Digital communication in public administration: the Covid-19 emergency has resulted in human and economic losses that will affect our society for years to come. However, many of our government departments, both local and national, have passed the test and paved the way for innovation. Their ability to offer new services to citizens quickly demonstrates this is possible thanks to digital when it comes to the relationship between public administration and citizens.
The new directives adopted by the Italian public administration after Covid-19
Due to the growth of Covid-19 cases in Italy, on March 9, 2020, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the closure of public offices, including schools and universities, as well as for activities considered non-essential. The deeply restrictive rules established in the so-called Phase 1 were not relaxed until May 4, 2020, when the country was able to start gradually reopening for certain activities.
The directives issued by the Italian public administration included rules which (source: temi.camera.it):
- limit the presence of staff in offices to carry out only those activities which they consider essential and which necessarily require a presence in the workplace, also because of emergency management;
- ignore individual agreements and the information obligations provided for by the legislation in force on agile work (in accordance with Articles 18 to 23 of Law No. 81 of 2017; normattiva.it);
- also allow agile work to be carried out by computer tools available to the employee if they are not provided by the administration itself. In such cases, article 18, paragraph 2, of law no. 81 of 2017, according to which the employer is responsible for the safety and proper functioning of technological tools assigned to the employee for the performance of work activities, does not apply.
After the partial reopening dictated by phase two, the AP continues to keep as many people as possible in smart work mode. Some municipal offices work in shifts, with no plan to return 100% of staff, at least in the short term.
According to the latest statements from the Ministry of Public Administration, municipal offices reopened to the public on July 31. However, around a million civil servants will remain in smart working mode until 2021 (money.it).
These numbers are just a symbol of the sudden and necessary changes the Palestinian Authority has experienced amid the Covid-19 emergency. Given the adoption of digital tools and the ways the PA is experimenting with digitization, there is no doubt that a renewal process was already underway.
Can a context of such uncertainty be an opportunity to make the idea of open government a reality? How to avoid a return to normal, where the development of digital skills and the rate of digitization in the PA place Italy at the lowest levels among the OECD countries? If the public sector can be an important vector of social change, the digitization of the country can be considered at the same level as industrial policies.
How? ‘Or’ What? Identifying the tools to overcome the limits of access to physical facilities determined by the lockdown condition can provide a clear picture and prospects to be achieved and maintained not only until the final reopening of public offices, but also to initiate a breakthrough. digital for years to come. to come.
A new dual perspective of digital communication in public administration
In risk and crisis situations, the State and the Public Administration have a fundamental role in the management of communication and information flows. They represent fundamental benchmarks to follow in order to have a system of certified sources. Managing the proper dissemination of information in such a delicate situation is of strategic importance.
AgID’s 2019-2021 Three-Year Plan provides for support for Administrations in the creation of communication ecosystems that will benefit citizens and businesses in the operations they currently carry out in contact with the Administration.
The plan encourages measures such as Electronic identity card, public digital identity system (spid), ANPR and pagoPA. What is the goal of digital communication in public administration? The goal of creating a unique digital identity for all individuals is to have increasingly digital interactions, as well as a guarantee of uniqueness and security for each interaction and associated transaction.
Smart work extended until October 15, 2020
As we know, teleworking was necessary to set up during the months of confinement. The application of “agile work” has helped limit the impact of COVID-19 on many categories of workers, limiting unnecessary opportunities for contact in the workplace, while ensuring the continuity of economic activity for many .
By a resolution adopted at a meeting of July 29, the Council of Ministers ordered the prolongation of the state of emergency until October 15, 2020, and at the same time published a new decree-law to extend the effects of some of the previously adopted measures (altalex.com).
In this context are the projects proposed by the Digital Solidarity initiative, an initiative promoted by the Ministry of Technological Innovation and Digitization. The AgID portal describes the objectives as “To help people, professionals and businesses to continue their activities and maintain their habits in full compliance with the government’s provisions to contain and combat the spread of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) throughout the country.” ”
Through the AgID Portal, a series of services exclusively provided in digital form to citizens has been published, with the following characteristics:
- the proposers are companies, organizations or associations, therefore not individuals or professionals;
- these are services that are free or made free for emergencies (not delivered), without any commitment or obligation to renew at the end of the offer period;
- the duration of the offer is explicit;
- they fall into the categories proposed in the form;
- they are valid for the whole of the national territory or for one or more regions;
- the description is not written in a promotional tone;
- preferably there is a dedicated channel for the coronavirus emergency initiative.
This initiative was exhausted at the end of the first phase of Digital Solidarity, on June 30, and the service collection form was deactivated. However, the initiatives promoted thanks to Digital Solidarity are still present on the site.
Beyond the current initiatives (both active and inactive), the state of affairs that emerged during the Covid-19 emergency revealed strong organizational and communication needs on the part of the Public Administration .
Participation and involvement of private and associative actors in the direct communication of PAs
The state of emergency gave new impetus to the PA’s response to economic and social issues, even those that were not present in times of emergency. Proof of the effectiveness of online channels, also recognized by individuals, the open activity lists and the readjustment of many activities from face-to-face to take-out, from catering to clothing purchases, advertised on the and municipal social sites. The mutual benefits enjoyed by municipalities and local activities are quite clear. It would therefore be desirable for this interaction not to end with the end of the emergency period.
Organization of PA activities: a new level of efficiency
In this current situation, offices are closed (and no employee works in the office, in person), some processes are digitized, and virtual offices and an online platform are used to schedule appointments. According to statistics collected from PA staff, smart working was viewed as a positive experience by around 88% of those surveyed. For 69%, it improves the organization of work activities, allowing more autonomy (35%). Also in this case, the advantages of smart working are shown, beyond the disadvantages related to the lack of social interaction and the reorganization of life at home.
“The primary objective of agile work in the immediate future is to improve the organization of public administration, in order to achieve a balance between more efficient services rendered to the community and internal organizational well-being, which, as already noted, can contribute to greater savings on the part of administrations and better sustainability in terms of environmental impact ”, underlined the Minister of Public Administration, Fabiana Dadone. Smart work is one of the pillars emerging from the revolution made necessary by the pandemic. This involves structural change that must be encouraged, followed and carefully monitored (agi.it).
Smart public administration
Accelerating the transition to digital, especially in the face of the Covid-19 emergency, is even more necessary. The Public Administration, faced with the gradual increase in the use of technological devices by citizens to cultivate virtual interactions and retrieve information, has adopted a change of strategy to meet these new needs. The solution is to place the process of communicating with the citizen at the center of their action, intercepting them in social network environments.
In order to interact with citizens, the PA needs convenient websites and dedicated apps. In a time of disintermediation and information overload, even institutions, as companies already do, must adopt risk management plans that provide for clear and shared communication procedures. Especially in risk, emergency and crisis situations – we could also add in the fight against disinformation – it is essential that the information reaching citizens is certified, timely and disseminated.
What could be a ad hoc strategy? Some administrations have based their actions on the dynamics of Customer experience in the private sector, imitating its best practices, especially on the digital level. Basically, this process – to establish a dialogue with citizens, to get to know them better online in order to provide services tailored to their needs – involves a number of factors to be adopted:
- transparent, accessible and user-friendly digital services;
- omnichannel channels;
- tools for collecting, analyzing and interpreting the personal data of user-citizens;
- ad hoc professional personalities, collaborations with specialized companies, acquisition of know-how.
From a one-to-one point of view, replacing the traditional communication strategy – essentially passive, i.e. diffusion – with a new mode of communication which sees the predominant use of social channels, would allow PA to deliver relevant information quickly and immediately, providing all citizens with a customer experience that meets their expectations, thereby regaining their confidence and improving their reputation.