BUDD-e: a project to support citizens with visual impairments

The Budd-e research project is a programme committed to improving the quality of life of visually impaired citizens to help to build a more equal and inclusive society by taking advantage of technological innovations.

 

The SARS-COV2 pandemic has significantly impacted everyone’s life, changing our habits and how we interact with others and our immediate environment. Among those most affected are people with visual impairments, who are considered to be at greater risk of contagion due to their need for tactile contact with people and spaces to be able to move and orientate themselves more easily.
Therefore, without touch, these people have seen their autonomy and quality of life become increasingly limited.

Isolation was even more severe for those with severe degrees of visual impairment. There are around 2 million such people in Italy, while at the global level they represent around 4% of the population. It is a significant “slice” of society for which technology could play a significant role in improving quality of life.

How can technological innovation be exploited to ensure independent and safe access to various spaces such as shopping centres, museums, hospitals or even athletics tracks?

Improving the quality of life of citizens with visual impairments through the opportunity to enjoy these and other spaces independently and safely is the ambitious objective of the multidisciplinary “BUDD-e” (Blind-assistive Autonomous Drive Device) research project, which was among the winners of the Polisocial Award (2021 Edition) – the Politecnico di Milano’s social responsibility programme financed with “5×1000” funds.

BUDD-e is an innovative person-robot system that incorporates a self-driving robot and was conceived based on the specific needs of blind or partially sighted people and the design of spaces made accessible thanks to the functionalities of the robot. BUDD-e will contribute to building a more equal and inclusive civil society.
BUDD-e will be capable of guiding and supporting blind or partially sighted people during their day-to-day activities – including the possibility of transporting goods – while maintaining the required speed and/or trajectory, by transmitting relevant information on the available routes via audible signals, thus avoiding collisions.

The research project – which will last 15 months and is coordinated by Prof. Marcello Farina from the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering and Prof. Emanuele Lettieri from the Department of Management, Economics, and Industrial Engineering – is characterised by the integration of several distinct areas of expertise within the Politecnico di Milano, ranging from engineering to management economics, from architecture to service design.

The research group may rely on the involvement of partners such as the UICI (Italian Union of the Blind and Partially Sighted), the ASST Niguarda Hospital regional healthcare agency, the non-profit organisations ICM (Milan Institute for the Blind Foundation), DISABILINCORSA, Tactile Vision and GSD Non Vedenti Milano (NVM) amateur sports group, as well as ASP Golgi Redaelli, YAPE S.r.l. and POLIMISPORT.
Lastly, the project will be conducted under the clinical and medical supervision of Dr Luigi Piccinini from the Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Health Care (IRCCS) Medea.

The team of researchers from the Department of Management, Economics, and Industrial Engineering, headed by Prof. Emanuele Lettieri and Mr. Andrea Di Francesco will be committed to assessing the social impact generated by the BUDD-e project through the development of a specific methodology that allows the relevant details to be understood.

 

For further information you might refer to the website of the project BUDDE-e and to the website of the Interdepartmental Laboratory “Engineering for Sport” (E4Sport).

Symplatform 3: the conference on digital platforms

There is a word that is appearing more and more frequently in the newspapers, in our meeting and in the LinkedIn feeds and that word is “platform”.

Whether talking about a new scandal by one of the big tech companies, the new innovation strategy of a large industrial group …or just a new digital service, the word “platform” appears in a variety of sectors.

But what does platform really mean? What do Uber, Amazon, Apple and any old daily newspaper have in common? Or why it is correct to consider an app like Strava, the famous service for tracking sports performance, a platform? These and many other issues are at the heart of Symplatform: an event where academic knowledge encounters the world of practitioners to construct a critical discussion on what platforms are, how they work and what they can become for people, organisations and our society as a whole.

We are pleased to launch the third edition of Symplatform, a symposium on digital platforms that aims to bring academics and practitioners together.

Symplatform is a joint project developed by Trinity College Dublin, the Politecnico di Milano School of Management and the Audencia Business School.

Here is a short video presenting the conference.

The event programme and registration can be found at this link: https://symplatform.com/

For further information, write to daniel.trabucchi@polimi.it and tommaso.buganza@polimi.it.

Neighbourhood Hubs against food waste win the Earthshot Prize

Dedicated to environmental protection actions, Milan’s anti-food waste project won £1 million and support from the Royal Foundation for the next few years.

 

Milan, 18 October 2021 – On the night of Sunday, 17 October 2021, Prince William announced that the City of Milan, with its Neighbourhood Hubs Food Policy project against food waste, is the winner of the first prestigious international Earthshot Prize for the best solutions to protect the environment.

A month ago it was announced that Milan was one of the 15 finalists in the “a world without waste” section, and yesterday, live on the BBC and Discovery Channel, Prince William unveiled the winners after an international panel of experts selected Milan from 750 candidate initiatives from around the world.

Along with Milan in the other four categories of the award were winners from the Republic of Costa Rica for the protection of forests, India for the reduction of smoke emissions into the air, Berlin for the development of hydrogen technologies for energy production, and the Bahamas for the protection of coral reefs.

In Milan, the BBC arranged a link to London from a terrace overlooking the Duomo, which was attended by Deputy Mayor Anna Scavuzzo, with representatives of all the partners who bring this project to life.

The £1 million prize will be used to further develop these hubs and open new ones, ensuring their long-term sustainability and replicating this excellent practice in the network of cities working with Milan on food policy, starting with the network of C40 cities and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

Winning the Earthshot prize is the recognition of a great team effort that has involved the entire city: thanks to the City Council and many organisations from the third sector, universities, large-scale retail trade and philanthropy operating in the area, Milan now has 3 neighbourhood hubs at Isola (2019), Lambrate (2020) and Gallaratese (2021).

The project was born in 2017 as a result of an alliance between the City of Milan, Politecnico di Milano (with the research group of the Food Sustainability Lab, Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering) Assolombarda, Fondazione Cariplo and the QuBì Programme.
The creation of the first Hub then brought in Banco Alimentare della Lombardia and saved over 10 tonnes of food per month, ensuring a stream of 260,000 equivalent meals in one year, reaching 3,800 people, thanks to the contribution of 20 supermarkets, 4 business canteens and 24 Third Sector organisations.

In particular, the Food Sustainability Observatory conducted a network feasibility study and monitored the hubs’ operation and the impact generated by the project, thus making it possible to build an extensible logistic model replicable in other areas of the city.

Indeed, this was followed by the launch of the Hub in Lambrate, immediately after the first lockdown in spring 2020, also managed by Banco Alimentare della Lombardia in a space made available by AVIS Milano and with the support of BCC Milano. The third Hub, at Gallaratese, is managed by Terre des Hommes with the support of the Fondazione Milan.

Another one, currently in the planning stage, will be the neighbourhood Hub in Corvetto, managed by the Banco Alimentare della Lombardia and with the support of the Fondazione SNAM; while the City of Milan has recently started the co-design process for the Hub in the city centre with Associazione IBVA and the support of BCC Milano.

 

The team of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering:
Alessandro Perego, Marco Melacini, Giulia Bartezzaghi, Annalaura Silvestro and Andrea Rizzuni from the Food Sustainability research group.

Partners involved:
The project involves major retailers including Lidl Italia, Esselunga, Carrefour, NaturaSi, Erbert, Coop Lombardia, Il Gigante, Bennet, Penny Market with the support of Number1 Logistics Group who provided the vans for the Isola and Lambrate hubs. Also involved were the canteens of Pirelli, Siemens, Deutsche Bank and Maire Tecnimont, coordinated by Gruppo Pellegrini for the Isola Hub.
With Fondazione Cariplo and SogeMi, the City of Milan has also launched the Foody zero waste initiative to replicate the hub model at Ortomercato and recover fresh food together with Banco Alimentare della Lombardia, Recup, Croce rossa sud milanese, Università degli studi di Milano and many other supporting partners.

Announcing the start of the TREASURE project

New testing opportunities for new technologies to make the automotive sector more circular

 

1 June 2021 marked the start of the TREASURE project (leading the TRansion of the European Automotive SUpply chain towards a circulaR futurE), coordinated by Sergio Terzi and Paolo Rosa from the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering of the School of Management.
Co-funded by the European Commission with the H2020 programme, TREASURE is a Research and Innovation Action (RIA) that aims to offer new testing opportunities for new technologies to make the automotive sector more circular.

Its main objectives are:

  1. to guarantee sustainable use of raw materials in the automotive sector reducing the risks linked to supplies;
  2. to apply the circular economy paradigm to the automotive sector, acting as examples for the manufacturing macrosector;
  3. to deliver better economic, environmental and social performance for vehicles for all users;
  4. to create new supply chains around end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), focusing on the circular use of raw materials.

In this way, TREASURE will deliver tangible support for companies in the automotive sector, providing a practical demonstration of the benefits obtainable from the application of the circular economy paradigm, from the point of view of both business and supply chains and also of technology and sustainability, through the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies in the management processes of ELVs and their parts.

The primary results expected include:

  1. the development of an AI-based tool for analysis and comparison of possible circular supply chains in the automotive sector;
  2. the realisation of a series of successful cases for key players in the management of ELVs, such as car wreckers, scrap metal shredding plants, raw material recycling plants and vehicle manufacturers;
  3. the integration of key enabling technologies for the design, dismantling and efficient sustainable recycling of electronic auto parts.

Partners in the project, coordinated by the Politecnico di Milano, are the Dutch research centre TNO, Zaragoza University in Spain, the professional school at the Università della Svizzera Italiana, the Università degli Studi dell’Aquila, the Dutch consultancy agency Material Recycling and Sustainability B.V., the Estonian company for social studies Edgeryders OU, the Lithuanian LCD screen manufacturer EUROLCDS SIA, the Spanish auto parts manufacturer Walter Pack SL, the vehicle demolition company Pollini Lorenzo e Figli Srl, the leading Spanish car manufacturer SEAT SA, the software developers TXT E-Solutions Spa, the Spanish scrap metal recycling company Industrias Lopez Soriano SA, the Italian National Unification Body, and the French automotive cluster NEXTMOVE.

New life for electronic waste thanks to the circular economy

This virtuous example of circular economy is the result of the Horizon2020 FENIX project in which the Politecnico di Milano is a partner.

 

Like a phoenix rising out of its own ashes, the FENIX project has achieved its aim of giving new life to electronic waste, turning it into raw materials for eco-compatible products such as new metal filament for 3D printing, eco-friendly metal powders for additive manufacturing and sustainable 3D-printed jewellery.

The Horizon 2020 FENIX Project, in which the Politecnico di Milano is a partner, has drawn to a close after 40 months of work and achievement of its objective to develop new business models and industrial strategies with a view to a circular economy.

The Industry 4.0 Laboratory of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano has in fact implemented an automated station for the disassembly of mobile phone circuit boards by collaborative-robots (cobots), one of the most advanced automation solutions in robotics technology, as they guarantee operational flexibility while permitting interaction with their surroundings and with the operators who share their tasks.

Thanks to a semiautomatic process, the cobot manages to unsolder the electronic components of the circuit board while preserving their chemical characteristics: it uses a jet of hot air to melt the solder holding together the components so that these can then be detached and processed separately from the board.

Thanks to the circular supply chain set up by the consortium participating in the project, the circuit boards disassembled by the Politecnico di Milano are processed by the University of Aquila, which recovers pure materials (such as copper, tin, gold, silver and platinum) from the boards and their electronic components. Copper and tin are then transformed into metal powders (by MBN Nanomaterialia SpA in Treviso) and filaments suitable for 3D printing (jointly by MBN Nanomaterialia SpA and I3DU and 3DHUB in Athens, Greece), both then tested at the Fundació CIM in Barcelona, Spain. Whereas the precious metals are used by I3DU and 3DHUB in Athens, Greece to create eco-compatible jewellery. Produced and sold through the consortium, these jewels can also be personalised with a 3D scanner service and given the shape of objects or people’s faces.

The hope is that when the project ends, the business models conceived and tested by FENIX will be replicable by other external parties, with a view to promoting the setting up of new circular supply chains.

Also worthy of note is that two of the results developed by the Politecnico di Milano team involved in the FENIX project have been cited by the EU Innovation radar and that an article written by the team received recognition from the publishers Taylor & Francis and appears on the website of the International Journal of Production Research as top cited article. Click here to read the article.

Source: https://www.polimi.it/pressroom/comunicatistampa/

For more info about the project: http://www.fenix-project.eu/
Link to the Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEg3DZSWyo62lSaMg7xxZrg

Work inclusion: knowing we are all different increases competitive potential

Can we still accept that in-clusion is often replaced by re-clusion? It is not just a matter of ethics: acknowledging that each worker has a potential value for the company becomes a lever for configuring increasingly competitive production systems.

 

Guido J.L. Micheli, Associate Professor of Industrial Plants Engineering and Management
School of Management Politecnico di Milano

In everything, there are minimum time periods necessary for an evolution to start having an effect. In our Country, the constitution states that Italy is a “Republic […] founded on labour”; however, it is only in the last few decades that the problem of job inclusion of disabled workers, who – except in very rare cases – do not have the “standard” characteristics that companies look for in their employees, has begun to be addressed in some way.

To put it simply, the process is currently moving on two fronts. On the one hand, a large number of companies are obliged by law to employ disabled workers; on the other hand, there are companies (type B social cooperatives) whose ultimate aim is to prepare disabled people (also called “disadvantaged” in this case) for work. In the large number of companies that are obliged to employ disabled staff, the very frequent outcome is either the hiring of a person who is then “isolated” in tasks of little value to the company itself (in other words, hired but not included) or the deliberate choice to pay the penalties attached to not hiring, which are considered paradoxically “sustainable” when compared with the burden of managing a person considered of little value.
Why is this? The motivation is, after all, quite simple: companies are used to and want to continue working in situations where every activity, machine, equipment, place, process is designed for “standard” people. Every difference is experienced as a source of inefficiency.

It is undoubtedly true that the initial and continuous training of disabled workers is in some cases significantly higher, but why? One of the answers is easily identifiable: the effort in training/preparing disabled workers for any job task is linked to the very purpose of such training, i.e., to provide them with the same skills as non-disabled workers. In other words, even the training that companies design and implement is not inclusive, but rather aimed at bringing disabled workers into line with others.

What should be done to change the status quo?

A profound cultural change is needed. Companies need to critically study their processes, in order to identify those aspects of them that can be carried out with “different” characteristics; by doing so, these “different characteristics” no longer require an effort to be adapted and included, but become naturally functional, and therefore naturally included.

This type of analysis is what social co-operatives (manufacturing or agricultural companies in the true sense of the word, which primarily employ disabled workers) must undertake on a daily basis in order to understand, for example, how an assembly process can be “subdivided and supported” in order to be efficiently and effectively carried out by a wide range of disabled workers.

This focus on processes has the secondary effect of simplifying them, and therefore reducing errors, which translates into a reduction in waste and an overall increase in efficiency.
So, being aware that everyone in the company is “different” can become an important lever for change: every activity, machine, equipment, place, process, which used to be designed for “standard” people, can finally be designed in an worker-centric and non-standard-centric way.

What is the point of the flexibility of the components of production systems (machines, lines, roles, …), which has been much sought after in recent decades, if it is not then used on an ongoing basis to review processes and tasks in the search for an ever better overall system configuration? If this were the approach, inclusion would no longer be sought as such.
We are realising that inclusion cannot be forced: if it is imposed, as is the legislative approach, it turns into reclusion in many cases. Instead, acknowledging that each worker has her/his own potential value for the company becomes a lever to configure production systems and make them increasingly competitive.

After all, who among us has never thought “I have the right person in mind for this”? It is simply a matter of starting to acknowledge the individual strengths of all people – including those with disabilities.
Let’s start here. And let’s not close our eyes: some companies already do!

Scientific research: Covid-19 changes activities and spaces

More research is done individually and women in the Italian academy have returned to university environments less than their male colleagues

 

The pandemic also has an impact on the way research is carried out and consequently on the way university environments are experienced. An interdisciplinary research group at the Politecnico di Milano, consisting of Gianandrea Ciaramella, Alessandra Migliore and Chiara Tagliaro from the Department of Architecture, Construction Engineering and Built Environment (DABC) and of Massimo G. Colombo and Cristina Rossi-Lamastra of the Department of Management Engineering (DIG), collected the experiences of 8,049 university academics (49% women, 51% men, average age 51 years) throughout Italy between 24 July and 24 September 2020.

University researchers, like other high-capacity workers, have changed their ways of working because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The implications of this phenomenon, which the research group calls Covid-working, are multiple, particularly in terms of organising the space for their work. The questions addressed to the academics concerned the way of carrying out research (individual or collaborative) and the spaces used to carry out their research activities (as research enablers) in the period before and during Covid-19.

The results show very clear trends. Firstly, the data shows a general trend towards a more individualised approach to research activities compared to the pre-Covid period. Due to physical distancing, research has become an activity that is more individual than collaborative. In particular, researchers in the Life Sciences (LS) and Physical Sciences and Engineering (PE) are moving from work mainly balanced between individual and collaborative research to research that is drastically more individual (from an average of four times per week at the university to little more than once). Researchers in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities (SH) undergo a less drastic “individualisation”, as they are already used to this kind of activity.

Second, with the progressive relaxation of the lockdown, a different scene is playing out in the return to university spaces: gender differences are emerging in terms of workspace organisation. In fact, at the end of the first wave of the pandemic, most women continued to do research from home, while men started to use other workplaces to a greater extent: not only the university, but also third-party spaces such as laboratories and public libraries. This trend already began to take shape during the first period of severe social restrictions.
Women seem to be penalised, in particular, because in the pre-Covid era they used shared spaces in greater numbers than men and now, because of the need for physical separation, they find it more difficult to return to their usual place of work. In fact the data shows that men, during the gradual reopening of university campuses, have returned more than once a week to their predominantly single offices, while women, with predominantly shared offices, work from home more than their male colleagues (4-5 times a week).

The first results of the analysis therefore show how research is becoming more individual in general (the percentage of collaborative research activity increases from 42% pre-Covid-19 to 31% today, while individual activity increases by about 10%) and how men, both before and during Covid-working, have more access to diverse working environments.  The effects of this new organisation of work are still to be studied in depth, especially with reference to the categories most penalised: not only women but also young researchers who, according to the data collected, have suffered a substantial decrease in their collaborative research activity at a crucial stage of their academic career.

The data on Italian researchers therefore raises important questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the characteristics and quality of scientific research:

  • Is there is a causal relationship between individual or collaborative research activities and the spaces available? Will the space for scientific research maintain its primary function as a meeting point between the individual and the collective dimension?
  • What is the impact of new ways of spatial organisation of research activities on the home-work balance and the production of scientific results? Is it the same for men and women?
  • How can university campuses of the future be redesigned to fully promote equal opportunities in research and career progression? How much can physical space favour these objectives?

 

For more information, read the press release.

Symplatform 2021: an international symposium on digital platforms

 

Over the last years, the relevance of digital-based business model increased significantly. AirBnb, Uber or BlaBlaCar showed the great potentialities of companies that aim to get together different groups of customers – like travelers and hosts – through the opportunities provided by digital technologies.

We are pleased to launch the second edition of Symplatform, a symposium on digital platforms that aims to get together both scholars and practitioners.

Symplatform is a joint project developed by Trinity College Dublin, Politecnico di Milano School of Management and Audencia Business School. 

The second edition will take place digitally through 4 sessions between May 17th and May 20th from 2 pm. To 3.30 pm (CET).

The symposium is going to be based on various formats: parallel sessions with academic papers, “Pitch your challenge” sessions led by practitioners and collaborative workshops to help the platform field to move forward.

Further information can be found at Symplatform.com.

New perspectives between bioscience and management

What the conscious mind expresses neither completely represents nor necessarily reflects the feelings and evaluations of consumers correctly. Biomarketing, a new discipline based on the application of neuro- and bioscience in a managerial context, helps us to identify the unconscious and emotional reactions of consumers evoked by a product or brand, and thus to predict their behavior.

 

Debora Bettiga, Assistant Professor of Marketing Strategy, Consumer Behavior and Marketing Research Methodologies, School of Management, Politecnico di Milano

 

Why biosciences and management?

The evolution of the market, increasingly dynamic and competitive, and of the consumer, more proactive, knowledgeable and demanding, generates a great challenge for companies. Interpreting the needs and expectations of consumers to develop an appealing offer is indeed increasingly difficult.

Research has shown that what the conscious mind expresses – through interviews, surveys, focus groups – neither completely represents nor necessarily reflects the future behavior of individuals correctly.

Neuromarketing, a discipline born as an application of neurosciences to the study of communication and persuasion, measures the cerebral response to stimuli to appraise how an individual reacts, evaluates and filters information.

As evolution of the discipline, biomarketing arises from the assumption that tracking cerebral activity is less accurate than tracking a full set of biological manifestations. Thus, biomarketing collects and integrates data about individual physiological responses such as skin conductance, breath and hearth rate or facial micro-expressions.

This new discipline, based on the application of neuro- and bioscience in a managerial context, seeks to identify, through quantitative methods, the cognitive and affective reactions of consumers evoked by a product, brand, advertising message or service encounter, and thus to predict their behavior. Biomarketing explores the unconscious and emotional sides of the purchasing process on which the individual decision-making process is grounded and enables a deep and unbiased understanding of human responses.

Thanks to their reliability, such methods have been applied in several fields and in different environments. Methodological rigor and depth of tracking allow drawing relevant implications even from small experimental samples, obtaining directions that, from a scientific and managerial point of view, are crucial for a full understanding of individual behavior. Hence, they represent valid instruments for companies in their marketing activities at the strategic and operational levels.

 

How do we measure consumer emotions?

Biometric tools enable the analysis of emotions and affective responses. For instance, with electroencephalography we can assess the attention, engagement and pleasantness generated from a stimulus. Wearable electrocardiogram and breathing pattern can detect relaxation, anxiety, stress or involvement. Tracking sensors for electrodermal activity may provide us indication of consumer arousal and engagement. Eye-tracking is a useful tool for assessing the visual paths and areas of focus while sensors for facial expressions can detect surprise, happiness, disgust, anger or sadness.

Analyzing consumer emotions is fundamental for understanding the customer experience and interaction with the brand. Individuals indeed react to marketing stimuli in a deeply emotional way, regardless of the product. Even for extremely functional products, emotions play a great role in driving purchasing behavior. All levers of the marketing mix can benefit from biometric inputs: reaction to product, brand, label, packaging, price, promotion, point of sale and merchandise management are for instance fields for which biometric tracking allows us to achieve a valuable and innovative evaluation of the impact on targets.

 

But which knowledge and competences should we put in place?

Well, a lot. The discipline born from the integration of marketing, bioscience, neuroscience and design, to name the key ones.
The presence of such competences inside the Politecnico di Milano has enabled the development and further growth of the discipline from a scientific and managerial point of view. PHEEL (Physiology, Emotion, Experience Lab) is the result of such integration, being an Interdepartmental Laboratory which sees the convergence of the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering, the Department of Design and the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano.

The Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering of the Politecnico di Milano is the national point of reference, as well as one of the world excellences in the field of biometrics applied to medicine. The research protocols allow precise and responsible tracking of every population segment, including people in conditions of weakness.

The Department of Design is one of the leading schools in the world in the study of user experience in interacting with product, interfaces and new technologies. The Department provides creative and rigorous keys of interpretation, which aim at translating results in tangible design inputs.

The expertise of the School of Management in the study of consumer evolution in response to the multichannel revolution in enterprise-market relationships allows us to convey tangible results that can be easily turned into managerial insights.

Enhancing cultural assets through digital innovation: the multidisciplinary approach as a development asset

The multidisciplinary approach to enhancing cultural assets, combining knowledge of cultural and architectural assets with managerial skills applied to the specific context, may represent a strategic key to the country’s economic recovery.

 

Deborah Agostino, Associate Professor in Accounting Finance and Control and Director of the Digital Innovation in Heritage & Culture Observatory, School of Management, Politecnico di Milano.

Stefano della Torre, Full Professor of Restoration at the Politecnico di Milano and Head of the Master in Management of Cultural Heritage and Institutions – MIP Graduate School of Business, Politecnico di Milano

 

The current pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of adopting a multidisciplinary approach to enhancing cultural assets, based on a combination of humanistic, technical and scientific skills.
Cultural assets are in themselves multidisciplinary, in terms of the diverse ways in which they can produce benefits for local development and their resilience in the face of major crises. Over the last few years, the spotlight has often been placed on the importance of understanding the complexity of cultural assets with regard to their enhancement, involving areas as diverse as archaeology, architecture, chemistry, mathematics, materials science, design and management.

With the physical closure of Italian cultural sites, following the legislative decrees issued with a view to containing the Covid-19 pandemic, further attention has been drawn to the importance of creating synergy between different professional figures to enhance cultural assets, also – and, indeed, above all – in times of crisis. At this historical time, digital innovation, and the ability to exploit the digital channel, is the guiding thread connecting various disciplines. The cultural experience has temporarily shifted from the physical to the digital: on-site visits have turned into virtual tours, school visits into online activities, shows and events into live streams. In most cases, these services are not delivered in a structured manner by a team of professionals. On the contrary, a last-minute, emergency-driven approach has often been adopted, paid for with delays on several fronts. The School of Management has monitored the types of digital content proposed and the resources dedicated to it. While results, in terms of online participation in events, have on average been high (online participation doubled during lockdown, compared to the same period last year), the same cannot be said for the skills and resources involved. The findings of the School of Management’s Digital Innovation in Heritage & Culture Observatory show that, in Italy, one out of two museums employs professionals with specific digital skills. Of these, only 6% have a dedicated team comprising a digital manager and a set of specialised professionals.

While the approach used in the first lockdown involved producing digital cultural content using the resources available, it is now time to reflect in a more structured manner on the medium- to long-term sustainability of this business model, as further proven by closures and revenue loss. This means considering at least three aspects:

  • The type of digital cultural content, which cannot be a mere transformation into the digital realm of the activities designed for on-site use. Instead, we need to develop “native digital” offerings;
  • The revenue mechanisms associated with the new digital cultural offering. The digital content emerging from the first lockdown was free, but this does not contribute to the financial sustainability of museums;
  • The professional skills required to develop the project, which must inevitably combine cultural and heritage skills with managerial, technological and experience design competences.

In this regard, the School of Management takes an active role in boosting the digital innovation of cultural institutions through both research and training.
From a research perspective, its projects analyse new sustainable business models, the digital transformation approaches implemented, and the impact generated by innovation. For example, in terms of new business models, we are mapping fully digital offerings and their cost and revenue mechanisms. Early results show some difficulty in identifying a value proposition capable of highlighting the value of enjoying culture in digital form; in other words, while visitors may be willing to pay a ticket to visit a site, they are not prepared to do so for a digital activity. The research is in its early phase, but it will continue by mapping the models adopted nationally and internationally also in related sectors, in order to contribute to the definition of a possible “phygital approach” capable of combining the “physical” nature of cultural assets with the value added by a digital experience.

From a training perspective, it is now more necessary than ever before to train multidisciplinary professionals having two key cross-cutting competencies: soft skills, and the ability to understand different languages within the cultural heritage world; and digital innovation, in terms of designing experiences and of conservation techniques and new digital languages. In this context, with the Master in Management of Cultural Heritage and Institutions – unique in its kind, in Italy, for combining the technical skills of architecture, management and design in a single programme – the School of Management has set itself the ambitious goal of training executive figures capable of exploiting and steering the great changes underway in the cultural heritage world, combining an in-depth knowledge of cultural and architectural assets with managerial skills applied to the specific context.
This was done by means of an application approach that makes it possible to “experiment”, in the actual context, with the complexity of managing and enhancing an asset, favouring the dialogue between “theory” and “practice”, between universities and cultural institutions, and between different professionals.
This is an ambitious challenge we have set ourselves, but one that we believe, today more than ever, will represent an added value for the cultural heritage world and form part of our country’s economic recovery programme.