How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
Technology opens up new and increased opportunities to improve citizens’ lives. Digital technologies have demonstrated vast applications and plenty of potential benefits in the public sector. Above all, it allows public administrations for a faster interaction with citizens and for a more effective response to their needs, both on a daily basis and in exceptional situations. My role is to build a citizen centric digital government that is trusted by our people and that is thoroughly accessible. Our strategy to reach this ambitious objective is to deploy digital tools to render public services, and interactions with public administrations at any level, easy and fast for everyone, none excluded.
The App IO is one of the most significant actions to ease citizens’ lives. The App IO is based on a mobile-first approach and enables citizens to interact with the Public Administration through one single channel.
What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?
In early Sept. 2019, for the first time, I was appointed Minister for technological innovation and digitalisation; I was ready for the exciting adventures of the government official but after only five months since my appointment, the epidemic struck with all its devastating impact. We had been writing and talking for years about the power of digital technologies and the profound implications of digital transformation but the conversation probably was still limited to the circles. Yet, when the Covid-19 pandemic occurred, it clearly demonstrated the importance of digital technology in our everyday lives and in emergency management. Unfortunately, not everyone has the access to the internet or is provided with enough digital competencies. This gap proved to be extremely damaging during the pandemic widening the existing socio-economic inequalities.
My first reaction was to prove that digital technologies could be an answer. Thus we launched a public-private partnership called “Digital Solidarity” to engage companies, institutions and innovators to provide free services to people and businesses, ranging from telecommunications and connectivity to e-learning and entertainment. The goal was to offer citizens the opportunity to continue living their lives even if they were forced to stay at home during the lockdown.
What is one unexpected learning from 2020?
2020 has given harsh lessons to everyone; a new awareness is shaping our way of thinking about our societal model. Personally, I realised how common convictions about the national and worldwide economic systems were fragile. The epidemic exposed us to the vulnerability which we imagine characterises only poor or developing countries. In the eyes of many, it seems as if the catastrophe has recklessly crossed over into the part of the world that felt to be safe.
The presumption and arrogance of having all the scientific, technological and economic tools to control every possible calamity is diminishing. But at the same time, there is a new awareness of investing in innovation, technologies and research, and adopting “Open Science” models that will always allow a larger number of scholars to contribute to the advancement of scientific research.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?
It’s not easy to summarise but I’ll try. First, digital identity. Identity is crucial for attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goal to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Individuals need to prove who they are to their communities and governments. However, one billion people still lack a legal form of identification and more than three billion have officially recognised identities but with limited ability to use them digitally. Covid-19 has increased the urgency of developing digital identities and verification schemes. Throughout the pandemic, in Italy, digital identities have enabled consumers to buy goods and services and allowed citizens to benefit from public and financial services. When I was appointed Minister, there were only 3.5 millions digital identities; today, there are more than 13 million and growing by the day.
Another project in which I strongly believe it’s the app IO, a single channel to facilitate the most common transactions between citizens and central and local administrations. The app is a central component of the Italian government’s vision of digital citizenship as it embodies the ultimate example of a user-centric approach to the delivery of digital public service. The project’s objectives is to propose a model in which citizens are no longer held responsible for figuring out which services they need nor must go through the laborious task of learning how the digital services work. Instead, the public sector has the responsibility of contacting citizens when needed. It’s also a way of making the public sector’s complexity more ‘transparent’ to citizens. As of December 2020, 8,874,706 people have already downloaded the app.
What are your priorities for 2021?
Our priority is a sustainable and resilient recovery from the Covid crisis which has crystallised and increased inequalities. My mission is dual. Firstly, we will ensure that our digital transformation and innovation strategy will encompass the entire Italian economic and production system made mostly of SMEs. In this particular moment, where enterprises are investing in digital technologies for their resilience and the renewal of their businesses, the Government must be an ally.
In parallel, our efforts will focus on bridging the digital gap that hinders a substantial part of our citizens from taking full advantage from technology usage, by providing them with adequate connectivity, digital services and digital skills.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?
I would tell them to build a solid network of curious, skilled and empathic people. To build a thorough and thought out strategy, and to stay strongly focused on your objectives. Innovation requires massive patience. Yet, being always eager to learn and to listen to others’ viewpoints is an essential part of the job. Innovation is a long term objective, however its evolution is fast and sometimes unpredictable. We need to chase a moving target.
Write a message for your future self.
Remember that you had the privilege of serving your country.