‘The city of the people’, Reggio Emilia, is well known for its high standards of living, its local services and its long-standing tradition of civic participation. When it became clear that the Information and Communication Technologies would play a leading role in improving the quality of life of the citizens, Reggio Emilia started to design its digital plan.
Reggio Emilia’s digital journey accelerated in 2017 when the city took part in the Digital Cities Challenge. The city began by promoting the ‘Smart City Protocol’, a memorandum of understanding signed by 35 local institutional stakeholders. By taking part in the Smart City Protocol, the stakeholders committed themselves to collaborating with the local digital transformation agenda. The Protocol became the reference framework for co-designing the new digital plan of the city.
The main focus of the first municipal digital strategy was to ensure the availability of critical digital infrastructures, including:
Broadband connectivity: the city developed its Metropolitan Area Network and relied on both public-private partnerships and on regional and European funds to bring ultra-broadband to public offices, schools, research and technology transfer centres and other places of public interest (museums, train stations, parks, cultural and social hubs etc);
Online services: the Municipality developed a citizen portal which provides a unique user access point for online services offered by multiple local providers;
Open data: the city open data portal hosts strategic datasets which are published with the citizens’ interests in mind. The portal presents the data produced by the Municipality and further local stakeholders. To ensure high levels in data quality and to promote interoperability, the Municipality developed and shared reference data models and data publishing guidelines.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new significant needs emerged in Reggio Emilia. The increased use of digital technologies is reshaping the ways in which citizens access public services, goods and other services. People who have the existing skills, knowledge and tools can adapt to this changing scenario, whereas less digitally confident individuals face the risk of exclusion, missing development opportunities and lose access to important services. The Intelligent Cities Challenge is therefore a great opportunity for Reggio Emilia to tackle these emerging problems by capitalising on the available digital applications, infrastructures and skills to guarantee universal access to public services.
To this end, the city is pursuing multiple lines of work as outlined below.
1) Transforming neighbourhood centres into social innovation and digital hubs.
This workstream aims to: promote cohesion of local communities, offer smart and digital solutions to everyday problems and facilitate access to local services.
Neighbourhood centres have been gradually equipped with broadband connectivity and public wi-fi. Neighbourhood centres often have large rooms with tables and chairs which can be transformed into study halls for university students and post-school services for younger students. During the 2020-2021 school year, while the COVID-19 pandemic was still spreading, two neighbourhood centres hosted several classes to help young students safely attend face-to-face lessons, while maintaining a safe space.
In addition, several neighbourhood centres are currently supporting citizens in the registration procedures required to obtain digital identity. Today, digital identity is a mandatory requirement to access basic public services, including the Electronic Health Record, and is the only recognised authentication means to access E-Gov services and applications.
2) Adoption of Internet of Things technologies.
The goal of this workstream is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the city services by providing real-time monitoring that can enable new decision-making processes. Reggio Emilia hopes to develop a city-wide infrastructure to support IoT services, as well as to build several pilot projects related to different sectors, including mobility, agri-food and citizen health and wellbeing. In particular, the city is currently planning to test how assistive technologies may help the elderly who are living in care residences, maintain personal independence and avoid unnecessary hospitalisations.
If these pilots prove successful, they will then be replicated in other areas of the city and eventually be scaled at city level. In addition, the Internet of Things network will be open to the public. Small businesses, organisations and citizens will be able to take advantage of the IoT network to develop and test innovative solutions and pilot projects.
3) Data integration and digitalization of workflows.
This workstream’s goal is to further and constantly improve the effectiveness and quality of the city public services, by integrating the different services, and to allow public servants to focus on added value activities, such as providing assistance to the citizens who need it the most and increasing and improving accessibility to services for the whole community.
The ICC looks forward to seeing how Reggio Emilia progresses with these initiatives!