Action Learning Projects: EMMAP's advocates change in public services

EMMAP - Executive Master in Management delle Amministrazioni Pubbliche


We tend to forget 75 percent of what we learn in less than a week (Ebbinghaus, 1885). However, there are training methods to mitigate this "forgetting curve" by stimulating the application and practice of acquired skills. "Action learning" means just that: facing complex managerial challenges firsthand within real organizational contexts with the aim of developing one's diagnostic, analytical skills and exercising leadership roles within a work group. Following this approach, participants of the Executive Master in Public Administration Management (EMMAP) within the Action Learning Projects (ALPro) supported six very different organizations in the implementation of change projects by working in groups, assisted by tutors from SDA Bocconi Faculty: Marta Barbieri, Niccolò Cusumano, Alessandro Furnari, Giorgio Giacomelli, Alexander Hiedemann, Piergiacomo Mion Dalle Carbonare, Eleonora Perobelli, Silvia Rota, Alex Turrini, Francesco Vidè. The outcomes of this work were discussed in the presence of representatives of the commissioning organizations and Faculty during the closing event of ALPro, held on March 22.

Although these projects differ in their objectives and areas of intervention, they shared the need to adopt new managerial approaches and tools to improve the quality of public services. Some managerial challenges start with a clear definition of strategy, but they need to create the right alliances on the ground to ensure the effectiveness of their intervention. In this sense, in the face of the strategic objective of reducing the digital divide between citizens and public services, the Piedmont Regional Directorate of INPS (Italy’s National Social Security Agency) commissioned a project aimed at analyzing the needs and factors that hinder the contact of users in the Turin metropolitan area with the services offered by the Institute. This project required EMMAP participants to apply stakeholder engagement techniques to involve different players in the area who can facilitate the mapping of user characteristics and support access to INPS services, and to investigate them operationally through a questionnaire. According to Filippo Bonanni, Regional Director of INPS Piemonte, "this project allows us to be more and more far-reaching by networking with other actors in the territory to reach people who are not able to access INPS digital services."

In other cases, one must start from a reflection on one's institutional mission in order to define a development plan that allows for the creation of value for the target users one wishes to attract and for the community. This is the experience of the CastelPergine Foundation, which, after acquiring the historic castle of Pergine (Trento), asked itself how to combine the promotion of its heritage, the protection of its identity, the creation of value for the territory and economic sustainability. A group of EMMAP participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in this cultural reality of the Province of Trento, experimenting with managerial tools and approaches to redefine the Foundation's strategic positioning while ensuring the pursuit of its institutional goals and sustainability. As stated during the event by Mariano Anderle, a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors, "the project allowed us to gather insights and stimuli to face, wearing new lenses, the complex challenge of enhancing the Pergine Castle."

If redefining the strategic perimeter of the services and the involvement of local stakeholders are essential conditions for creating public value, it is also necessary for the bodies in charge of regulating and monitoring public services to reinterpret the role of monitoring the impacts generated. AURI Umbria is entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring the impact of investments made by the entities that manage the integrated water service within the region. Through the ALPro project they have gathered practical guidance on introducing a new monitoring system that not only verifies the efficient implementation of planned interventions, but is also able to analyze and report on the benefits generated in the territory. In the words of Sandro Rossignoli, Manager of the Water Service of AURI Umbria, "the project carried out has provided us with concrete avenues to achieve the goal of promoting citizens' knowledge and awareness of the value produced by the integrated water service."

Remaining on the subject of monitoring systems, another "Action Learning Project" developed by EMMAP participants supported the "SUAM - Public Works" Sector of the Marche Region in building a new model for managing and monitoring the tendering procedures managed for the awarding of works and services on behalf of other sectors of the Region and local municipalities. Through the project, participants proposed new methods for monitoring all tender procedures and enabling appropriate workload allocation. According to Pietro Tapanelli, Director of the Marche Region's "SUAM - Public Works" Sector, "we gathered useful information to introduce innovative tools and innovate our procurement processes."

Planning, measuring and evaluating performance is not just an organizational role, but a necessary condition for ensuring the achievement of strategic goals and the satisfaction of user needs. For this reason, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities Foundation of Turin relied on the support of EMMAP participants to implement a new management monitoring system, with the aim of instilling a culture of data and providing its managers with tools to monitor costs, take corrective action and ensure the implementation of strategic planning. Silvia Cendron, Head of the Projects, Development and European Funds Area, is convinced that "thanks to ALPro we have gathered useful insights to change perspective and adopt new tools to measure processes and results: we look forward to putting your proposals to the test!"

Moreover, the effective adoption of new managerial approaches and tools cannot disregard the people who are called upon to manage change processes, which must be oriented toward the continuous improvement of public services. With this in mind, the City of Bassano del Grappa involved EMMAP participants to update the performance measurement and evaluation system for its managers, with the aim of overcoming a rationale of mere distribution of economic rewards and using the system as a lever for the development of managerial skills and the ability to create public value. According to Mirko Bertolo, Secretary General of the Municipality, "the project has given us a hand in rethinking our evaluation system toward developmental approaches by directly involving managers in its redesign."

In the words of Silvia Rota, EMMAP Director, "in this accademic term, through the Action Learning Projects, EMMAP has contributed to supporting change not only of public entities and institutions but also of organizations such as Foundations with a clear vocation in generating public value, providing participants with a practical learning space in which to strengthen their skills and offering principals a qualified perspective on how to implement complex change projects." According to Francesco Vidè, ALPro coordinator, the journey does not end here: "in the coming months we will continue to accompany the implementation of these projects and capitalize on the results achieved, but we are ready to welcome new proposals to support institutions in their managerial challenges." We look forward to the next edition of ALPro!


SDA Bocconi School of Management

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