A digital locker in a rural village: the EMILIA-ROMAGNA pilot

Business people walking on busy office staircase
February 5, 2021
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5 min

by Eleonora Tu, ITL – Institute for Transport and Logistics, Valeria Montanari and Clara Caruso, PI – Poste Italiane


Have you ever seen a digital locker in a rural village? These days, you can access a lot of services just by connecting to the internet. Everything seems just a click away, especially if you live in a city or urban areas. There is great disparity, however, between urban areas (that is, cities) and rural areas (smaller villages). Within INDIMO, Poste Italiane (PI) and Fondazione Istituto Trasporti e Logistica (ITL) are working to bring more services related with digital mobility in Monghidoro, a small rural village in the metropolitan area of Bologna (Italy).

Take e-commerce as an example. Rural areas often suffer from not being very well-connected, so smaller villages do not enjoy the same level of service available elsewhere and at the same time, smaller villages often attract people with lower income (e.g. foreigners) and have a greater portion of elderly people living there, because many young people tend to move where more opportunities are available.


A digital locker in Monghidoro


To help overcome these challenges, we are working together with the Municipality of Monghidoro to install a digital locker. The digital locker will allow users to perform a number of operations in a much more convenient way, for example sending or receiving parcels, collecting signed correspondence, paying for their bills, recharging their SIM cards and prepaid proprietary cards Postepay) and manage the locker cell for personal purposes. Among the advantages that can be mentioned, users will reduce travel times for the withdrawal of objects optimizing the work-life balance, and speed up communications (e.g. the recipient of a package can access information relating to its shipment in real time).

Within INDIMO, we are introducing the digital locker to the entire population of Monghidoro (about 3700 residing people) and specifically to most vulnerable users such as elderly people and foreigners. In order to do so, we have first talked to them to understand their needs. In August-September 2020 we have carried out 15 interviews with stakeholders, elderly people and foreigners to investigate their thoughts and ideas on this type of service.

A sunny corner bar in the italian province of Monghidoro

People living in rural areas often complain about the service level, not adequate internet connection and, also, the digital divide. This is especially true for elderly people, who are often not the focus of digital initiatives. Many elderly are not digitally skilled and they have different opinions on the locker. Some think that it could be hard for them to use, while others are quite thrilled about it and think that the digital locker can bring a positive change by introducing something new to town.


Remove the barriers

“I think that this a curious object [for an elderly person] and it could be like a game for people of my age. We will have to find some feat of memory to use it. New things put you to the test!” said one of the representative of the elderly community. – Signor Claudio (fictional name)

For sure, there will be support needed to introduce elderly people to the digital locker. Many respondents to our interviews have expressed an initial unfamiliarity with technology but also felt that, if this could help them saving time, it would be very good.

“Many people think that because I’m retired I have nothing to do all day. But it is not at all like that, I have many things to do!” – Signora Marinella (fictional name)

A lot of elderly people, in fact, are quite active and have many errands to complete. Elderly people make a good portion of the population of Monghidoro (29% are over 65 years old): despite not being familiar with technology, they have been introduced to apps to do some small things (e.g. videochats).

Foreigners, on the other hand, will probably appreciate the digital locker for the opportunity of having their own privacy, as they are already very well used to technology. Not all foreign people are the same, depending on their background and culture they can be very well-integrated with the community. Sometimes, however, they have problems understanding the language and the digital locker could provide a good alternative in case they do not feel comfortable going to crowded places.

The value of the digital locker lays in the fact that it will allow users to have an additional option to perform their errands and satisfy needs in terms of multi-channel, proximity and speed, thus favoring the development of demand and supply of innovative (digital) services. The locker also responds to the new need for social distancing and the process of change underway in daily habits, representing a concrete example of time saving services. Lastly, the locker favors a better environmental sustainability of e-commerce thanks to concentration of shipments in a single point with consequent optimization of logistics and reduction of CO2 emissions. Indirectly, it will also stimulate green  education for the correct disposal of packaging thanks to the separate waste collection system within the municipal disposal areas.

The pilot action of INDIMO in Monghidoro is wider than the digital locker itself. In fact, our aim is to involve the community and the stakeholders (Metropolitan City of Bologna, Emilia-Romagna region) to discuss some of the issues that rural areas are facing, trying to redesign assets for “small” smart-cities. This has been done thanks to the Community of Practice and much more will be done in the years ahead.


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