Fondazione Innovazione Urbana / Foundation for Urban Innovation

Civic platform for citizen co-creation that transforms the city into a more livable and resilient organism.

Tool Self-Assessmet

  1. Reflect back on the objective of the tool you built: did you exceed it, or fall short? If so, why?

We as Fondazione Innovazione Urbana work mainly on research and innovation projects and inside our organization, we have an entire structure dedicated to civic engagement and participation and collaboration of citizens in European policies. So, we are developing expertise in these co-governance practices. And this is a peculiarity of city of Bologna. I mean, it’s a city that decided to invest in civic collaboration as a complete strategy to increase the participation of citizens in the decision-making processes. So this thing started a long time ago. And as forced in the first step for this collaboration, and this idea of a new city, as we call it. There was a Civic Platform that was built inside our website. So the city of Bologna was one of the first cities in Europe to have a civic network.

The first was Amsterdam, and the second was bologna, and in that year, the municipality decided to structure participation in our website, like it was a public service that the municipality gave to citizens. So you could go on the municipal website and you were looking for, I don’t know,  how to pay taxes, how to pay if there was some help with the rent and whatever. And we could find a specific section of the website in which you could create your profile your blog, you could share a project with other citizens, you could have in the first step where you could have a public email, 2014 was the second time in which the municipality decided to change the platform and added all these services. 

It was like the Civic network, like Facebook, but built by the municipality. This was the idea that year there was a civic network and Facebook, like the only business model that was possible in civic tech. But the first time we had this offer was made, I think, in the 90s. And the city had given all citizens that wanted to require it an email. So it was the first time that people had an email in their lives. And so they could have it thanks to the municipality. In the years after this Facebook model, the development of our civic network started, with more. You know, we started taking an example from Barcelona. And that kind of platform was useful, not only to create participant digital participation but to mix offline participation with online participation. So in the last years, we changed our platform to be the main space in which people collaborate and talk with each other and whatever, but civic tech as a supporter, to improve offline participation to improve engagement and to give more power to citizens to engage more people, because actually when you go offline, a lot of people decided they don’t want to participate. We built an entire processor, thanks to which we went into the neighborhoods of the city. And we engage a lot of people and we co-design proposals on how to spend this money. And then there was this possibility to send proposals also online. There were a lot of people that didn’t know that the administration had a lot of services online. And so there was this double asset that you had people that use the platform to use public services that started using those participatory tools, and then had people that use the participatory tools and discovered that they could do a lot of things more thanks to technology. The interesting thing about this digital vote There was 2, we allow people 16 years old to vote. This doesn’t happen in Italy, because you are not an adult for the law. So you can vote only once you are 18. So we decided to open up the processes to teenagers who are a part of them. And the other thing is that you didn’t need Italian citizenship or residency. So if you had a migratory background, you could vote and you can take part in this. And this was super interesting, because at some point, we had a project co-designed with the Islamic community in Bologna, and they all would vote for the first time in their life. When did they arrive in Bologna? And they’ve been here for many years, and they could never take a public stage on some project, and they could vote. And the project won, so this was a super interesting thing to improve citizenship. And also a lot of students that come to Bologna, which is one of the biggest universities in Europe, can come here. And even if they say one year or whatever, they start feeling part of the city, and they start filling part of the decisions that they take on on their territories or on the issues that are important for them. So this, I think it’s super important. And these are cases in which technology supported, in my opinion, an extension of what citizenship can mean.

I think that we worked a lot to integrate offline and online participation. And in specific the online tools allow us to extend the participatory public of our initiatives so we could reach more people and allow us to change the idea of what citizenship can be. So we moved from the bureaucratic and legislative idea of citizenship to a more creative and substantial idea of citizenship, which means that the people who live and inhabit the citizens of Bologna, don’t need legal or whatever, we go and see what is the substance of the citizenship. Moreover, they are allowing us to increase the range of participation that we give to people. So we don’t only experiment with the digital voter, but we are also starting to experiment with public petition questionnaires. So thanks to technology, we are going to create a broader space of participation for citizens. And also, we can build that public data for public administration to improve their policy-making.

I think that we were successful, we are going well, I think that we were able to engage more to increase our engagement rate also on the platform. So this is good data for us. And at the same time, I think we have to work a lot more on the accessibility of the tools to make them more usable for the people and the citizens. And we have to find a way to make them more elastic in a way, which means that when we design this tool, we can’t foresee everything that is going to call for me to participate in the city. So we need more flexibility of the tools to make these two binaries of offline and online participation go together. So technology needs to be designed, but also offline initiative needs to be designed. And we have to better align this duty to design processes.

  1. What are the tools’ metrics for success and what does metric say – how well did the tool do?

We are not very good at metrics, we have to improve on these. At this moment, I don’t have access to the data. But as I told you, the metrics for success need to be improved in the first round of this experimentation, we were more focused on quantitative data. That means how many people are participating. And we started with 14,000 More people voting, and we arrived at 30,000 people voting so we increased in three years, the number of people that were voting, but I think that the important thing is to go inside of this data and see actually, which are these people that vote? Do they have a military background or not? Are they men or women, so we have to improve our matrix? Because for now, I can say that we are doing well. But in my opinion, we have to be more ambitious, we have to not accept just our Data, we have to improve how we collect data and say, which are these people. And I think that if we go inside the data, we are going to see that we are not reaching that much of the people that we want to reach so we have to improve on bigger, migratory people, young people who are women used to participate more than men. It doesn’t surprise me, but it’s okay. So, you know, I think that the metric says that we are going well, but I think that we have to improve our inclusivity in that both in the metric and in the engagement.

  1. Were your assumptions that the tool you built would: increase participation/engagement or tackle an issue/raise awareness correct? Do you think you chose the right approach – and what would you do differently?

we knew that going online increased our engagement rate and participation in our things, but the thing that made us successful was not only the digital tool but was the fact that we went digital. So for example, when we started E-vote, a lot of people called us, Bologna is a city in which participation is classical and traditional in elderly people, and they called us and we were super scared because they told us, we used to participate a lot, but in this way you are cutting us off. So what we did was we worked with territorial agents and territorial project managers. So we send a project manager to every territory with an iPad, helping people to vote. So the real success was given by mixing online with offline, we go in the public squares, we go in the garden, and we have people voting and we have people knowing about the initiative. In this way, you increase the success of the technology, because if you go only online, you don’t know how much you can actually control how many people you are collecting. And the risk is that you’re cutting out a lot of people that can’t use technology. So there is a digital team . And we tried to tackle that with , it was like having the cultural mediator that went to the territory and helped the digital mentor in some way. And this was the mix between our firm line and the real success of our initiative.

We worked very hard. And it was like a great job.  I’m happy about the process, because now we are launching this idea, and we can improve it so that the best thing is that you can go on improving it.

  1. What are you hearing from users? What do they enjoy in tool? What do they find challenging?

We have this public platform, which means that we are not Facebook, we are not a big, multinational power, and we are not a big tech enterprise. So our tools, in some ways, are not that usable, as citizens respect. I mean, we are across possibly online, we are constantly using digital tools. And I think that the users are also experiencing high levels now of quality and usability in a lot of tools. And so the challenge is to give them the same user experience that they have on Facebook, but this is not possible for a public administration or on the local territory. So the registration on the platform is a bit longer and then you have to receive a phone number and then you give a phone number and receive an SMS, and then you have to go back into the platformer. So there are a lot of phrases that you need to comply with because you are voting. Because also you are deciding how to spend a lot of money on the municipality, so we have to be sure that that person is one vote for one person, and that person is real. It takes 10 minutes sometimes, and people are not used anymore to spending 10 minutes doing something online. So this is one thing, the other thing is that we do not have the English version of the website. So for English or French, Spanish whatever, we are not translating in languages, the platform is very easy. I mean, there is no I mean, also with a low level of knowledge of Italian you can navigate it and maybe with the Google Translator you can have that but maybe some more information in language could be useful. people seem to not enjoy the platform that much because we have to improve usability, but in the end, they vote. you go there and also with the mentoring, it’s likely to stay with them.

  1. Did your tool deliver what you were hoping for? Are they useful for your key user audience? Are they being adopted?

At first, we planned to give them more possibilities with the tool for citizens, for example, we wanted them to register in our online and our offline meetings. but we saw that they don’t use it because they prefer just to come to the meeting. So then we had 10 participants registered, and then 100 People came without being registered. But I think that we are understanding what works and is useful and what doesn’t work and isn’t useful. So I think that users are going to use them. We saw that, for example, questioners and petitions are liked by people, because they think that actually, they have a chance to say something, maybe. So they don’t use the registration tool, because they don’t perceive a power issue. I think they prefer when there’s something at stake that they can change it.

  1. What worked well through the implementation process? What areas have room for improvement?

I think that what worked was the general mission of the Tool, And it was working with speed to add pieces to our participatory tools. So when we started, we didn’t have the digital vote, but we implemented it when we started. We didn’t have a petition, but we decided to implement it. So in this sense, we could have a good collaboration with the digital sector of a department of the municipality and implement a tool that was responding to the needs that we saw on the territory. So this worked very well. As I told you, what worked very well was the online-offline exchange. That is our strong point. And what we look for improvement is reaching marginalized people and reaching and improving the usability and accessibility of the website because it still needs improvements in my opinion.

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