telematics at the service of citizens, administrative innovation and community development

The project is carrying out within the Municipality and the metropolitan area of Bologna - 900.000 inhabitants - (Emilia Romagna/Italy)
Abstract and key words
City Council communication general strategy, background information, objectives and expected benefits from Iperbole/Internet "civic network". Telematics and Citizens' new rights. Local Public Administrations and their functions as warrantors of the Access for Everybody to Global Connectivity. The Free-of-Charge Iperbole/Internet "Civic Network" as an Instrument of Electronic Democracy and Socio-economic Development of the Territory. Services of the S.M.E.s. Formation, Literacy, Promotion of the Critical Mass. Information Society and Concrete Actions at Local Level.
Iperbole/Internet Civic Network Project/Service
Started in January 1995, (now basically implemented, but we are continuously developping on it new functionalities and services) the Iperbole Service concerns the creation of a free-of-charge "civic network" on Internet, as a "necessary" measure - among others - to implement teledemocracy, as the accomplishment of new forms of learning and communication. Being a civic network it is aimed at all Bologna citizens, associations, schools, other public administrations and SMEs at a metropolitan level.
The Municipality offers free of charge the e-mail service, news, direct access to the municipal www (http://www.comune.bologna.it/ connected to other local, national and european servers), free full-Internet connections and to its free resources to all citizens requesting it. Full Internet with a small charge has been made available to local companies and citizens. Full Internet free of charge ( promotional initiative) has been offered to the economic associations and other organisations relevant for the area productive area. This is to be meant as a real "new right of citizenship", also in an economic sense, that must be guaranteed and supported by the "Public Authority": in other words, a "public door" to global connectivity.
The Public Local Network - connected to the world network - thus becomes a means of spreading generally useful information; of a two-way communication between the Administration and society (free e-mail and news groups: local ones are more than 35 on different subjects as traffic, urban planning, transports, social problems, culture, environments, etc.) and among citizens themselves (e-mail/news groups); a way of listening to and gathering needs/suggestions/proposals/requests, concerning transparency and participation to decision-making processes, and electronic democracy.
Further, it characterizes itself as the experimenting of an advanced system of service distribution and control of their quality, of simplification of burocratic procedures, of feedback monitoring and consequent analysis, of spreading and exchange of knowledge, of releasing resources at this level, thus reinforcing the competitivity and the dynamics of the economic-productive tissue.
The Iperbole/Internet service is based on the principles
· of the employment of telematics and new technologies for the ruling and the sustainable development of the territory;
· of administrative innovation;
· of the widespread exertion of the right to information as a socially-due service;
· of the rationalization of offices' and sectors' activities and actions.
Furthermore, innovative and efficient communication systems - both actual and "virtual" - are definitely a basic element of desirability, attractiveness and quality of life for a city, in particular for an urban area - like Bologna - that has a metropolitan vocation.
Bologna municipal administration holds that local authorities should possess a primary function - a leading role, not a secondary one to the market - both in the creation and in the enhancing of conditions - even infrastructural ones (metropolitan area networks) - related to transferring knowledge, either an individual one or as processed by groups of interest at any level, into the creation of the information society. Through the experimenting of interactive and direct channels between the citizens and the local authority, the administration reaches people at home, at work, within the firms, in the office, at the school, in places of public consultation.Inner (inside the Municipality) energies are thus set in motion and resources are optimized in favor of the citizen/client/tax-payer.
Moreover, the "civic network" is a spontaneous factor of social awarness promotion, a tool for expanding, shaping, and creating the critical mass in the use of technologies that are proper of the information society. In this way, it contributes to oppose, by means of concrete actions, elitisms of any kind and consequent social discriminations, new and different forms of illiteracy, creating, at the same time, new professionalisms, markets and products, employment, and spreading telejobs, know-how transferring, telelearning, etc.
According to the principles underlying the Iperbole/Internet project, access to the means of communication and their active use represents a tool of economic and cultural development, a right to be exercised by all citizens (universal service).
Further, it is mandatory that such a complex organization as a large municipality, should test all the means, even the most technologically advanced ones, to oppose the "entropic" tendency, that is typical of public administrations and in general complex organisations. A wider social knowledge would thus be acquired and results would be achieved that are coherent to the expectations of the community: employing the resources at their best, accelerating the procedures, making the managing and political responsibilities transparent and clear, acquiring inputs in order to plan collectively, looking for a consensus for made and still-to-make choices.
In order to reach this strategic end Bologna City Council has activated a specific service - IPERBOLE service - investing considerable economic, technological, professional resources - even establishing connections with other external bodies (public and private) both as users and information providers. This way of connection, of integration and of reciprocal visibility can easily be extended to a European level (and even worldwide). We intend consider beside the hierarchic model (TV) - with a strong central point and an imposed semantic - with a distributed model, having local, partially spontaneous and creative semantics, in which the construction of the system is the result of the different contributions of the collectivity.
Acquiring the habit of using communication for civil and democratic aims can be the best way to fight any possible telematic oligotechnocracy and to enlarge the critical mass.
One of the main goals of the project is the user friendlyness: with the use of virtual map metaphor in describing the places/functions related to the information stored into the 'electronic archive", the increasing amount of the information available in engligh too, the exploitation of the multimedial potentialities, we are building a service not only of local/national interest but also easy to reach and access by everywhere (our web pages on the "european theatres net" have obtained "four stars" award from the McKinley Group's online editorial team).
Since the system is addressed to the whole population of the City of Bologna and its metropolitan area (44 municipalities already been connected), a lot of efforts has been done to realise the simpliest interfaces on a very complex underneath structure of data. Great efforts have also been done on the maintenance side of the system since this task is addressed to Public Administration officers not necessarily skilled with computer programming.
The system also offers the possibility to navigate through the whole Internet for free both at home and in public places (now about 30 but many more are planned in libraries, youth centres, civic centres, malls, etc.). In fact to face the problem of citizens' widespread illiteracy the main idea is to make available as many as possible attended public access points to the Net. In this way we offer to the citizenship the possibility to learn and understand new communication tools and use the net as a way to self instruct and find more information about the topics they are interested in. The project intends infact to make the use of electronic/telematic instruments widespread to facilitate the access to the networks, to increase literacy, to promote auto-formation, traning and education, to encourage the practice of dialogue through the construction of "digital democracy" as opposed to information aristocracy.
For that political and strategic approach to the development of the Information Society in a sustainable environment Iperbole "civic network" has been awarded with "BANGEMANN CHALLENGE" prize for the most innovative european project in Public Adminstration Sector (Stockholm 22/1/97).

Some figures about Iperbole civic network at June 1997

9350 individual users; 700 collective subjects - private, public, no-profit - 63 schools are connected also as information providers. 130 municipal offices connected (500 employees already trained). 35 new users connected per day; two months waiting list . 15/16.000 users at the end of 1997. 14000 files of information.
After two years and a half of activity: 52.000 phone calls, 11.450 demo, 33.950 technical assistance contacts (at desk, via telephone/fax/e-mail), 16.700 technical information kit (manuals), 15.000 diskettes distributed (connection and html software), 11.700 general information kit, 40.500 dépliants, 28.850 e-mail received and 23.150 sent, about 15.000 questionnaires filled by users and processed, more than 100 consultancies given on the experience to other P.A., agencies and research centres.
Bologna's "telematic visitors" are about 12000 per day: 50% of them are Italians, 40% Europeans, 10% are from the rest of the world, mainly from the United States.

System facilities, some of them already implemented

· to know in advance every information necessary to make satisfactory decisions and choices;
· to book service on distance (rooms, transports, tickets, etc.);
· to pay for services electronically;
· to reach the services via computer at home or in public places;
· to get integrated and complete information;
· to be helped by friendly interface, voice services, multimedia presentation and multi-lingual support;
· to allows dynamic, direct and easy links toward different data bases.

Main information and services enlargements/improvements in progress:
health services, telematic metropolitan newspaper, new "moderated" fora on topics as environment, culture, consumers' claims, interconnetion between all the information systems of the city and its metropolitan area, services for some professional and economic categories ( for example decision taken by the Municipality about urban planning, traffic, contracts, etc. ); european laws and job and education opportunities, posting on job opporutunities, graduates database, City Council decisions and regulations on-line, more links to others WWW servers, etc.


· an efficient system of assistance and trainingship;
· an always increasing amount of information and services provided;
· integration and coordination of data;
· cooperation and sharing of resources between P.A.;
· safety of the system;
· security and personal data protection;
· solving legal problems;
· successfully facing social impact (telematic "literacy");
· an efficient collection of users requirements;
· a deep feed-back analysis;
· a study of the impact on the P.A. structure (reengeneering and workflow problems;
· agreements/projects about telematic and multimedia literacy with the local education system, etc.

With the IPERBOLE/INTERNET "civic network" the Municipality is partner in some European Projects that are developing applications/extensions of the system in the fields of : tourism, telelearning, teleconferencing, telebooking, joint editing on internet, etc., information and services delivery. Also we are now realising a citizens/traveller-oriented system for developing the tourist potential of European cities by providing communications-based services and by giving visibility to the touristic/cultural offer. The project assumes as a starting point the phenomenon of civic networking, in progress in several cities in the EU and aims at building a system which makes possible to pass from giving civic information for free to the citizens to giving services for payment to the consumers.


Name: Leda Guidi, project manager
Address Piazza Galileo, 4- 40123 Bologna
Tel +39 51 203210 / 260972
Fax +39 51 223142
E.mail com@comune.bologna.it
Municipality of Bologna
Sector Information to the Citizen
Address Piazza Galileo, 4 - 40123 Bologna
WWW address: http://www.comune.bologna.it