broadband coverage in their homes and the Emilia-Romagna Region is already using the tool to monitor progress of works and to target regional policies and reflect national ones. Private sector and companies use the tool because it allows them to influence market and investment choices starting from the distinction of the areas covered versus those not covered by fibre.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Observatory was released on July 2022 and a few months after had already been visited 1.742 times, and received around 100 warnings from users. To date, the Observatory has been used to guide grid infrastructure policies, an achievement that will have long-term impacts. We were able to survey 2,279,173 housing units throughout the Region. And in order to better analyse and recover deficiencies, we have structured a clustering model of the reports that will produce outcomes. The results of the co-design process revealed a participation of 20 testers among Mayors, Deputy Mayors and operational technicians from 12 municipalities and 2 Unions of Municipalities of the Region. The technical-operational component of the participation was (45%) compared to the political component (55%). The participants represented a large part of the regional area, 8 of 9 provinces of the Emilia-Romagna Region, for a total of 476,485 citizens represented in the co-design process. Testers came from heterogeneous territories, both in terms of morphology and population size: both municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants and municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants were represented, as well as intermediate territories. Almost all the Administrators-testers (94.2%) expressed the importance of being able to use a simple and informative tool such as the Observatory. We have initiated two implementation agreement procedures for the drafting of the Local Digital Agendas of Unions of Municipalities and, as a precondition, we propose to use the Observatory. This is because the Observatory allows for municipalities to better coordinate the actions and activities in which they will have to engage with each other and also with TLC operators.
Challenges and Failures
It was challenging to meet the needs expressed by local public administrators because they showed great interest in innovation during meetings and therefore we did not want to disappoint them. Finding data from both public and private sources was also not trivial. Initially, private TLC operators were not well prepared to share data. Later, we established 'cooperation agreements' with them in order to receive their coverage data and to be able to integrate them into the tool. We reached out to 7 private operators and are in communication with others to hopefully increase our reach to 9 operators. Geo-referencing housing units was not at all simple since we had to search for a database that was as complete as possible and integrate an automatism to automatically update data. In general, a substantial challenge involved getting up-to-date data and convincing data owners that sharing was for a righteous cause. The Observatory is not a static tool but rather a dynamic one, constantly evolving and improving.
Conditions for Success
The human and financial resources were vital, as without these it would have been impossible to successfully complete the innovation process. The working team was encouraged by the regional and national importance and relevance of the project. The publication of this tool was one of the most important objectives of the 'Data Valley Common Good' strategy, as it represented an important political commitment. Another relevant condition for success was the synergy and collaboration with different actors throughout the process, starting with private TLC operators that have different business interests than ours. With our project, we want to make decision-makers understand the importance of the tool and its usefulness, which is not always easily comprehended. The opportunity to have had the time and willingness to implement a co-design process is undoubtedly an added value. These conditions allowed for the Observatory to become a tool for decision makers and a source of information for citizens and businesses.
The co-design process is the basis of our project and we are already building a 2.0 version with the involvement of the Thematic Communities and other actors, including local authority delegates.
The process is certainly replicable, in fact Emilia-Romagna's Digital Agenda is engaged in a European Project funded by the European Commission for the co-design of digital services, centred on UserCentricites (https://www.usercentricities.eu). In addition, the Digital Agenda team is currently experimenting with local public authorities on the DESI Digitisation Index, promoted by the European Commission to measure digitisation within the European Union. In this case, we are setting up a dashboard with restricted access to preview the territories' data.
As a working group, we certainly learnt the importance of involving multiple stakeholders, even with different visions and ideologies. This is useful to achieve a comprehensive, indispensable and unique result such as the Observatory. Another important lesson was perseverance in never giving up as even when we thought that the most up-to-date data was not available to us, we never stopped believing and managed to reach agreements with several TLC operators. The previous was important because we learned that not having up-to-date data cannot be a solid basis for an effective and useful Observatory that can support political decisions.
- Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
25 July 2023