How Italy used ‘digital solidarity’ to tackle the pandemic

By Shirley Tay

Paola Pisano, Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation, discussed innovations for Covid-19 and beyond.

In March, Italy was the first nation after China to enter a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

At that time, little was understood about the virus. Few nations had experienced an outbreak as extensive as Italy. It became crucial for the nation to pool its own resources and support one another.

Paola Pisano, Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation, shared how the country worked with the private sector to create new digital services during the pandemic at GovInsider Live’s Festival of Innovation.

Building digital solidarity

Italy’s nine-week lockdown shuttered businesses, schools, and factories and confined 60 million people to their homes. The government launched the “digital solidarity” campaign, calling for companies to support communities in lockdown and help “citizens to carry on with their routines”, Pisano said.

Italy asked businesses to offer digital services for free on the campaign website. Some of these services included cloud or video conferencing platforms, or free subscriptions to magazines and newspapers. Citizens could also access online courses for digital skills, like search engine optimisation.

The country also invited companies and universities to propose innovative ways to prevent and contain the virus, she said. They proposed solutions for testing for Covid-19 and identifying the best technology to support telemedicine.

The pandemic created opportunities for startups to innovate in response to Italy’s needs, she added. Milan-based startup Bending Spoons created the country’s bluetooth contact tracing app Immuni. The app records when two users are close to each other and exchanges a code. If a person tests positive, Immuni notifies recent contacts to self-isolate and get tested.

Innovations for the future

As Italy emerges from the worst of Covid-19, “digitalisation and innovation is an important key to have more opportunity in our country”, she said. Pisano hopes to accelerate digital innovation in four areas.

First, the nation plans to improve broadband connectivity across the country. Some Italians had problems with remote working and distance learning during the pandemic, creating a “social divide”, she said.

Next, she aims to accelerate the use of cloud computing in developing new technology. “A lot of digital services are developing without using cloud computing,” Pisano said. This increases costs and slows down the deployment of services, she added.

Open data and more effective data analysis will also be a priority for her ministry. This will help Italy understand the impact of its policies and design more effective ones, she said.

Lastly, Pisano hopes to introduce new services such as a digital identity and a one-stop mobile application for citizens to access public services.

Strengthening education and partnerships

As Italy pushes out digital initiatives to recover from Covid-19, equipping Italians with digital skills will be necessary.

The government’s Digital Republic initiative is working with the civil service and the private sector to upskill citizens. Italian mobile telephone company TIM, for example, has pledged to equip 1 million Italian citizens with digital training courses by the end of 2020.

Her ministry will also focus on strengthening collaborations with the private sector, an important factor in pushing Italy’s digitalisation forward, said Pisano.

Covid-19 devastated Italy earlier this year. As the country recovers from the pandemic, accelerating digital innovation in both the public and private sector will help it rebuild stronger for future crises.

Join us at GovInsider's Festival of Innovation: