According to several economists, there is an urgent need for Italy to commit to digitising its public administration. According to an interview reported by Italy 24/Il Sole 24 Ore, failure to do so will inevitably mean that Italy’s digital growth will remain in the Paper Age.
The article summarises the situation in Italy as dire. Citing data provided by the European Commission, in 2014 Italy ranked last in terms of broadband coverage (21% of households in Italy versus the European average of 62%). The problem, says the economist, lies in the gap between the availability of infrastructure and the adoption of the technology – and failure to bridge this gap leaves Italy at risk of being left behind.
The article concludes, rather bluntly, that there’s no time to lose. However, at least one of the interviewed economists, Gerard Pogorel, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Business Management at Paris’ Telecom ParisTech, says the government is taking the right steps to remedy the situation. “Premier Matteo Renzi and his government have shown that they have the digitisation of the nation at heart,” he says.
A key component of Premier Renzi's Italian Digital Agenda is the digitisation of Italy’s public administration, and at the centre of this strategy is the Digital Growth project, which aims to create an open platform allowing government employees and citizens to easily access information.
In 2014, only 16% of Italians used the Internet to download official forms from public authorities, compared with the European Union average of 3%. However, as Internet access and usage continues to grow, these numbers will only increase with time. Likewise, as more and more public administration services are available online, there is a greater need for cohesive website guidelines and fundamental elements that create a user-friendly experience. With better websites, the use of public administration websites is likely to rise, making certain processes easier and less time consuming for the public.
Italy's Digital Growth project aims to modernise the country's public administration and allow Italy to join the ranks of the United Kingdom and United States governments, which have worked for many years to enhance their online experiences. Through a community effort, the project aims to promote the sharing of best design practices in order to improve the content and efficiency of online public administration services.
On November 21, 2015, as part of Italy’s Digital Day, the project debuted its “Design Guidelines for Public Administration Websites”, which contains fundamental rules for creating user-friendly and continuously updated public administration websites for the general public. The guidelines represent a first step towards a coherent identity for all of Italy’s public administration, to be developed via a participatory process and using open source. An alpha version of the guidelines has already been published at design.italia.it. The text of the guidelines is available on GitHub, which also contains a number of tools for website comments and management. Designers and programmers can provide their contributions in terms of comments, error reports, and proposals for changes to the code. The results of this collaboration will be monitored on designer.italia.it.
According to a government-produced video, the end result of this project will be a simplified system in which a user can skip the lines, paperwork and stamps and instead manage all of their public administration tasks with a click of the mouse.
Description of target users and groups
Designers and programmers are the target users of the project. Through the designer.italia.it hub they contribute ideas and comments to help public administration portals work as smoothly as possible. The goal is that by creating a community of designers not normally associated with public administration, the best practices in design methods will be taken into account and the result will be public administration websites that are innovative, cohesive efficient and easy to use.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The guidelines contain fundamental principles and tools to create public administration websites. These tools will help to harmonise the visual identity and design of the portals operated by the public administration, AGID, and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
To create a user-friendly design experience, the Italian Government will work with the Italian Association of Communication Design (AIAP) and the Association for Industrial Design (ADI), as well as designers and programmers who continue to contribute comments and solutions via GitHub. The government will also work with the Italian Society of Human Factors and Ergonomics (SIE) and the Special Interest Group Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI).
Immediate next steps include identifying community leaders to moderate changes made by the community of designers on designer.italia.it, creating a timeline for adjusting public administration websites to the new guidelines, and educating public administration officials on how to correctly prepare content.
The guidelines were released at the same time that the new Italian government web portal was announced. This portal, www.governo.it, is seen as a leader in the process and will promote the proposed principles. Two additional portals, mappa.italiasicura.gov.it and soldipubblici.gov.it were also created to ensure greater transparency in public expenditure, among other objectives.
The guidelines promote clear, inclusive, consistent design among public administration websites. The goal is to establish a community within designer.italia.it that shares activities in order to improve and maintain updated guidelines.
The use of GitHub to source solutions from designers and programmers, and the process of working with two of Italy’s most prestigious digital organisations, will allow user-friendly public administration sites to be created.Technology choice: Open source software
Main results, benefits and impacts
The project will help create a coherent identity for Italy’s central public administration. The network of information and services will benefit employees and citizens looking for information or assistance. The community of designers and developers will also benefit by having their ideas put into action.
Already, the project has successfully shifted various administrative tasks from government offices to the Internet – and both individual citizens and businesses are benefiting. For example, individual users can securely make income tax declarations and payments online, along with checking their tax data. The Ministry for Public Administration and Simplification has relaunched its website in accordance with the country’s accessibility guidelines, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies has launched a portal where citizens, businesses and operators can access official lists of information about employment services. Users can also obtain information, download and file unemployment benefit forms, applications for child allowances and student grants – all online. Businesses can now submit and pay employee contributions, VAT and taxes all from the comfort of their own offices.