Indifferent Innovation, or why the Monti government does not speak (rightly) of innovation in the PA

I know. Not a great title for a post on the website of an association that aims to “bringing innovation to the Italian political agenda”. But maybe it's also the case to start communicating in a slightly different way than usual. I propose to all of us who work in this sector to do something innovative: a little self-criticism. Follow me for a minute as I tell you a short story.

Yesterday afternoon I had to carry out an unpleasant task: pay a fine for no parking. I admit the crime. I have to pay. On the back of the assessment, I am dutifully informed that I can cross all of Rome to go and pay at a municipal office at times that are impossible for those who work. Or I can pay at the Post Office. But even there they would wait for me a couple of hours in line. Do you want my "smart city" does not offer me a smart way to pay online?

I go to the Municipality of Rome website and after 10 minutes of searching I have not found anything. I fool myself. By now I should know that PA sites are scientifically studied so you don't find what you're looking for. I go to Google. Boom! Five seconds and I find the payment management system of the Municipality of Rome. In fact, I remember it was one innovation announced with much emphasis a few years ago. Fantastic: if you have an active account with the Revenue Agency you can log in immediately! After a succession of six tedious screens of useless information my enthusiasm suddenly vanishes, when on the page that should finally let me authenticate I read: "The service is temporarily suspended". I curse to myself. Couldn't they text me six screens ago?

Patience. It will mean that it's time for me to open an account at the post office to use theirs innovative online services: they advertise that you can pay by credit card and that's what I need. Ten minutes and I'm registered. But then to access the device services I have to re-authenticate and it reports an error. I spend another ten minutes verifying that I have correctly entered my username and password. Then the lighting: let's try Chrome instead of Safari. Works. Evidently the Post Office does not have the resources to invest in testing the compatibility of their services with all the major browsers. And why does one authentication work and the other not? Bah. We pay and don't ask too many questions. Yes, too easy! When I got to the point, I discover that you can pay by credit card, but not with white slips. The red ones yes, the white ones no. Mysteries.

At this point I have already wasted more than three quarters of an hour. I could have been in the middle of the queue at the post office. I persevere out of pique. I find that a service innovative of Lottomatica allows you to pay fines at the tobacconist's, but only in cash. Well, better than nothing, at least there's no queue. I dress and go. “I'm sorry but the fines established with a TPL form cannot be paid here. Only those with the slips that have the barcode on them. It's not our fault if the Municipality has different ways of raising fines ". Another half hour wasted. I decide not to waste time trying out the innovative service that allows you to pay fines at Monte dei Paschi ATMs. I would probably find that loafers are mandatory and I only have lace-up shoes.

This morning I've been in line for over an hour at the post office and at least as much is waiting for me. But I can use my iPad to write this post and avoid wasting these two hours of my life altogether. Ah, the beauties of innovation that works!

Every fairy tale has its moral.

To begin with, the typically self-referential innovation of public structures does not improve the citizen's life. If anything, it makes it worse by introducing further fragmentation of procedures. It is a simple mechanization of madness.

But it wouldn't be so serious: it would be enough to ignore it. However, if the perception of the person in the street is that innovation in the PA makes his life worse, then at a time when he needs to build consensus around extremely painful and unpopular measures, a government certainly cannot base its communication on the advantages chimera of one indifferent innovation to the needs of the citizen.

If there is one in the world broken user experience to be fixed is certainly the one offered to citizens by the Italian PA. So, if we want to make an impact as innovators, if we want politics to perceive a possible return of consensus from investments in innovation and raise it in government priorities, perhaps it is time to start thinking in terms of citizens' primary needs to be resolved and not only of ideal technologies or methodologies or principles. As long as the choice is between spending to keep an extra emergency room open and transversal chromatic georeferenced digitization of the archives of the public administrations residing at odd street numbers in cities with even cadastral codes, public opinion will not have a second of doubt. And politics feeds on the consensus of public opinion.

In your opinion, what are the ten priority daily problems of the people to solve which the PA should invest in innovation?

I still have a couple of hours to think about it while I wait uselessly in line to pay a fine…


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