Relaunching ANPR, the unified national population registry
The first step towards simplifying processes within the Public Administration
Questo articolo è disponibile anche in italiano
Have you ever wondered why every time you visit an Italian government office you are asked for the same personal data, home address, and family information? Or why certain bureaucratic procedures can only be carried out in your residential community, and sometimes only in your place of birth?
The answer to these questions has to do with puzzles. Or rather, with solving them. In 1978, Perec wrote an entire book about life and puzzles, about how each individual piece is precious but worth nothing without all the others. This is how he explained it: “You can look at a piece of a puzzle for three whole days, you can believe that you know all there is to know about its coloring and shape, and be no further on than when you started. The only thing that counts is the ability to link this piece to other pieces.” The link is the key. Today in Italy most registries hold onto their piece of the puzzle even though it belongs to a much bigger picture. Our challenge is to somehow complete this puzzle, a puzzle made up of 8,000 pieces, one for each municipal registry.
To date, our identities are scattered across 8,000 different registries. Each Municipality manages its own registry, using software capable of communicating with a few central systems but not with other Municipalities. This fragmented system represents the only reliable and authoritative source for vital data like place of birth, residence, and household composition.
The problems don’t end there. Imagine applying for a change of address: the new Municipality must send a communication to the previous one, who must then read and process the information manually. On a national scale, this happens about 7,000 times a day. Considering that each operation requires a minimum of ten minutes, even the simple act of completing such a mundane activity costs our municipalities at least 14 million euros a year. This is just an example: many more government operations are still processed by hand in Italy.
Manual handling and fragmentation of transcripts creates problems related to data quality and accuracy.
According to analyses by AgID and Sogei, the municipal records of about 1% of the population are inconsistent with the national databases. That’s a total of six hundred thousand people at risk of experiencing bureaucratic issues while calculating taxes, managing retirement money, or even while confirming the validity of their contracts. Spending time correcting a first or last name, tracking down a notification sent to an outdated address, or maybe even fixing an incorrect tax code is a familiar scenario for the many. The source of all these problems can be traced to the fragmentation of data and the lack of synchronization between databases.
There are many other challenges tied to the current structure of the Italian population registry system: from the dangers related to computer security to the complexity of building a new information system capable of integrating with 8,000 already existing databases (that don’t communicate with each other), from risks related to hydrogeological disaster – earthquakes and floods have sometimes made these systems unusable — to the costs generated by the lack of economies of scale. And last but not least a set of fragmented and incoherent processes and services, behaving differently in many Italian Municipalities.
The Solution is ANPR
The law has already solved these problems by providing for the creation of the National Resident Population Register – ANPR – owned and maintained by the Ministry of the Interior. ANPR is a single national database designed to combine the demographic data of all Italian residents, including those living abroad (registered at the Italian Register of Foreign Residents – AIRE).
According to law, the migration of data from all municipalities to the new database should have been completed by December 31, 2014, but only the heroic municipality of Bagnacavallo managed to migrate to ANPR before the deadline.
It seemed like ANPR was destined to be one of the many technology projects that are decreed by law but then struggle to see the light of day due to lack of leadership and coordination, teamwork and skills.
Even so, a national population registry remains a fundamental aspect of the new “operating system” of the country that we are building. It’s a major infrastructural component.
It’s for this reason that the Digital Transformation Team has welcomed the invitation from the Ministry of the Interior to help getting ANPR to be rebooted and taken through the finish line. Since January 2017, several members of our team have dedicated themselves full time to the project, giving it enough new energy to stay afloat. We have introduced a new process of project management: after months of negotiations, our new contract with the Ministry of the Interior and Sogei), the company developing ANPR, has finally reached the signing stage and the Digital Transformation Team has officially assumed the role of Program Office.
The new style of project management is nothing particularly striking for those who are used to handling complex processes. It is, however, an uncommon practice in the world of public administration.
What’s already been done
We began in January 2017 with the goal of learning as much as possible from the many people who have worked or participated in the development of ANPR since 2013: together we analyzed the ongoing issues and listened to each one of their suggestions.
A project at this level of complexity – involving 8,000 municipalities, numerous central entities, over forty technology service providers and thousands of people – cannot proceed without a clear and transparent instructional process. This is why our first step has been to facilitate communication by involving the key stakeholders who have shown a genuine passion for ANPR’s success.
With Sogei’s collaboration, we have created and begun to use a public issue tracking system on GitHub, a site that can be used to report and share problems, fixes or to ask for clarifications. A (virtual) place where anyone can see the questions that are being asked, benefit from the answers already provided, and receive clear information regarding almost any difficulty.
We have also created a mailing list for the representatives of the Public Administrations so they can share ideas, documents and solutions, as well as a newsletter for sending out regular communications to the approximately forty software providers, the people who are working on the registry, and also, more generally, to all those who have expressed interest in the project.
There’s also a section devoted to ANPR on the developers.italia.it platform (if you don’t already know what that is, we explain it here), where we have launched a discussion forum dedicated to ANPR issues and developments, in which everyone is invited to participate.
Despite there being no formal agreement between the Ministry, Sogei and the Digital Transformation Team, and despite the many concerns regarding the use of technologies and processes that have never before been used on ANPR, we were able to give the project a fresh start: Since March we have managed, along with Sogei, more than 150 requests on GitHub’s tracking system, successfully distributed messages and documents using the forum and mailing list, and received hundreds of contributions. The Municipalities are reacting positively to this new collaborative style of working.
Leveraging on this collaboration we have also created a document designed to prepare the Municipalities for the changes they can expect with the migration, and how to correct anomalies (you can find it here).
Gradually, a community is coming together, a community of people without whose help it would be impossible to carry ANPR forward.
These are still small steps, but they give you an idea of how much passion and care is being devoted to this project on a daily basis and how keen the people working on it are to see it come to fruition. Sometimes even a simple email or communication about a problem solved is enough to help advance this very complicated machine.
An 8,000 piece puzzle
The migrations to ANPR started in March and today there are ten Municipalities already active. That’s about 230,000 people (we know, it’s a small number compared to all the people we need to reach!).
There are 720 Municipalities in the pre-migration stage. This means they are in the process of carrying out the last tests on their registries to correct any anomalies that might arise from the transition to ANPR. Another 2,000 Municipalities have started to carry out tests on accuracy and finally, all forty (plus) technology and registry service providers are either testing product integration on pilot Municipalities or have already developed products that can support integration.
We are planning the transition to ANPR for some major Municipalities like Florence, Naples and Turin, whose transition will have to be even more careful. We will monitor their migration directly, while smaller regions will be managed by mentor cities that can assist and support their neighboring communities.
The goal is to create a snowball effect: we want to go from the few Municipalities that are currently moving to ANPR every month, to an industrial process that allows us to migrate dozens of towns per day. To be successful, we are going to need the help of all the software houses and Municipalities as well as the support of Institutions.
It’s going to take a lot of commitment, a lot of determination, and above all, the growth of a community of people who can accept the cultural changes that a new vision of open projects will bring.
It’s worth pointing out that ANPR alone cannot solve the problems of citizens who have to repeatedly provide the same data to the various Public Administrations.
ANPR is an enabling platform built to simplify processes. Administrations will only see the benefits if they change their old processes too.
This is an example of an enabling technology that, in the absence of changes made to the underlying process, loses its value. A citizen writes to the Digital Team:
Today I went to Zone X. I parked on the blue stripes and paid the owed amount using Municipality Y’s application, “Tap&Park.” Satisfied with a digital method for making easier payments, I do my errands and return after almost an hour. Surprise. There is a nice pink leaf on the windshield. I call the record office at the local police station and explain the situation. The person who answers the phone has no idea what to do and asks the manager. I wait on hold for 15 minutes. With growing annoyance. In the end, I am told: “Sorry madam, we do not know how to deal with your case because we don’t know anything about this application. You should inform SAS Road Services and then make an appeal.” You are a records office and don’t know anything?? You’re saying I am the one that has to inform myself? You are a PUBLIC SERVICE but instead of taking care of me you tell me you’re ignorant and that I have to figure this out on my own? I put down the phone and physically go to the records office in via Z. The office clerk grasps at straws. She sees the screen showing that at the time my ticket was issued, I was dutifully paying the parking fee. She agrees with me but nothing more. I ask to speak to the manager. A guy comes up who confirms that they don’t know if and how SAS handles this widely advertised application and that I have no other way to cancel the fine other than to wait for the report to arrive, then make a complaint. I’m given about ten useless email addresses where I can send useless claims before leaving. That’s the end of the dream of a digital administration that can’t keep up with the times.”
In short, we have in front of us a huge puzzle yet to be completed. And certainly, it’s no easy task. Especially because this is a puzzle that reshapes all of Italy, a puzzle with margins both long and wide that leaves no one outside. It will be impossible to complete it on our own. And we certainly can’t do it without designing new processes and collaboration tenets.