Milan sets the benchmark for user-centricity

UserCentriCities’ member Milan, Italy took the cake in the ranking for most user-centric European city and region in 2023, sharing that title with Catalonia, Spain. They prolonged their ‘title’ from 2022 and received an even better score. What is the key to their success? And what can we learn from Milan? We had the pleasure of speaking with Layla Pavone, coordinator of the board of Technological Innovation and Transformation of the municipality of Milan.

With extensive experience in both the public and private sector, Layla knows the importance of bringing worlds together to achieve common goals for innovation. “There lies the key to our success. Milan is developing. New technologies emerge to help create the cities of the future. Cities that are smart, utilizing digital technologies to establish better ties between citizens and governments, and ultimately improving life for citizens. We can only optimize digital governmental services together.”

Multidisciplinary collaboration

That need for togetherness is also stimulated by Milan’s mayor, something that’s vital, Layla says. “You need to be supported by leading figures to move mountains.” And that support has resulted in a board comprised of other leading figures from many different disciplines, coordinated by Layla and her team. “The board I’m coordinating consists of many top-level individuals representing a wide variety of disciplines related to Milan. We have brought together public and private parties, academics, technologists, et cetera. All with the common goal of working on the Digital First Pathway of Milan.”

The Digital First Pathway entails the digital transformation of the city of Milan. It tries to revolutionize the city and governmental services through innovative technologies. It aims to improve life for all people living in and coming to Milan. A smart city pur sang.

Connecting with citizens

But Layla mentions, the most important factor in creating a smart and digital city is the citizens themselves. “A smart city can only be smart if we have smart citizens”, Layla wonderfully states. To this end, Milan works on multiple ways to create the city together with the citizens of Milan, and make them ‘smart’, or tech-savvy in some cases.

“We’ve set up a Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) system. Managing the relationship with the citizen is vital to improving citizen satisfaction. Getting feedbacks in a systematic and constant way is crucial for improving services offered by the municipality. The CRM of Milan is intended to support the administration in promptly recognizing citizen needs and consequently improving its way of working.”

Milan has four main channels of interaction between citizens and the municipality:

  1. A telephone contact center, by which Milan manages more than 1.100.00 requests per year.
  2. The assistance service ‘Scrivi’ (‘Write’) web portal, through which Milan manages 130.000 to 140.000 requests per year.
  3. The institutional social channels, Facebook and Instagram, through which Milan manages 5.000 to 6.000 requests per year.
  4. The Virtual Assistant WhatsApp, by which Milan delivers 50.000 to 60.000 detailed pages a year.

Citizen requests are analysed after the initial listening phase, in order to properly understand citizen needs and prioritize their necessity. Most of the requests are related to the main areas of the registry office, taxes, safety, mobility, fines and social services. Milan uses this input to improve its services. For instance by creating a roadmap of touchpoints of citizens. At what stage of their ‘customer’ journey do they need what information and where can they find it? Mapping this journey helps build a more robust governmental system. One that works for citizens, and not against them.

This eludes to making the city smart by having smart citizens. The two are connected. “To this end, Milan also offers workshops by volunteers to help citizens become more acquainted with new technologies in the city, and to teach them how to use innovative governmental services to their own benefit.”


Layla stresses the importance of communication. “Communication is key. You need to engage with citizens, have dialogues. They need to be guided in the digital system. And all citizens are different, we need to cater to all of them, also to those having troubles with digital services. We also need to spread the message of what makes Milan a great place to live in, a marketing approach if you will.

In terms of communication, our information platforms also have to be connected. Not all information can be dumped on one platform, we use multiple sources of information. But the danger lies in that information can get fragmented. That’s a challenge we need to address.”

Challenges for user-centricity

Fragmentation is also very much a subject when it comes to Milan’s connection to the rest of the country. “Italy is a very fragmented country. We have a clear connection with the national government, but cities and region in Italy are very different. As a country, being more connected to streamline governmental innovations is one of our main challenges.”

Another challenge is that of changing staff and leading figures. “It’s sometimes hard to set long term goals when political figures change positions every three to five years or so. The same goes for leading figures in our board. Each of whom bring different ideas to the table. Thus, we try to make a lot of improvements in the short term.”

The key to success is simple, but complicated

But being successful in innovating cities comes down to a few simple things, according to Layla. “Mindset is key. And you need to work together. Those two elements are essentially the driving factors for any type of improvement. In that sense, the key to innovation is simple. But in practice, getting the mindset of multiple stakeholders right is not easy. But I’m proud of how far we’ve come in Milan. As a board, we have a common goal, we have the same mindset. We want to create the best Milan possible with the aid of innovative digital services.”

Check out all user-centric activities and services from Milan here.

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