Openrampette. Experimenting agile policy making
How can we enforce a public mobility law collectively? Openrampette rebuilt the broken relationship between the City Administration, private businesses and disadvantaged people by co-designing public places accessibility solutions, through the collective intelligence of a wider audience.
In 2015 with the City of Milan to passed the Building Regulation article 77 that required all bars, shops, restaurants and craft activities bordering the road, to provide easy access to people with limited mobility (13,189 in 2007). 12 months later, the City of Milan assessed only 2.000 businesses complied out of 18.000. This pushed us to speculate about the most effective way to enforce a regulation.
This is when Open care approach came handy. Open care is an EU funded project that City of Milan is running together with WeMake (a Milan-based fab lab) and other four international partners to create a culture of open collaboration leveraging on collective intelligence. City of Milan and WeMake started listening and talking to as many people as possible, to understand what was not working and tentatively get it straight. We started from of the City Administration sectors that were involved from the beginning like the Major Cabinet, the Urbanistic Dept., the Public Land Dept. and lately Urban Economy and Employment Dept. The building regulation was conceived in one department, the implementing regulation was written in a different one, and published through another one. That gave a lot of room to officers for interpretations and tightening the instructions for businesses to prevent opportunistic behaviors.
As the collaboration with the trade association became closer, we’ve understood more of the problems that businesses were facing to comply with the regulation, such as: high costs, complex red tape, lack of understanding of the most suitable solution and existing products too standardized to fit all the situations. Since red tape is partially due to complex implementing regulations and the unclear communication follows, we started facilitating a dialogue between pieces of the public administration, businesses and associations.
We have started Openrampette in a limited area of the city that has everything it takes. The Isola area has a functioning District for Urban Commerce, a civic center devoted to urban regeneration (ADA Stecca), active businesses and a long tradition of civic participation. This made easy to engage stakeholders into co-design sessions pivoting around their individual necessities. Dealing with collective intelligence. Sharing every step, intuition and piece of information within the local offline network and with the Opencare digital community helped.
Opencare lives de facto in a digital platform called Edge Ryders, connecting some 4,000 worldwide activists, social innovators, data scientists and whoever else is passionate about our collective future. Any input from the community would add value to our project.
We have not predefined any design outputs, but rather kept the sessions open to any outcomes. The Openrampette co-design culture helped the participants to feel at ease in bringing criticism, problems, ideas, resources and relations into the preliminary discussions that addressed the work to a dual objective: 1. Simplify the procedure to comply with Municipal regulations. This resulted in redesigning the online application protocol for an improved usability, including: a. Interface. The percentage of people who completed the interactive task reached 60% b. Taxonomy. Jargon simplification and terminology disambiguation helped users to choose among the three options that the current regulation offers. c. Architecture.
Creating easily accessible areas, where people feel welcomed, leveraging on the collaboration of shop holders and people with limited mobility may also bring a feeling of inclusiveness that benefit businesses as well.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Accessibility for disabled and elderly people is not new to local, national and European policies. For example, the crowd sourcing method recently made possible the creation of city interactive maps. There are also campaigns promoting easy accessible places through signals or other ways of identification. Nevertheless, we wanted to start from scratch to see if a site-specific co-designing approach, engaging several stakeholders from the start, would create grounds for something different.
“Enforcing a policy collaboratively” may sounds an oxymoron – since article 77 of the building regulation fits in the EU and the National legal frameworks, it is certainly a top down process. Nevertheless, the Open care approach might help policy makers, businesses, users and citizens to achieve simpler, affordable and faster solutions. Openrampette aims at breaking some of the conventional protocols by using open and community based approaches creating social value out of collective intelligence.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Twelve months after the City of Milan passed regulation on accessibility (art. 77), only 10% of the public spaces were compliant. It was clear that it wasn’t just due to shop owners negligence or their lack of sensitivity. The City Administration could have decided then to operate forcefully by extending inspections and issuing sanctions, which would be a clear example of top down policy after all. Instead, the City Administration at first decided to improve citizens’ awareness through communication campaigns, then started to search new way of talking to stakeholders.
As a methodological result of our activities, we have started speculating on the collective action of the stakeholders as a result-oriented community.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The City of Milan Urban Economy and Employment Dept. promoted the Open care approach, researched at the policy making level, coordinated stakeholders. The Urban Planning Department provided expertise and elements to reconstruct the legislative storyline. WeMake researched at the field level and led co-design sessions. DUC Isola (Isola District Trade and Commerce Association) helped with networking and communication.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Other than the partners mentioned above, the other direct stakeholders involved in Openrampette were disabled, disabled associations, shop holders, citizens, activists, makers and designers all taking part in the co-design process (25 people per session on average).
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Thanks to our intense networking, several bilateral and multilateral meetings, one public presentation and six co-design sessions, we have four different solutions including: an App that locates via GPS shops with removable easy access, a bell that gives users the chance to contact the shop holder, a receiver that notice the shop holder in a private way and a sticker that identifies shops with adequate facilities.
It has also resulted in a newly designed online application protocol with a user-friendly interface, an easy taxonomy that helps users to choose among the three options that the current regulation offers and a usable architecture, ready to develop all the protocols digitally.
More promising still, the Opencare approach is potentially applicable to a wide range of policies in which City of Milan is in charge, such as internal communication, simplifying bureaucracy, and increasing citizens’ trust, and promoting an Open source culture.
Challenges and Failures
Openrampette has the task of enforcing a law collectively. The City administration admitted a failure (10% compliance) of what was a top-down policy and accepted to moderate its approach. This entailed looking inside its own organizational culture and create a safe space where testing a different approach was possible. Openrampette as a by-product is also introducing a new narrative of public policies even when the top down approach is inevitable.
City of Milan can develop that capacity and set the line for a new way of engaging communities.
Conditions for Success
Opercare of course is a more complex, longer and costlier process than a top-down policymaking. Indeed, a cost effectiveness comparison should be able to measure tangible and intangible outcomes of a policy failure, as well as the positive impacts in a successful policy. When it comes to open government, administrations need willing managers to implement successful policies.
In the case of Openrampette, Mrs. Lisa Noja, the City of Milan Major delegate for accessibility policies and Mrs. Cristina Tajani, the City of Milan councilor for Labor policies, Businesses, Commerce and Human Resources matched their sensitivities. Noja is disabled and beside her proved competence in advocacy and a direct experience of city barriers, brought an emotional layer that humanized a task otherwise focused on legal matters. Tajani has imparted to her department a strong social connotation, often using publicly the claim Innovation for Inclusion.
Openrampette outcomes reach different layers. Technical solutions could be replicated to the city of Milan at large. Indeed other cities can leverage on Openrampette open culture and use, adapt or improve technical solutions. Processes can also be re-used. We have shared the project online and soon we will provide an open feedback to all the stakeholders. The Opencare approach has the potential to become a policy standard applicable in diverse situations. We envisage that both replicability and scalability can happen at City level. Moreover, City of Milan also experimented the Edgeryders digital space, which is a wider spontaneous, free and disintermediated community that created the conditions for a continuous exchange of information and input. It is difficult to say if the Opencare approach would be a viable solution for larger policy making, since Regional or National issues may have more complex stakeholder composition, larger interest group, targets with weak representation.
Opencare approach disrupted some of the logic behind the article 77 failure. The silos mentality in policymaking and the dialectic of interested communities became spaces for understanding and dialogue. The inclusion of outsiders like makers, designers and activists opened introduced new visions, sensitivities and languages that led to a much more efficient intervention. Opencare approach is also contagious. Shops are much keener on collaborating when they see other shops taking a stand. Indeed, Openrampette so far operated in the district of Isola in Milan, which is a motivated, cohesive, collaborative one, with a long tradition in civic engagement. Other areas may create different outcomes. The whole Openrampette process was open to multiple interactions and brought to light many information not strictly related to the issue (art. 77) but very enlightening regarding the relationship between some communities and the city and the interactions between the disabled community and the businesses.