Report on the Public Rating of Municipalities

There is a clear contradiction that has marked the last twenty years of administrative institutions reform; and this well before they began, with the last two legislatures, to mark time, repeating wearily, in a thousand pedantic detailed rules, a general objective of effectiveness and efficiency that could no longer be effectively pursued in daily government practice.

This contradiction can be described as follows: ambition was declaimed to a more open, transparent, measurable, verifiable administration; but at the same time, in the mechanisms of structures governance, a programmatic determinism, like a Fordist assembly-line, was required, with an increasingly strong (and at times even autocratic) command of politics in all crucial moments of the organization and management of administrative structures.

It was the naive transposition of a model of governance of private complex large organizations, all managerial and engineering, which has done not a little damage even in the sector from which it was borrowed: not a few of the most attentive scholars, at the national and international level, have pointed out for years that the “old” Fordist management, responsible in front of a plurality of social and internal stakeholders, guaranteed a greater balance (patrimonial, financial, productive, social) compared to the nouvelle vague of a “new” managerial relationship linked only to the “creation of value for the shareholder” and to very strict “short term” valuation parameters of a performance reduced to a one-dimensional dynamic of profit.

This is not the place to delve into an already rich literature on the subject; it cannot, however, not be emphasized how this trend has in fact sterilized business theory trends emerged in the same years, towards the empowerment of internal resources, towards the crushing of the chains of command, towards the disintegration of bureaucratic and formalistic practices, towards the enhancement of innovative dynamics of teamwork and quality circles: trends that could have led to very different multidimensional company effectiveness and innovation results, and to a relationship between production and social sustainability well otherwise balanced.

In the light of what has been highlighted, it is easy to understand how much greater damage can produce this naive simplification in the public sector, by its nature oriented towards composing disagreements, integrating situations, balancing differences, serving plurality and differences of interests and visions.

In fact, the traditional three-way relationship between politics, professional bureaucracies and social actors, which characterizes the best tradition of liberal and democratic constitutional thought, has been fictitiously traced back to an implausible univocal chain of command: the administration responds (only) to politics, which responds to citizens (only) through the time of electoral verification.

The immiseration of public debate on this scheme, and even the disillusionment of individuals with respect to politics, perpetually incapable of responding finely to needs and situations extremely changeable in mature democratic contexts, are explained not to a small extent with the contradiction that we tried, though briefly, to illustrate.

For this reason, the effort that Fondazione Etica has made for years to activate concrete and non-demagogic forms of evaluation of public administration performance must be accepted with great satisfaction and with a huge applause. An effort conducted through the preparation of a multidimensional public rating model, suitable for measuring in an integrated way, albeit analytical for individual thematic dimensions, as well as adhering to the many obligations of disclosure of data and information required by different regulatory provisions, the quality of the action of a any public administration.

The point is decisive. Many are the measuring instruments, the rankings, the charts based on questionable indices when not overtly uncertain, which newspapers and magazines propose to us continuously, sometimes with the ill-concealed intent to support an anti-bureaucratic drift of society and of the public opinion that is producing more damage than improvements to the action of the public apparatus as a whole.

The public rating of Fondazione Etica has nothing to do with these adventurous exercises. It is based on precise legal obligations, it measures aspects of public action that are those organizationally and normatively indicated as fundamental, enhancing a potential function of control and verification by the active citizenship of the operational quality of offices operation. And this, it must be reiterated, in a general perspective that potentially makes it suitable to verify the performance of any administrative structure, since certain obligations of transparency and accountability lie indifferently on a ministry, on a region, on a municipality, on an asl.

That being said, it is not surprising, and once again it is more in line with a clear policy priority that sometimes active civil society seems to grasp better than political elites, the choice to use, for this report, which is already the second product of the Foundation, the rating system on a universe like that of the municipalities, particularly complex and suffering, but decisive in the perception that the citizen has of public action.

The theme is under everyone’s eyes, but has not yet found adequate attention from politics.

Italy is an extremely complex country, orographically and from the point of view of its own urbanization.

It is composed of almost 8,000 municipalities, more than half of which have under 3,000 inhabitants, almost three quarters below the 5,000 inhabitants. It has a high number of those that the greatest Italian jurist of the ‘900, Massimo Severo Giannini, with the lucky expression still used today, called the municipality-dust.

Urban sprawl, which has established itself without restraints in this complex universe, has imposed itself in Italy starting from the failure of the rationalization projects of the early 1960s: exemplary is the story of the well-known proposed law of Fiorentino Sullo of 1963, disavowed by his own party.

Entire areas of the country know a factual urban density which corresponds to a plurality of centers of municipal power without any justification in physical reality. The boundary municipalities of major cities are now indistinguishable from the outer districts of the centroid. The government of the territory it is therefore unnaturally fragmented, with the results that we all know in terms of degradation, of excessive waterproofing of the soil, loss of sense of spatial decisions, but also of service.

To this evident problem the law 56 of 2014, the so-called “Delrio law”, has finally tried to remedy: a law certainly more criticized than studied, and certainly almost hardly applied for the many innovative measures that could have produced, in these almost four years, not inconsiderable incremental improvements. Moreover, it is not even very sustained and implemented by the same Government that had wanted it approved.

The subject of proximity governance is at the heart of institutional innovation processes throughout world: Germany in twenty years has revolutionized the local government system, effectively closing two-thirds of its municipal authorities; France has reduced its non-overseas Regions from 22 to 13, introducing the coordinated governance mechanism of the intermunicipal communautés nouvelle. Even Poland has introduced supra-municipal integrated government agencies.

The reason for this coincidence of efforts is in turn rather trivial. The success of the twentieth century welfare, the infrastructural and technological modernization, the modification of the ways of the production and consumption have completely displaced the old parameters of scalar efficiency, of minimum critical mass, distance and separateness.

All over the world, in the analysis of the conditions for economic and civil development, topical Hirschmanian theories on proximity agglomerations and on social capital return modern. Yes, we go back to reading Karl Polaniy’s emphasis on collaboration in competitive systems. It is rewarded with the Nobel the highly detailed analysis of cooperative systems over time and space performed by Elinor Ostrom. If Italy still had memory, it could usefully return to studying the theory of community of Adriano Olivetti.

In short, cultural analysis and empirical evidence ask our sociopolitical systems, priority among the priorities, a better way to govern proximity.

Fondazione Etica has taken the centrality of the theme and wanted to put at the center of a rigorous application of its rating system precisely the municipalities, and therefore the measurement of the performance of the proximity management. With this giving us objective and adherent parameters to the provisions of the law to question ourselves about competitive differentials, disparities in outcomes, happy and unhappy experiences of that unsolvable puzzle that is becoming the local government.

This is a valuable contribution, which hopefully can awaken political decision-makers from their torpor, associations of local authorities, the intelligentsia of the country, all the more so in a torrid pre-election climate.

Those who have worked extensively on the problems of Italian cities and municipalism will appreciate the details; but anyone can have a guide to understanding the macrofenomena that require with urgency an informed and serious public debate, and collective decisions that can no longer be postponed. Fondazione Etica, part of that world of active citizenship often more coaxed than heard, has given its contribution. It is up to the political and administrative koiné to offer the answers.