How do you think the smarticipate platform can help Rome address development challenges?

Smarticipate provides an instrument that makes it easier for citizens to view information about their city. This is a good starting point to facilitate the participation of citizens in policy making. Participation is something we are strongly committed to. As our mayor Virginia Raggi often says: “no one should be left behind”. The idea of involving people in decision making is very important to us, which is why we are positive towards the smarticipate project. Smarticipate and similar technologies will be useful in giving this opportunity to citizens.

What are the hopes and expectations of the City of Rome for opening up the city and introducing more co-creation?

First of all, we are hoping for transparency. Transparency helps build trust, and if you have trust people tend to participate more. If they trust you, they participate and it is easier to involve them. It’s a kind of positive feedback loop. If you give them something then they give back, and it facilitates greater inclusion. What do I mean by inclusion? We have a strong problem with the digital divide in Italy, and Rome is no exception. We have to include everyone, so we have an obligation to help people to use technologies effectively. Smarticipate helps by crossing different sectors. What we have to do is provide the possibility for citizens to participate in any decision in any sector and topic of the administration. Smarticipate can be a bridge for citizens into the decision making process.

How does smarticipate relate to other public sector innovations in the city of Rome?

Innovation is not just something that happens in one sector. Innovation is something that should help us to go further. Technology is an instrument to do this better.  In particular, smarticipate touches on built heritage, environmental heritage, transparency and, of course, open data. These are issues we are working on in several capacities. We will soon have a new portal for open data. We will also soon have a new portal which will include a participation section where people can help by giving us ideas and proposals, vote for projects, and so on.

Where do you currently see the challenges for involving citizens in Rome?

The first difficulty is the digital divide. One in every five Romans has never been on the internet. We are working on that at the moment. We have points across the city called “Punti Roma Facile” where people can get access to services and receive training and information on how to use technologies for their interactions with the public administration. This is one side of the story. On the other hand, we have technologies and services online. We have almost 70 services online that citizens can use. But we are still working on getting more people to use these online services. Although many people have online banking, when I ask them if they are also interacting with their local government online they say no. It takes more effort to make this happen and we also need to get better at understanding why people are slow to adapt to online services. Maybe it’s a matter of trust, of security, of privacy? Maybe people are simply not yet used to it and we need to better communicate which services we are offering online? We will keep working on it.

Your position is Assessora a Roma Semplice, which roughly translates as “Councillor for Simplification”. How can we understand such a job title?

Rome is a very complex city. It is home to 3 million people: it is not a small place. Also, we have the sea – few people know that one of the municipalities that is part of Rome is on the coast. The surface of Rome is 11 times that of Paris. There are 300,000 foreigners living in the city. We have 12 million tourists annually and we also have vast numbers of people commuting into Rome every day, using the city but paying taxes in the municipalities in which they live. The administration of the city of Rome employs 24,000 people – that might seem like a lot, but compared to the size of the city it is actually not. So there are a lot of complex issues that we have to deal with in Rome. Simplicity is therefore one of our goals. This can to some extent be achieved by using technology such as smarticipate. Technologies provide an opportunity to simplify the lives of citizens, such as through having services online, as I explained before. Of course there is still a long way to go, but we are on our way.

Looking five years into the future, where do you see the City of Rome and what role does smarticipate play in it?

We have already achieved some of where we want to be in five years time. All of the important decisions we have taken so far have been done in a participatory way. Our Digital Agenda, for example, was created by meeting with all stakeholders personally. We then put it on the website for a month where anybody, even people from other countries, could comment. We received a lot of good comments during this time. People are generally able to give you good suggestions – that is why I like smarticipate. The issue is involving people and creating trust, as people are really able to make good contributions. My dream for the city of Rome in five years time would be to have many more people participating. Not just participating, but also saying “this is wrong” and “I don’t like it that way”. By getting this kind of feedback, we will be able to get better. I don’t just mean complaining, complaining is normal, but I mean complaining while also giving your proposal for improvement. We will provide them with the technology to do so in an easy manner, but the technology requires the input of the citizens. Being a politician for the first time now, and having been in office for only 1 ½ years, I am much more used to being a citizen. As a citizen I was always asking the city and politicians to listen to me, now it is my turn to listen. But for that I need people to talk to me.